Ibi Zoboi, author of the young adult novels American Street and Pride, and editor and contributor to the short story collection Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America came to Eagle Hill School to help celebrate the school’s fifth African American Read-in which honors the words of African American authors as part of Black History Month.
A dinner with students and faculty was held at the Waller House the evening of February 27 where Ibi graciously autographed copies of her books and shared about herself, her writing process and her stories.
The next day, Ibi held a writing workshop with 11 students where she guided them through an exercise about place. Ibi said her stories always begin with the setting because place determines her characters. She explained that an important skill for a writer is to be able to envision, which comes from people and places we already know. The students practiced their own writing skills by describing the place they are from using the five senses. She modelled the activity then had several students read aloud their descriptions and provided feedback reinforcing that readers need to “show” versus “tell”.
A lunch was held in Ibi’s honor with a small group of students and faculty. Following that, an all-school assembly occurred where Ibi’s talk focused on American Street, her novel that had been widely read by the students. It is a story about immigration where a teen girl and her mother are emigrating from Haiti to Detroit except that the mother is detained by immigration authorities in New Jersey and her daughter Fabiola must travel to Detroit on her own to start a new life with her aunt and three cousins.
Ibi’s engaging presentation was interactive and relatable to the students. She read an excerpt from American Street, told her personal story (Ibi herself is a Haitian immigrant; she moved to New York with her mother when she was four), and explained necessary components to be a successful writer.Ibi emphasized that writer’s need to be able to envision, have stories in their heads, be observers of the world around them, and most importantly, be able to empathize with others.