Contact: Lorrie McKinley and Debby Kern
Email: diversity-book-group@ucwc.org

Mission: To explore a variety of “differences” through both literature and film, so that we may better understand ourselves and others thereby promoting social justice on a personal level.


The book group usually meets the second Sunday, August through May from 7:00-8:30 p.m., in the Congregation office. They have at times changed location and time when films or other activities are scheduled; these changes are publicized in the newsletter, order of service, in Connections, and by email. In addition, an annual end-of-the-year pot luck celebration, is held in June at a member’s house, to talk about the past year and to select books (and sometimes films) for the coming year. The group makes every effort to select books/films that are available in audio/descriptive formats in order to be inclusive and welcoming to all.

The group is loosely organized with no set rules except to freely explore a variety of differences in a relaxed and safe environment. Members are from the community as well as from the Congregation. There is a core group that is the backbone as well as many occasional attendees with a mailing list of several dozen members.

Book group participants alternate facilitating the monthly discussions. Members sometimes voluntarily donate copies of the selections to the UCWC Library at the end of each year.

SELECTIONS FOR 2017-18 (Click to expand description.)
Sep 10: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
NOTE: This get-together will be at Pam Sapko’s house; address in UCWC Directory. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together, drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman. Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. . Leader: Pam Sapko
Oct 8: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, this book is a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town that offers a broad, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.
 Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.
 At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country. Leader: Sandy Schaal

Nov 12: No Meeting
No meeting.
Dec 10: Ireland by Frank Delaney

For centuries in Ireland storytellers walked the land knocking on doors and exchanging stories for room and board. In 1951, one of the last of these revered strangers arrives at the home of nine-year-old Ronan O’Mara. During the next three magical evenings, the Storyteller entrances Ronan and his neighbors with stories about kings and princesses, saints and villains, myths and legends, all woven together with the long history of Ireland, its people, and its centuries of oppression at the hands of the British. Ronan is devastated when the storyteller abruptly departs, and sets out on a decades long search to find him. In the process, Ronan discovers the key to his own story through the history and folklore of Ireland, and the hospitality and wisdom of his own people. Beautifully lyrical, gigantic in scope, this is a work of art and history that answers so many questions about the centuries of conflict in Ireland and warms your heart at the same time. Leader: Lorrie McKinley

Jan 14: The Late Homecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to the United States, but their experiences remain largely unknown. Driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, Kao Kalia Yang’s memoir is a tribute to the remarkable woman whose spirit held them together through their imprisonment in Laos, their narrow escape into Thailand’s Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, their immigration to St. Paul when Yang was only six years old, and their transition to life in America. It is also an eloquent, firsthand account of a people who have worked hard to make their voices heard. Leader: Sandy Schaal

Feb 11: Spartacus by Howard Fast
The novel, Spartacus, a fictionalization of an actual slave revolt in ancient Rome in 71 B.C., is well known today partly because of the 1960 movie starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Spartacus was born a slave, trained as a gladiator, and led a slave revolt that was eventually put down by Crassus. The brutal facts of the Roman lifestyle and intolerable slave conditions are laid bare, next to a very moving personal story of the the slaves and their own relationships. This is a moral and very moving story of man’s inhumanity to man. Spartacus was originally published in 1951 by the author himself, after being turned down by every mainstream publisher of the day because of Howard Fast’s blacklisting. Leader: Debby Kern
Mar 11: The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
This is the story of Morris Bober, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, who runs a failing grocery in postwar Brooklyn. The American dream proved elusive for Morris, but took a turn for the better, at least for a while, after Frank Alpine showed up. Frank was a down on his luck, second generation Italian who offered to work as Morris’s assistant for almost nothing. Unbeknownst to Morris, Frank really did owe him, and this book is as much about Frank’s efforts to redeem himself as it is about Morris’s struggle to survive. It is about guilt, forgiveness, gratitude and redemption. It is also about acceptance and power of love to help overcome the religious and cultural biases that keep us apart. Leader: Lorrie McKinley
Apr 8: Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips
Forsyth County, Georgia, at the turn of the twentieth century was home to a large African American community. In 1912, three young African Americans were accused of killing a white girl and bands of white “night riders” drove all 1,098 black citizens out of the county. Locals kept Forsyth “all white” well into the 1990’s. Blood at the Root is a sweeping American non-fiction tale that spans the Cherokee removals of the 1830’s, the hope and promise of Reconstruction, and the crushing injustice of Forsyth’s racial cleansing. Phillips breaks a century-long silence and uncovers a history of racial terrorism that continues to shape America in the 21st century. Leader: Janet & Lowell Young
May 13: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share. Leader: Fred Frayer

Click here for a list of past selections.