Her book, The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, was published by Crown in 2017 and, among a number of accolades, earned a Northern California Book Award and a place on the New York Times Book Critics’ Top Books of 2017 list. A graduate of Middlebury College, Lauren lives in the Bay Area, where she also teaches writing on the collegiate level and works at a high school for immigrant youth.
What three words or phrases come to mind when you hear “Katherine Delmar Burke School”?
I think of a commitment to friendship, a relishing of learning for learning’s sake, and to the belief that girls’ voices should be heard.
What would you tell incoming kindergarten families about the journey ahead?
If Burke’s today is anything like it once was, your child is attending a school that values learning and friendship; a place that supports girls to be and become themselves, to figure out what they believe in so they can manifest those beliefs into the world.
What is your favorite memory from Burke’s?
It’s nearly impossible to name a favorite memory from such a long, rich, and rewarding time in my life and schooling. But I have a particular memory of sitting in a circle on the floor in Mr. Johnston’s eighth-grade classroom, talking about the Holocaust and the nature of human morality — are people inherently good or bad? Do we learn evil, or are we born with it within us? How do good people turn toward evil, and can they be redeemed? These were questions we posed to our teacher and one another. Mr. Johnston said, “Well, what do you think?” He showed us — like so many teachers at Burke’s did — that we were smart and worthy. We weren’t just receptacles for information, but agents of our own learning and discovery.
What is something you learned at Burke’s that you still carry with you today?
I learned so much from Burke’s — the order of the planets in the solar system, how to jump rope and do an isometric leg squat, the mathematical order of operations, the ecosystems of the rainforest and the coral reef, the injustices of history and the present day. I learned how to think for myself, how to print a photograph in the darkroom and watch it come to life, how to be considerate of others, how to read books with relish (and, for that matter, how to read at all!). But I think most of all I learned the value of friendships — friendships that are deep, committed, supportive, inspiring, and lifelong, friendships that inspire a person to manifest her best self in the world, knowing she has excellent people at her back.
What Burke’s experiences do you attribute to your personal or professional success?
I am quite sure that I owe the fact that I became a writer, in large part, to Burke’s. At Burke’s, storytelling and the written word were valued; we wrote stories about ourselves and the historical characters we researched; we read and relished books; we illustrated the myths we read in order to better understand them; we read primary source narratives from the Holocaust to give a human face to the brutal facts; in Mrs. Mosheim’s second-grade class, we were encouraged to memorize Emily Dickenson and other poems (“I’m Nobody/Who are you?”). It wasn’t enough just to learn the facts of something, but rather to put them into context; what did the facts of history or science or the words on a page mean to us, and mean for the world?