Great Stories Club

"Deeper Than Our Skins: The Present is a Conversation with the Past"

Introduction by Maria Sachiko Cecire, Director of Experimental Humanities and Assistant Professor of Literature at Bard College

"The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." As a presidential candidate in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama used these words to argue that we can only ever truly understand—and begin to overcome—the bitterness of modern race relations in the light of brave and accurate accounting of history. Obama's line is a slightly altered version of a quote from Southern author William Faulkner; in other words, he turned to literature as a source of wisdom about the difficult subject of race in America and built upon what he found there to imagine new pathways towards justice, healing, and unity.

"Deeper Than Our Skins" is grounded in literature that can help us look beneath the surface of racism in America to reveal how the past is alive in the present. This theme uses powerful stories of oppression, resistance, suffering, and triumph to identify the roots of racialized experience today and to inspire discussions around how to construct more equitable futures.

Through fiction, nonfiction, comics, poetry, short stories, and art, these works uncover the often-hidden histories of America's Native, enslaved, and immigrant communities. They offer points of connection that reach across time and cultures to affirm our shared humanity, while recognizing the importance of remembering and recounting unique origins and narratives. From Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, written as a letter to his teenage son in the age of Black Lives Matter; to the intertwining of family secrets and Puerto Rican heritage in Sonia Manzano's novel about the 1969 youth-led uprising in Spanish Harlem; to the vibrant array of experiences, nations, and identities represented in the multimedia collection Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, the works in "Deeper Than Our Skins" empower young people to use knowledge of the past to explore their own intersectional identities, empathize with others, and identify how they can be agents of racial healing and change in the world.

Reading list

Applicant libraries may select up to four books from the reading list below.

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
  • Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
  • The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew
  • Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott
  • Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. by Luis J. Rodriguez


Applications accepted online Sept. 5—Nov. 16, 2018
Grant notification: Dec. 7, 2018
Programming Term: March 1—Dec. 31, 2019
Workshop for grantees: Feb. 21—22, 2019 in Chicago
Online final report due: January 31, 2020 or within 30 days of final program

Advisors for "Deeper than Our Skins"

Development of the “Deeper Than Our Skins” series was led by Maria Sachiko Cecire (Bard College), Wini Ashooh (Central Rappahannock Regional Library System), Edith Campbell (Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University) and Vanessa “Chacha” Centeno (Sacramento Public Library), all members of ALA’s TRHT GSC Implementation Team.

Programming Materials

Promotional Materials

See Also

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