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"

View all TRHT Great Stories Club Implementation Team members and National Advisors.
  • Maria Sachiko Cecire (literature scholar) is director of experimental humanities and assistant professor of literature at Bard College in New York. Her areas of specialization include children's literature, medieval literature and its reception, media studies and cultural studies. Prior to joining Bard's faculty in 2010, she taught at Oxford University. Maria holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Chicago, as well as a Master of Studies and a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. Her publications include essays in Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination, Arthurian Literature XXVIII, The Journal of Children's Literature Studies, and Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism. She received a Rhodes Scholarship in 2006.
  • Wini Ashooh (librarian advisory) is a youth services/teen specialist librarian at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library System in Virginia. She provides library services to the teen residents at the Rappahannock Juvenile Center (RJC) in Stafford, Virginia. The RJC is an 80-bed facility that provides secure incarceration for court-ordered youth, crisis intervention, substance abuse and counseling services.
  • Edith Campbell (librarian advisor) is an assistant librarian in the Cunningham Memorial Library at Indiana State University. As part of the Reference and Instruction team, she serves as the liaison to the Bayh College of Education. Edith was elected to the 2018 YALSA Printz Award Committee and has been appointed the ALSC Sibert Committee from 2019-21. She is on the advisory board for the online peer-reviewed journal, Research on Diversity in Youth Literature. Her research interests include the visibility of Black girls in young adult literature and implementing mind and brain research in library practices. She blogs to promote literacy, decolonization and social justice in young adult literature at CrazyQuiltsEdi. Edith received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Cincinnati and M.L.S. from Indiana University.
  • Vanessa "Chacha" Centeno (librarian advisor) is a youth services librarian with the Sacramento Public Library. She is best known for her work with immigrant and refugee families, advocacy for at-risk youth and diversity representation in libraries. Before her career as a librarian, Vanessa worked with chronic homeless populations and interned with her local Juvenile Probation Department while completing a Baccalaureate Degree in criminology & criminal justice. She has brought services to at-risk communities through partnerships with groups serving youth in special education, and by advocating for change in policy and service to foster and group home youth. Vanessa was raised amongst family with diverse Chicano and American Indian backgrounds and credits her grandmothers for teaching resilience and nurturing her love for younger generations. She enjoys storytelling and believes it teaches and preserves culture while healing the wounds of generational trauma. She is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Programming Materials

  • Essay on "Deeper than Our Skins," written by Maria Sachiko Cecire, Director of Experimental Humanities and Assistant Professor of Literature at Bard College
  • Sample discussion questions for reading list
  • Related reading list (coming soon)
  • Certificate of achievement (for TRHT Great Stories Club participants)
  • Certificate of appreciation (for partners and supporters)
  • Promotional Materials

  • Sample press release (coming soon)
  • Social media prompts (coming soon)
  • Poster (with printing cropmarks)
  • Poster (without printing cropmarks)
  • Poster (with editable field added)
  • Bookmarks
  • Web banner
  • Sample media release form
  • To access the application system, sign in with your profile.