The second annual CU Denver Freshman Common Reading program hosted a visit today with the author of the featured book. Warren St. James talked with students about his book “Outcasts United.”
The book tells the story of a small town in Georgia that had a sudden influx of refugees from several different nations. St. James spent months in Clarkston, Ga., to do research for the book.
“What happened in Clarkston is really a microscope version of what is happening in the world,” St. James said.
The story St. James tells began when he was in Georgia researching a different story for the New York Times and met a man who worked to resettle refugees. St. James then found himself at a ‘fugee’ soccer game and became enraptured with the story of these people and this town.
“There are very specific decisions that you make that alter the path of your life at least for a little while,” said St. James. “Not only did I learn about this town through this story but I learned about myself — I never thought about what it meant to have both my parents at my soccer games growing up. I took a lot for granted.”
The world of Clarkston, Ga., changed very dramatically in a very short period of time. In the 1980s, the local high school was all white and now it is the most ethnically and culturally diverse in Georgia, if not the whole nation, with students hailing from 50 different countries.
“The people of Clarkston either didn’t want things to work and left or they made things happen,” St. James said, “There were real-life ‘accidental’ interactions that led to the diversity working.”
St. James’ book was chosen for the CU Denver Freshman Common Reading program because it draws parallels to the first year of college in that students arrive as ‘very small fish in a big pond.’
St. James told students, “What you can take from this for college is to engage with people that are different but make sure that you take the time to get to know them for who they are. Ask them questions about where they are from and where they plan to go.”
In addition to today’s meeting with St. James, the Office of Student Life is hosting a service project Oct. 9 on the Auraria Campus to connect students with the daily struggles that refugees face.
St. James also noted that interested individuals can also help directly with Clarkston’s refugees by going to fugeesfamily.org to get involved or donate to the cause.