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Jocelyn Nicole Johnson with students on stage

On Friday, September 23, Alameda High School welcomed author Jocelyn Nicole Johnson for the first whole school assembly in 20 years. 

Alameda High students had read Johnson’s book, My Monticello, for their summer reading assignment and were excited to have the author on campus. 

Ms. Johnson, whose book is receiving a Netflix film adaptation, read an excerpt from her novella and spoke to students about her writing journey and the importance of engaging with outsider stories. Twelfth-grade students Layla Lama and Cristiana Gomez conducted an author interview following Johnson's speech; the author also visited a creative writing class at the school and had lunch with Black students in the 11th and 12th grades.

This was the third year of the AHS “Community Read,” an initiative started by the English Department to encourage all students to read a common book over the summer. 

“We use this initiative to engage in literature that is written by diverse authors and details diverse perspectives and experiences,” says Department Chair Cynthia Roenisch. “By asking students to read over the summer we are also trying to stem learning loss (the dreaded "summer slip") and keep that reading muscle strong.”

The school’s first summer read was The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the second was the graphic novel I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib.

The AHS English Department worked with Ms. Johnson and her agent to help them understand AHS student body and the intent behind the summer reading initiative. English teachers then taught at least one of the short stories from the book and  shared articles about the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville to give students historical background for Ms. Johnson's work (which often centers on current events). Students were also asked to submit questions for the author before her visit.

“Ms. Johnson's address was thoughtful, intentional and impactful,” Ms. Roenisch says. “The selected students enjoyed having lunch with the author and her parents. It was a safe space for them. And the creative writing students loved digging into authorial choices in their time with her.”

The visit was paid for with site funds, PTA donations, and a GoFundMe fundraiser. 

Photo by Elia Rogers