It's a book . . .

Walk

with

Us

Triplet boys,

their teen parents

& two white women

who tagged along

. . . and an experience.

READING GROUP & CLASSROOM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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Reading Group Questions

See also English Course, Social Work, Race Related, Communications

1. How did the chapter-opening quotes from Tahija’s in-progress autobiography affect your experience of the book? Why did Chapter 31 open without a quote?

2. How does the fact that Gordon is telling this story, including stories told to her, affect the story? Where did you most doubt her objectivity, accuracy or fairness?

3. What caused Kathryn to change her mind about Tahija coming back home from the hospital with the triplets the first time, and then again the second time?

4. What does the circling hawk represent for the young parents?

5. What does Kathryn identify as Tahija’s favorite movie? As Lamarr’s? What conclusions does she draw based on these preferences? What is Kathryn’s favorite movie and why do we learn about it so late in the book?

6. Where do you think the voice Kathryn hears, saying “Walk with Her,” comes from? What made her more receptive to listening to what she takes to be guidance?

7. Have you ever felt "led" to take an action or make a change? If so, where did that leading come from?

8. How do the teen parents’ and the two white women’s definitions of spoiling differ?

9. How do you define spoiling? Discuss the kind of nurturance you received as a child and how the race, class, and life experiences of your parents and/or caregivers shaped it.

10. How do Kaki and Kathryn deal with Mahad being failure-to-thrive? Do you agree with their choices?

11. Which actions and attitudes of the two older women empowered the teen parents? Which disempowered them?

12. What was the effect of the fast in chapter 29? Do you think it was a good idea?

13. What in your own experience did this book bring up?

14. What qualities make Lamarr an able mediator?

15. How might the story have been different had Kaki and Kathryn had the legal right to marry?

16. What effects do you think this book will have on the triplets when they are old enough to read it?

17. Discuss injustices you’ve experienced, witnessed, heard about or participated in similar to Tahija’s being fired after becoming a certified CNA.

18. Were you to meet Tahija and her boys, how would you use your three allotted questions?

19. What did you learn about Tahija from the appendix that either is not in the main part of the book or is portrayed with a different slant?

20. What made Lamarr a loyal father and partner?

21. What gave and gives Tahija the strength to go on?

22. Who of all the book's characters would you most like to meet?



English Course Questions

See also Reading Group, Social Work, Race Related, Communications

1. How does the opening epigraph from Tillie Olsen’s short story “O, Yes” apply to the book?

2. Choose one or two chapter-opening quotes from Tahija’s in-progress autobiography and discuss how they relate to the body of the chapters, in terms of plot, tone and theme.

3. What is the effect, in terms of character and theme, of the book beginning with Tahija waiting for her father?

4. Identify and analyze at least one symbol and one symbolic action.

5. What is the effect of the use of dialect? Where did it work for you? Where did it seem awkward or inauthentic?

6. Why do prisons appear in chapter 1 and again in chapter 26?

7. What affect on the reader is created by opening Part Two with little or no mention of the teen parents or the triplets, who have just been born?

8. Which character in Toni Morrison's novel Beloved does Kathryn decide she is most like? Why?

9. Compare and contrast the writing styles of Tahija Ellison and Elizabeth Gordon.

10. What themes does the epilogue repeat?

11. Write a short epilogue from the point of view of Angelina "Balboa", Sam Harper, Kaki, Lamarr, Tahija, Tahija's mother Laura, or one of the triplets.

12. Which of the three sections would work best as a stage play? What would be lost, what gained?

13. Write a play of from one to three scenes using dialogue from the book.

QUOTED TEXTS

Walk with Us quotes or mentions the following works, any of which can be read in conjunction with the book.

Toni Morrison - The Bluest Eye (Walk with Us page 29). This is our Nobel laureate’s first novel, a slim, poetic, tragic account of a young black girl who longs for blue eyes, and pays a very high price to get them.

Toni Morrison - Beloved (page 30-31, 89). This is the book that Oprah Winfrey made into a feature film. Its descriptions of slavery and the violent decades that followed were not, however, included in the film. Gordon weighs herself against the novel's Amy Denver, a white girl who assists a pregnant Sethe as she is running for her life, her baby's, and their freedom.

Tillie Olsen – “O, Yes,” (quoted in the epigram) is one of four short stories in the acclaimed collection Tell Me a Riddle, by this working-class daughter of immigrants. “O, Yes” tells the story of best friends being sorted by race as they enter adolescence, and the mother whose heart breaks for the broken community. Olsen died in 2007. Read John Leonard's introduction to this classic work, which was also published in The Nation.

Lucille Clifton – This beloved poet and winner of the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement is the author of numerous books of poetry. Walk with Us excerpts three of her poems, with permission, on pages 145, 185, 189. The full text of “won’t you celebrate with me” is quoted on page 219. For a biography and small collection of recordings visit Poets.org

Ursula K. LeGuin – LeGuin’s much-anthologized story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” provides a metaphor (chapter 31), that helps Gordon, in her grief after the triplets have moved out, unearth the motivations underlying her service.



Social Work Questions

See also Reading Group, English Course, Race Related, Communications

1. In the introduction, Gordon writes, “I am aware of the myriad mistakes, distortions and thefts white writers, musicians and artists have perpetrated on black individuals and communities. I pray I have not added to the ignominious history of expropriation, or, if I have, that in reflecting upon myself and my motives light is thrown on the modus operandi of that expropriation.” Does this book expropriate from black culture and experience? If so does it throw a useful light on the "modus operandi" of that expropriation?

2. What might Kathryn and Kaki have done to better allow the teen parents self-determination?

3. Had you been this makeshift family's case worker, what questions would you have asked them a) just before Tahija moved in; b) at the meeting where it is decided that Kathryn will become caregiver; c) during the crisis over Mahad being failure to thrive; and d) during the conflict that leads to the young family moving out)?

4. What seemed to interfere with Kathryn's creating and maintaining healthy boundaries?

5. How did the class difference between Kaki and Kathryn affect their ability to be of service to the young family?

6. How would you evaluate the performance of human services overall?

7. How might individual social workers have helped allay Tahija peception and fear of them as "the hawk"? To what extent are, or were, social welfare policies hawk-like (i.e., predatory)?

8. Do you think Tahija's age, race or religion prejudiced social workers against her?

9. If you are European-American, discuss how the book affected your sense of yourself as a white person?

10. If you are African-American or a person of color, discuss how the book affected your sense of white people's ability to change?

11. How did Kathryn's relationship to her working class, Celtic-American roots change over the course of the book?

12. How do the teen parents’ and the two white women’s definitions of spoiling differ?

13. How do you define spoiling? Discuss the kind of nurturance you received as a child and how the race, class, and life experiences of your parents and/or caregivers shaped it.

14. How might the fact that the triplets had an early caregiver of another race affect the them later in life?

15. What made Lamarr a loyal father and partner?

16. What gave and gives Tahija the strength to go on?

17. Have you ever felt "led" to take an action or make a change? If so, where did that leading come from?

18. How did poverty affect the young family? How might their case worker go beyond poverty management?

19. What in Walk with Us might be used as an argument against Maslow's hierarchy of needs? For it?

20. To what extent is Walk with Us an example of methods or paradigms used in the Settlement House Movement?

21. On page 225 Gordon paraphrases Cornell West when she writes, "there is a sadness only American black people feel." What do you know about this sadness? Do you believe Gordon can feel, "a variety of sadness that [is] a cousin" to that?

22. Who of the four main characters seems to you the most resilient? The least? Why?



Race-related Questions

See also Reading Group, English Course, Social Work, Communications

1. Is Kathryn’s reaction when she first meets Lamarr racist?

2. How might the fact that the triplets had an early caregiver of another race affect the them later in life?

3. How do the teen parents’ and the two white women’s definitions of spoiling differ?

4. How do you define spoiling? Discuss the kind of nurturance you received as a child and how the race, class, and life experiences of your parents and/or caregivers shaped it.

5. In the introduction, Gordon writes, “I am aware of the myriad mistakes, distortions and thefts white writers, musicians and artists have perpetrated on black individuals and communities. I pray I have not added to the ignominious history of expropriation, or, if I have, that in reflecting upon myself and my motives light is thrown on the modus operandi of that expropriation.” Does this book expropriate from black culture and experience? If so does it throw a useful light on the "modus operandi" of that expropriation?

6. On page 55 Gordon writes, "I knew the facts of American history, and had read, listened, and felt enough to begin to understand a little of what it means to be black in these United States. But what it means to be a poor young black man in these United States I have come to understand that no one, unless it is the black woman who loves him, can ever fully understand." Do you agree?

7. On page 256 Gordon asks herself if she is a racist. What does that word mean to you? How do you define racism? Is Gordon a racist, by that definition? Is Kaki? What leads Gordon to ask herself that? Why doesn't she wonder earlier?

8. On page 225 Gordon paraphrases Cornell West when she writes, "there is a sadness only American black people feel." What do you know about this sadness? Can Gordon feel, as she claims, "a variety of sadness that [is] a cousin" to that?



Communications Questions

See also Reading Group, English Course, Social Work, Race Related

1. Is Walk with Us a case of immersion journalism, in the style of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed for example?

2. How does the fact that Gordon is telling this story, including stories told to her, affect the story?

3. In the introduction, Gordon writes, “I am aware of the myriad mistakes, distortions and thefts white writers, musicians and artists have perpetrated on black individuals and communities. I pray I have not added to the ignominious history of expropriation, or, if I have, that in reflecting upon myself and my motives light is thrown on the modus operandi of that expropriation.” Does this book expropriate from black culture and experience? If so does it throw a useful light on the "modus operandi" of that expropriation?

4. What visual images would you use to augment the story?

5. What questions would you add to the interview in the appendix?

6. Evaluate the book's front and back cover. What unintended messages are being sent? What connotations are attached to words and phrases such as homeless, white women, teens, tagged along, and redemption? What other cover images and design might be more effective?

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