Dine author Brian Young visits Utah school.

Diné Author Invites Students to Share Their Own Stories

By Reneé Leta

In 2018, some 87 percent of Utah students graduated from high school. However, among Native American and Hispanic learners, only one in five met that mark. Research shows that students who are more literate will lead more successful lives and develop the skills needed to transition to adulthood.  

This fall, the Utah State Library Division will bring Diné author Brian Young to speak to some of Utah’s most underserved middle and high school students, thanks to a collaboration with sister agencies, the Division of Indian Affairs and the Division of Arts & Museums.

“We want our youth to see positive role models who help them believe they are capable of achieving goals and making their dreams a reality,” says Karen Liu, youth services coordinator. “It’s more impactful to us when we see role models who look like us or who have lived through similar experiences as us.” 

The library selected Brian Young for the author visits because of his powerful debut novel, “Healer of the Water Monsters,” and his poignant life story. Because Native storytelling is often passed on through oral tradition, the author encourages students to write down their stories and share them, when culturally appropriate. Records of traditions and histories can serve as a legacy for future generations.

“Utah has a rich history of peoples and cultures, including our sovereign Tribes,”  Liu says. “Introducing different author voices and different types of storytelling helps us cultivate curiosity and compassion as we learn about experiences that are different from our own.”

The State Library’s contract with Brian Young originally focused on Title I schools in the urban areas of Salt Lake County that had never received an author visit. Working with the Division of Indian Affairs, the project is able to reach Title VI programs and provide author visits in communities such as Monument Valley.

The State Library’s agency partners collaborated on community outreach. “Together, we were able to add additional school visits and community visits and focus on providing greater impact, with a broader geographic range, including urban and rural schools,” Liu says.

Brian Young’s author visits are funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Utah State library. The State Library also donated a collection of books to high school libraries, while Arts & Museums and Indian Affairs donated copies of Brian Young’s book to each student attending school visits.

“One of the students said to me after Brian’s presentation: ‘This is the first book I’ve ever owned on my own,’”  Liu says. “My hope is that these author visits will continue to inspire our youth to read, write, and succeed.”  

For information, contact Karen Liu, of the Utah State Library Division’s youth services program, at: karenliu@utah.gov.