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Human Library Makes ‘Books’ Come to Life

Real people share their life experiences in one-on-one sessions in the Human Library Rhode Island at RWU on March 30
Photo by: Dhana Whiteing
A "human book" shares her story at the first Human Library Rhode Island event at Providence's Rochambeau Library in 2013.

Editor's note: This story is part of the 10 on Tuesday series, which provides a fresh take on interesting university initiatives, research projects, campus happenings and more.

BRISTOL, R.I. – Fifty unique stories from the powerful and diverse collection of the Human Library Rhode Island are coming to Roger Williams University on Sunday, March 30 – but these aren’t your typical books.

Modeled on a traditional library, the Human Library Rhode Island 2014 consists of “human books” – real people who have volunteered to tell their personal stories and to answer questions about life experiences. Readers are invited to browse a catalog and check out a “book” for a 15-minute, one-on-one conversation, during which they can learn about their subject and ask questions in a safe, respectful setting.

With this unorthodox reading experience, human libraries strive to promote understanding by allowing people to test the truth behind preconceptions. “Human books” are people with powerful stories to tell and all have experienced prejudice and disadvantage in their lives. Assembled from across Rhode Island, this eclectic and thought-provoking collection of more than 50 “human books” is organized by a large consortium of Rhode Island libraries and sponsoring organizations.

In collaboration with the Roger Williams University Library and Honors Program, the second annual Human Library Rhode Island will be held in the University’s Global Heritage Hall on Sunday, March 30, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. For more information about Human Library Rhode Island and to view a full listing of the “human books” speaking at the event, visit

Before attending this potentially life-changing event – which is free and open to the public – peruse a selection of the stories (some of which will be available in Spanish) that will be presented this Sunday:

  • Becoming Blind: My name is Jack and at the age of 30 I lost my eyesight due to complications from diabetic retinopathy. Becoming blind gave me the opportunity to pursue another career, however, as I eventually earned a doctoral degree in history from Boston College and have been a professor of American History at the Community College of Rhode Island for the last 12 years. As a person with a disability and a college professor, I have entered into an entirely new world, being able to enjoy the satisfaction of helping others in need and serving as a positive role model.
  • Being Transparent: A part of my being-ness – or life experience – is as a man who was born originally in a female body: a female to male transsexual. I have experienced societal violence both directly and indirectly. But I am also many other things as well – an outdoorsman, a psychotherapist, a father, a teacher, a friend, a seeker of Truth, a poet, a singer, a lover of beauty, an artist, and most of all, a fellow human being. Paradoxically, it has been because of the unusual physical nature of my personal journey that I have come to question and recognize the gift of Life in me and other beings, both human and nonhuman. I have come to believe that when I take the time to laugh, cry, get curious about another’s journey, or especially participate in a shared experience of making meaning, any fear fades into the light of resonance.
  • Eat This and Save the World: My career focuses on a simple way for humanity to solve many of the problems we have created in the natural world, and it concerns how we feed ourselves. For 11 years, I have worked to help develop insects as a food source. Although it is a strange idea for most Americans, all of the scientific data demonstrates that insects are a very effective food for an overcrowded world. Unfortunately, many people are unwilling to open their minds enough to give entomophagy a try.  
  • Ex-Felon: My résumé reads like two lifetimes of experiences: four formal educations, excessive community involvement, several certifications, more than one language, computer literacy, and more. So what is it that I fear when applying for work at a new facility? One item that never shows up on your résumé but most likely would be part of an application process is that dreaded question (or some variation of it): Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Ex-felons are denied equal access to employment, and also to housing, education, and, in many cases, participation in government. Ex-felons are a class of people to be shunned, cast away from the rest of society. Society may not care to believe that anyone in this class is worthy of a real second chance, but I will tell my story. (Available in Spanish.)
  • Face of Homelessness: I was homeless once, and I suffered vast amounts of prejudice and misjudgment. However, being homeless was both an uplifting and humbling experience. Today, I use my life experience to speak about the reality of homelessness and the many issues faced by the homeless population. I speak to educate everyone about the importance of separating the circumstance of homelessness from the homeless person.
  • Growing Up Narragansett, Invisible in My Homeland: As a Narragansett growing up in Rhode Island, I was invisible in my own homeland. The history books said I didn’t exist. Others would say you don’t look like an Indian on TV, or there are no Indians east of the Mississippi. If they acknowledged that you were Native American, then they wanted to know where your headdress was and if you still lived in a teepee! Of course, my ancestors never lived in a teepee. The stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices continue to this day. I hope to share my perspectives, culture and ideology with you, as I do every day at Tomaquag Museum, to educate and promote understanding.
  • Living on the Hyphen of Being Iranian-American: I am an Iranian-American who has olive-colored skin, dark hair and a name that you are likely to mispronounce. I used to hide the fact that I was “Iranian.” If anyone asked, I preferred to say, “Persian.” That way, people wouldn’t conjure images of U.S. flag-burning zealots. Instead, they’d think of mystical poetry, fabled art and architecture, legendary heroes, and ancient cities with flying carpets against the horizon. Now I don’t hide. I proudly tell people that I am an Iranian – one of the most successful immigrant groups to come to this country’s shores.
  • Searching for Meaning in Outside War: My name is Tom and I am a retired U.S. Navy Captain and current high school math teacher. I love the United States Navy; I think it is one of America's greatest institutions, one that gave meaning to my life for 25 years. I do not, however, love militarism and I do not love war. I am a pacifist. In a highly militarized society, I have come to believe that war is never a good solution or even a necessary one. It is not the kind of meaning I want to define my life. As a teacher, I find meaning in doing very small but substantive good. I can make a small but positive difference every day. This is how I want to define my life. This is how I want to be remembered.
  • Do I Know How to Make Spring Rolls? I’m an Asian-Bristolian, love a warm brioche from the bakery in Middletown, and visit many schools and community centers in Rhode Island all year round. So who am I? What do I do for a living? Have you started imagining what I’d look like? And, why do you think you came up with that image? It must have something to do with the filter in your head. But what is the “filter”? Let’s find out together! 
  • The Power of Nonviolence: A Personal Story from the Middle East to Providence: I have experienced the transition from being an Israeli soldier to being a peacemaker on the streets of America. As a partial Christian in a Jewish state (Israel), a partial descendant of Holocaust victims, and a partial occupier as an Israeli soldier, and now as a minority working within a community of African Americans and Latinos, I believe human communication is complex. By getting involved in the struggle to end inner-city violence in the U.S., I emerged from the rage of the Holocaust to a more healing vision, taking after those who refused to be by-standers and risked their lives to save Jews in Europe.

Each week, the 10 on Tuesday series provides a fresh take on interesting university initiatives, research projects, campus happenings and more. Have an idea for a 10 on Tuesday? Email