A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

A Review-Based Student Publication of Townsend Harris High School

The Classic Critic

AP Literature class pairs up with the Lambda Literary LGBTQ Writers in Schools Program

Ms. Lipinski
AP Literature students listen as author Soraya Palmer addresses them in the THHS library.

On March 18, Soraya Palmer, the author of the novel The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts, visited Townsend Harris High School to speak to Harrisites. With the help of librarian Arlene Laverde, AP English Literature teachers Katherine Lipinski and Charlene Garklavs, as well as the LAMBDA Literary LGBTQ Writers in Schools Program, students had the opportunity to meet the author and get their copy of the book signed.

The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts is a coming-of-age story that follows a dysfunctional Jamaican-Trinidadian family from Brooklyn, using various folktales to develop the plot. The story is centered on the two sisters of a family, Zora and Sasha Palmer, and their complicated relationship. The book also explores the different circumstances that impact the family, including their father’s infidelity, and their mother’s complicated past.

Soraya Palmer, a Flatbush native, is also involved in social work and youth groups alongside her writing. This impacts her writing career as she resonates with those who experience the widespread problems of gender-based violence and police brutality. With her heartfelt support and understanding of these situations, she uses her experiences to influence her writing about complications that are present in her own life as well as their impact on society.

Author Soraya Palmer during the session in the library. (Ms. Lipinski)

While reading the novel, students worked on various projects to prepare for the Meet and Greet with Soraya Palmer. Students were able to submit a ranked list of their desired project group, allowing Ms. Lipinski and Ms. Garklavs to create small groups based on student preferences.  They were given the following choices: Author Interview Team, Comprehension Check Team, Seminar Facilitation Team, Creative Expression Team, Narrative Response Team, and the Journalism Team.

Ms. Lipinski, the head of this event, explained how she connected with the organization: “Our incredible librarian, Ms. Laverde, told me about the Lambda Literary LGBTQ writers school program four years ago, and I’ve applied for the program every year since then. The program offers a list of authors and their books, and then you’re able to submit your top three choices for author visits.” After this, if you get accepted, they pick the author that you will be visited with.

Junior Isabella Zapata, one of the students in Ms. Lipinski’s AP Literature class, said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet Ms. Palmer. “It was nice to put a face to a name and watch the author answer all the questions each of the classes created. I also enjoyed generating the class gift for her; it was a great way to show our appreciation and represent the students’ thoughts.”

Junior Ramisa Sharif said, “I love reading books, but I never get the chance to meet and interact with the author. As a reader, this was an important moment since we had the chance to get inside the author’s head and [understand] the reasons behind certain decisions and how information was presented. I enjoyed the experience and hope that we can have more events like these in the future.”

Junior Galo Sanchez said, “For our project, we made questions asking about her writing process and the significance of her characters. During the Meet and Greet, [Soraya Palmer shared that she] was really attentive to her writing and the type of message she was trying to convey on generational trauma and what it means to be the child of an immigrant.”

Author Soraya Palmer signs students’ copies of her book. (Ms. Lipinski)

When asked about why she chose The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts as the assigned reading, Ms. Lipinski said, “The characters and story were set in New York, so I was hopeful that [this] would resonate with students. I also thought that the focus on family narratives, traditions, and folktales would be useful when thinking about writing our college essays.”

As the story chronicles the past of a family, the two sisters come together through the lens of a variety of issues such as sexuality, culture, and identity, which are issues often relevant to the lives of many Townsend Harris students. Ms. Lipinski also mentioned how the story connects to the course, saying, “I wanted to pick a book that included experiences of first-generation Americans because it reflects the topic of [the AP Literature & Composition : First Generation Stories of Identity, Culture, and Belonging] course. I also liked that the author was a New Yorker.”

Ms. Lipinski’s course is part of the creative writing program in the THHS Writers Academy, which, in part, offers students chances to meet with professional writers in varying contexts.

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About the Contributors
Madison Donenfeld, Managing Editor
Madison is a junior at Townsend Harris High School. She enjoys reading, watching movies, listening to music (specifically Taylor Swift), and hanging out with her friends. You will often find her trying to learn a new instrument.
Tasnia Khandaker
Tasnia Khandaker, Music Review Editor
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