The Fox Cities Book Festival received a $2,500 grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation to support free public presentations by Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which is the book selected for the Fox Cities Reads. Desmond speaks April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Menasha High School and again April 12 at 10:00 a.m. at Lawrence Memorial Chapel.
By Ashley Thiem-Menning, Fox Cities Book Festival President
The goal of each Fox Cities Reads is to encourage members of our communities to read, think, talk, listen and grow together around one book.
A shared reading experience is invaluable; even more so when readers are given the opportunity to engage with the author. This year we selected Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond as our featured book. Matthew lived in a trailer park and boarding house in Milwaukee while researching the book and recorded his interactions with landlords and tenants. The book won a Pulitzer-Prize in 2017 and features narrative about real families in Milwaukee suffering from homelessness and poverty.
While the events in the book took place in Milwaukee, homelessness and poverty are a reality in the Fox Cities too. In partnership with Pillars, a nonprofit that provides shelter, support, and solutions to address housing needs in our community, we have been able to learn more about our local statistics and share facts about the reality of need here at home.
When people finish reading the book and discuss it with others, we hope they will have a better understanding of the harsh cycle of poverty, how eviction works, and how they can spread hope through help.
One of the featured quotes on the Evicted website is “Without a home everything else falls apart.” Our local Pillars organization sheltered over 1,200 people in 2018 alone.
Many people today still believe low-income families live in public housing. But the reality is that only 1 in 4 families who qualify for any kind of housing assistance receive it. Based on a local survey we conducted when we announced the title, almost half the respondents in our survey still believe this to be true.
Beyond the issues of safe, affordable housing and eviction, financial hardship and poverty are also themes present in the book that are important to every community. The United Way Wisconsin’s 2018 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report found that 38 percent of Wisconsin households face financial hardship and can’t afford basic needs.
This particular book selection is geared for high school age students and adults. Appleton Area School District high schools have embraced this project, dedicating an entire issue of their student newspaper to the topic. They’re also hosting dramatic performances and fundraisers to benefit those in need.
The Fox Cities Book Festival has also partnered with Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities to host eight facilitated community conversations on the title and topic leading up to the author visit. There have also been seven different book discussions through the public libraries, as well as a Poverty Simulation, Rent Smart Workshops and other money management classes.
The History Museum at the Castle has graciously loaned their (In)Visible Display to the Fox Cities Book Festival, which will cycle through 13 different venues over six months. Five of the venues hosting the displays are local high schools. The display features statistics, diary entries, and photos of those suffering from homelessness and poverty right here in the Fox Cities as a part of Project RUSH.
Even if individuals haven’t had the opportunity to read the book, Matthew Desmond’s keynote will be of interest to anyone interested in learning more about his research and experiences with eviction and poverty in Wisconsin.
You can make the Bright Ideas burn even brighter by adding your support.