Interview with Warren St. John
We had the privilege of speaking with Warren St. John, author of the 2010 One Maryland One Book selection Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town, about his Maryland book tour, keeping up with the Fugees and how communities all over America are changing.
Q/We are very excited that you are coming to Maryland in late September as a part of our One Maryland One Book program. How does it feel to have so many communities across the country embracing your book and the story of the Fugees?
A/It's very gratifying. When I first learned about Clarkston and the Fugees, I was fascinated because I thought the stories offered a glimpse of America's future. But when I started my research, I had no idea if any one else would take a similar interest, or see value in learning so much about a small town most people have never heard of. I think the common read selections bear out my initial hunch that there is a great deal to learn from the story of Clarkston.
Q/This story seems important to you, rather than being just another assignment. Why?
A/Because of the people I met, their personal struggles and because of my conviction that America -- and maybe the world -- stands to learn a great deal by opening our hearts and minds to their stories.
Q/Outcasts United was selected as MHC's One Maryland One Book for 2010. Among its many themes, we are encouraging Marylanders to strike up conversations about community -- how it is defined as well as what brings us together and what divides us within our communities? Why do you feel the story of the Fugees and the town of Clarkston is an important one to share with communities in Maryland?
A/Outcasts United is ultimately the story about a changing community, and how that community grapples to create connections and a sense of unity despite incredible differences between its citizens. I think the story has relevance in any place that is undergoing change, particularly changes that create greater diversity, whether ethnic, religious, economic, etc.
Q/Do you and Coach Luma stay in touch? Have you stayed in touch with any of the "original" Fugees (from when your first articles were written)?
A/I follow the Fugees on Twitter and through their email lists, and I stay in touch with several of the players I write about in the book. I'm particularly close with the family of Burundian refugees I write about in the book -- they've moved to Indiana, where I've visited them, and we speak several times a week.
Q/As you visit various communities to talk about Outcasts United what do you take away from the time you spend with the people who have read and are talking about your book?
A/One thing I seem to hear everywhere I go is "something like that is happening in our community." It may not be refugee resettlement that's driving the change -- it may be immigration, or even economic forces within communities that are leading to realignments and reconfigurations of old orders. But change is a constant in this country, and I think most people would agree that their communities are becoming more diverse. I think Outcasts United is a book about how you start to accommodate that change and for that reason, people seem to see themselves and their own communities in the story of Clarkston, a little town on one square mile in Georgia. There are no pat answers to this conundrum -- in the book or in real life. But I think the book seems to kick start introspection and to motivate conversation -- and ultimately, I think action, in communities where change has come but has not yet been embraced or understood.