By Natasha Eslami
In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah, the popular comedian and host of the cable TV show “The Daily Show,” recounts his childhood growing up in South Africa, the son of a white father and a Black mother. At the time, such a union was punishable by five years in prison in apartheid South Africa, so Noah’s very existence was “crime.”
Noah tells his story, which ranges from the humorous to the traumatic, with his cutting wit and incisive perspective. At times both poignant and outrageous, Noah deals with the intersection of his life and the history of a country reckoning with deep-seated racism and finds a parallel here to the United States.
His memoir does not shy away from exposing deeply ingrained racism, sexism, violence, economic inequity, and domestic violence. And yet, his personal story reminds us that even in the deepest tragedy and among the most menacing of fears, there is hope and strength within ourselves and those around us to set us on a better path.
The Malden Reads team wanted to select a book that would resonate across cultures and communities, especially one as deeply diverse as our own beloved city, and that would spark dialogue grounded in the relevant events of today. More than ever, books and media have an opportunity to galvanize thought and action to address and contest racism and effect change.
Born a Crime reminds us that racism is deeply embedded in how we live, behave, speak, and think, and it challenges us to recognize our unconscious (and conscious) biases and to question how we can do better. Through the moving power of storytelling and the universally resonant instrument of humor, Noah sheds a light on all that continues to be dark in our lives and communities and compels us to act. Whether that is through being more involved with the community, being a voice and power in policy, or leveraging the power of pen and might of creativity, we are each responsible for realizing a better, more equal, and gentler world.
The book is a New York Times #1 bestseller and recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author, among other commendations, including awards for the audio version. We also understand that a movie is in the works, so perhaps more awards will come.
Our programing this year will focus on encouraging dialogue about racism, the impacts of white privilege, and the harsh realities of domestic violence. While the book faces difficult topics and challenges head on, we will also be examining the power of words and humor to encourage change. What Noah asks us to remember through his telling is that dialogue, community, and perseverance toward equity are the keys to unlocking a better future, and this will be a cornerstone of our engagement as we forge ahead.
Programming will also include a focus on storytelling and listening to everyone’s unique story and experiences. Resources, suggested additional readings for adults, and companion books and suggested curricula and activities will be provided for children and educators. Stay tuned for the companion books announcement and a list of related resources.
The Malden Reads committee is exploring all possible ways to continue to provide programs and events that create meaningful connections and dialogue in our community. We are currently planning online book discussions of Born a Crime and companion books, an anti-racism workshop series, workshops on storytelling and writing memoir, co-creative “filmbuilding” experiences, a community stand-up comedy special, film screenings (online), and other arts, cultural, creative, and educational opportunities that bring people of all backgrounds together in a meaningful way.
Those looking to get a head start with reading the book or purchasing it for a holiday gift will be able to do so after Thanksgiving at The Gallery @ 57 on Pleasant Street in Malden. Library copies are available in English and other languages, along with the e-book and audio versions (available only on CD). Due to Covid restrictions the Malden Public Library is using a reserve-and-curbside-pickup method for library patrons.
The Malden Reads committee looks forward to deepening connections in the Malden community. To contact the committee with questions about the book, to collaborate on a program, to volunteer, or to be added to the email newsletter list, please email email@example.com or use the “contact” form on our website, www.maldenreads.org.
Natash Eslami is a member of the Malden Reads committee.