The day that Emma and Ben changed a best selling author’s life
Rarely do book clubs have the opportunity to meet the author of the book they’ve just finished reading, but we did. After many weeks of discussing the best-selling novel Utopia Avenue, the OSG Book Club was honored with a meet and greet from award-winning author David Mitchell himself.
The seed was planted in early 2020, when OSG members Emma Budway and Ben McGann met David at the Sundance Film Festival. They were attending a screening for “The Reason I Jump,” a documentary they feature in, which follows the stories of several non-speaking individuals with autism. David’s connection to the film is equally impressive – he translated Naoki Higashida’s book from Japanese, and appears in the film with his neurodiverse son.
After befriending Emma and Ben and learning that OSG was reading his book, David excitedly told them that if the group finished reading his novel, he’d make a guest appearance at our book club. Fast forward several months and true to his word, London-based David joined our final meeting via Zoom to share his thoughts about the book as well as answer the group’s questions such as, “Which character do you identify with the most?”, “How have you coped with your stutter?” and “How have you been able to write so much, in such a short amount of time?”.
To the latter he answered, “I’m privileged in a number of ways, you know. I’m neurotypical in a world designed by neurotypical people for neurotypical people – that’s a form of privilege. As you can see I’m white, that’s another form of privilege, and I’m a male, which is another form of privilege. However, the privilege I value most is that I just love my job. It doesn’t feel like work. So that’s how I manage to write the number of books I do.”
During the meet and greet he conveyed several heartfelt messages to his OSG friends, saying: “Meeting Ben and Emma literally changed my relationship with my son; you changed what I thought was possible, you changed my view of autism, and you certainly changed my understanding of letterboarding. And I think, therefore, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you changed my life.”
He went on to explain how his understanding of non-speaking autistic people has been forever impacted, as well as his direct interactions. This was clear to the group thanks to David’s use of inclusive language and patience with those who used a letterboard.
Before wrapping up, David expressed his gratitude: “Thank you very much for reading my book, I never take it for granted. And because reading is not universally an easy thing, a book this length as well, it’s an extra special honor that you’ve dedicated your time and effort into reading my book, Utopia Avenue.”
In a recent interview with The Guardian, David was asked what was the most valuable lesson he’d learned throughout this process. He responded, “To assume intelligence. Don’t assume the lack of it. Assume complete comprehension and act accordingly. Don’t treat an autistic person any differently to a neurotypical person. Let them out of infantilization prison and allow them full human credentials, which they’re too often denied.”
We thank David for his support, his ongoing work in the autism space, and his commitment to inclusivity.
If you’d like to find out more about David’s books, go to Amazon Smile and search ‘David Mitchell’ in books. When purchasing, select City Center NOVA (our previous name) as your desired non-profit. A portion of your purchase will be donated to our mission to build inclusive communities.
If you’d like to join our book club, please sign up on our event calendar. We meet every Tuesday at 7 PM and are currently reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
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