Zachary Wood, free-speech activist and author of Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, visited campus from January 15 to 17 as part of Blair’s 2019-2020 all-school read program. Blair students read Uncensored over the summer and delved into the work in their English classes earlier this year. During Mr. Wood’s three-day residency, they had the opportunity to meet the author, who is a 2018 graduate of Williams College and a nationally known pundit, and learn firsthand about the life experiences that inspired his memoir.
All-school read committee members Peyton Schreiber ’22, Lydia Richardson ’20, Ari Cobb ’20, Madeline McNamara ’20, Gabriel Ramirez ’22 and Ben Liu ’22 planned Mr. Wood’s visit together with their advisors, English department chair Jim Moore and English teacher Molly Hoyer. Familiar with Mr. Wood’s background as the former president of Uncomfortable Learning at Williams and a crusader for open dialogue, the committee members created a schedule designed to optimize his time on campus. It included meetings with Blair’s Inclusivity Committee and Courageous Conversations Club, dinner with the all-school read committee, a family-style dinner discussion with a small group of students and nearly a dozen English class visits.
“Mr. Wood personally interacted with about half of our student body during his time on campus, and kids enjoyed the opportunity to have real conversations with him in small-group settings,” Mr. Moore said. “This residency accomplished one of our main goals for Blair’s all-school read program: it greatly reduced the distance between reader and writer.”
“I wanted students to make meaningful connections with Mr. Wood during his visit, to ask him the questions on their minds, and converse frankly and openly,” Ms. Hoyer added. “Blair students have incredibly genuine interactions with their teachers, and this residency gave them the same opportunity to truly connect with a young, thoughtful author whose work is relevant in many ways to their lives.”
The all-school read committee spent nearly an hour and a half with Mr. Wood during his first evening on campus, talking about college, school, his recent life and ambitions for the future. “We had some really great conversation and got to know him better as not only the author of his book, but as an interesting conversationalist and, overall, a very nice person,” said Peyton. “Mr. Wood was very willing to talk about his life, what drove him to write Uncensored, the publishing process, experiences in college and lots of other things that were really helpful and encouraging. He was very open about life before and after the events of the book, and the time we spent with him was super enjoyable.”
For Lydia, the family-style dinner with Mr. Wood was the most meaningful experience of the residency. Students who were especially interested in meeting the author signed up for the event, and it brought together a cross-section of varying grade-levels, backgrounds and interests. “Everyone at the dinner got to ask Mr. Wood about his writing, regardless of the classes they are in or the committees on which they serve,” Lydia observed. “I think it’s really beneficial for students to read books that they can discuss not only with their peers, but with the author, as well.”
Peyton, who greatly enjoyed this year’s all-school read experience, agreed that Mr. Wood’s residency was beneficial, particularly after having heard his Chapel speech last year and reading his memoir. “His time on campus provided a lot of clarification for students in various classes and committees, incited conversation and encouraged students to share their own stories,” she said. “Uncensored was incredibly thought-provoking. The conversations that grew from this book are very important, and they required everyone to participate and think deeply about issues within our society.”