A Good Talk: Graphic Novelist Mira Jacob Speaks at Stuyvesant

Mira Jacob (’91) came to Stuyvesant to speak to Writing to Make Change students who read her graphic novel “Good Talk” on November 19.

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By Shreyantan Schanda

Mira Jacob, author of the graphic novel “Good Talk,” came to speak for English teacher Annie Thoms’s Writing to Make Change English elective on November 19. Jacob spoke about her motivations for writing “Good Talk,” read excerpts from it, and shared a letter to her son, around whom the book is centered.

Writing to Make Change is a new English elective piloted this fall that teaches students how to write for a broad audience outside of the traditional school setting, and how to effectively persuade and communicate through writing. Students of Writing to Make Change have read “Good Talk,” now in the Stuyvesant English curriculum. Thoms assigned her students to create emulation pieces of “Good Talk” that incorporated writing and illustration to depict a central theme in the novel that personally related to the student. “I asked all of my students to use ‘Good Talk’ as inspiration and [write] their graphic memoir and conversations and [...] choose to develop that piece or an op-ed piece,” Thoms said. Some students’ works were shared at Jacob’s talk.

At the event, Jacob spoke candidly about her experience as a person of color in the United States and as a child of Indian immigrants. She also discussed the images in the graphic novel and her doubts about how the book would be perceived. Students asked Jacob questions regarding these topics such as, “How did your interacial marriage affect your views on race and racism?” and “Why are there the same visuals for each character throughout the graphic novel, and how does this affect the audience’s perception?”

Jacob’s novel explores the experience of growing up Indian-American through conversations between her and her young son, exploring complex issues such as race and identity. In her book, Jacob reflects on the conversations that have shaped her own thoughts on these core issues.

Thoms decided to incorporate “Good Talk” into Writing to Make Change because of its unique medium and humor regarding a diverse set of topics. “I came across it in a bookstore last spring. I picked it up and started reading the first chapter,” Thoms said. “I thought [the first couple pages] were very funny, and by the end of the first chapter I was almost in tears and thought, ‘I have to buy it right now.’”

Thoms asked Jacob to come and speak at Stuyvesant to explain the ideas of her novel. “I thought that Mira Jacob was incredibly inspiring,” Thoms said. “[Jacob] spoke to [the] students about becoming a writer as a child of Indian immigrants, the genesis of the book.”

Jacob also explained the process of creating a novel to the Writing to Make Change students. “It was really cool reading the finished product first and then hearing about how it was made and all the behind-the-scenes stuff,” junior Aishwarjya Barua said in an e-mail interview.

Drawing is an important medium of expression in Thoms’s elective. This focus made “Good Talk” a source of inspiration for her students. “We are in a time where graphic novels are wildly popular, and we communicate in so many ways by images. Image is another language, and I wanted to have that as an accessible language in my class,” Thoms said.

Students found “Good Talk” very relatable and enjoyed how it was taught by Thoms. “In class, we talked about the themes in the book, and Ms. Thoms let us talk about our personal stories that related to the themes,” Barua said. “Everyone related to the book in some way.”

Barua felt especially connected to “Good Talk” because of her similar cultural background to Jacob’s. “There's a part [in the novel] where she speaks on colorism within the South Asian community, using a conversation about Fair & Lovely cream. It brought back memories of countless conversations I've had with my family about how being [light-skinned] was considered beautiful and darker skin tones weren't. I felt like this successful, intelligent, amazing woman and I had the same exact childhood,” she said.

Barua and other students enjoyed discussing “Good Talk” and meeting Jacob in Writing to Make Change. “‘Good Talk’ is now one of my favorite books, and I adore Mira Jacob,” Barua said. “In class, I always felt that the issues I had dealing with race and culture growing up [were] valid and [speaking about them] made me feel appreciated.”

Correction: a previous version of this article stated that Mira Jacob was a Stuyvesant alum. This was incorrect and has been removed.