PBS Utah Book Club in a Box Tackles Housing, Refugees, and Pandemics

Press Release

Airdate: 
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 - 10:30am

This fall, PBS Utah enters its third year of Book Club in a Box, a packaged toolkit for book clubs in Utah. Each box pairs a book with a documentary and focuses on a common theme. Book Club in a Box demonstrates that much like literature, public television is an effective vehicle for great storytelling and discussion. The stories this year have the power to teach, inspire, and open hearts and minds. 

The three new curated boxes cover the topics of housing, refugees, and pandemics. They’re available by registration at any time, beginning in September at pbsutah.org/bookclub. Any book club host in Utah can register for Book Club in a Box, provided they agree to watch the film, read the book, and provide feedback via online surveys or feedback forms. The boxes are free, thanks to generous grants and support from Utah Humanities, the Bastian Foundation, and community partners. 

This year, Community Engagement Manager Laura Durham is adding a few changes. “We’re excited to introduce a graphic novel for the first time,” she said. “The illustrations help tell the story in a personal way that complements the documentary quite nicely. We’re also using scholarly articles for one of our boxes rather than a book to provide context that brings legitimacy and award-winning journalism to a topic that benefits from facts and a historical perspective.” The boxes include relevant reading material and a documentary for the host, background materials, discussion questions, plus some extra surprises. 

PBS Utah worked with local scholars and experts throughout Utah to pair a documentary with relevant literature and to write discussion questions to facilitate meaningful dialogue. “The issues we chose to put a spotlight on this year are significant to Utahns in a special way,” says Durham. “It was interesting to see how our scholars wrote questions for book clubs to explore how each topic is particularly relevant to the challenges we experience at this moment in our history.” 

A Home of Their Own is paired with Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Discussion questions were written by Tara Rollins and Francisca Blanc at the Utah Housing Coalition.

The stories illustrate how most Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster. Because landlords will not accept partial payment, many low-income renters who are short $100 to $200 are evicted from their homes. Having an eviction on record has long-lasting, negative effects, which often result in debt collection, garnishment of wages, and not being able to find a place to live. Book clubs will discover the inequalities that take place in the rental market from high rents to accessing rental assistance and housing close to work. Raising awareness of these issues can increase capacity to best help those in crisis, challenge detrimental mentalities, and build inclusive communities.


Finding Home: Utah’s Refugee Story is paired with The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui. Discussion questions were written by Naja Lockwood, associate instructor and lecturer at The University of Utah. 

The current political discourse around immigration is divisive, not only in America but worldwide. Bui’s story and the documentary puts a human face to the new arrivals in our country, illuminating the background of their lives and their struggles. Their stories address relatable universal struggles, including family sacrifices, difficulties in communication in a new country and between parents and children, personal failings, and the importance of identity and belonging. These stories are a reminder of a common goal that everyone seeks a better future for themselves and their families. 

FRONTLINE: Coronavirus Pandemic is paired with four scholarly articles that explore pandemics: their history, long-lasting effects, and challenges. Discussion questions were written by Dr. Jay Jacobsen, professor emeritus of Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease, and Medical Ethics at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

The FRONTLINE episode examines how the United States first encountered and responded to COVID-19. It’s a narrative that reveals what happens when politics and science collide. The four complementary texts, by award-winning journalists, authors, and historians, put the present pandemic in the historical context of the plagues that preceded it. They focus on how epidemics differ, the common public and political responses they engender, and the profound social changes they may leave as their legacy. These stories reveal that the disturbing responses are not unprecedented or unpredicted. They offer the opportunity to learn lessons from the past and acknowledge unresolved problems revealed by the present in order to better prepare for future pandemics.

PBS Utah is dedicated to engaging the community through great storytelling and also through projects that entertain, educate, and inspire. Book Club in a Box is meant to make it easy for individuals to host a book club right in their own home. The box has everything a host needs to plan a successful gathering whether book clubs decide to meet virtually or in a safely-distanced social setting.

Visit pbsutah.org/bookclub to register.

Last modified: 
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 - 11:46am

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