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ACLP's Empathy Book Club

ACLP is launching a book club in 2021 for members interested in learning more about the experiences and perspectives of others through literature. The book club will meet quarterly through a combination of online interaction and a live discussion.

Join the Layered Book Club group on ACLP Connect

Our first selection is Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon. We will be meeting in January to discuss the book.

2021 Schedule of Events

Heavy by Kiese Laymon
January 20, 2021 at 2 pm Eastern

The Undocumented Americans
by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
April 21, 2021 at 2 pm Eastern

Living on the Borderlines by Melissa Michal
July 21, 2021 at 2 pm Eastern

Threading My Prayer Rug by Sabeeha Rehman
October 20, 2021 at 2 pm Eastern

Book: Heavy


In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free. A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations. 

Read critical acclaim and reviews.

Author: Kiese Laymon

Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University. Laymon is currently the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Nonfiction at the University of Iowa in Fall 2017.  Laymon is the author of the novel, Long Division and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and Heavy: An American Memoir. Heavy, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose and Audible’s Audiobook of the Year, was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by the The Undefeated, New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Broadly, Library Journal , The Washington Post , Southern Living , Entertainment Weekly, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times Critics. Laymon is the recipient of the 2019 Austen Riggs Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media. Laymon has written essays, stories and reviews for numerous publications including Esquire, McSweeneys, New York Times, Virginia Quarterly Review, ESPN the Magazine, Granta, Colorlines, NPR, LitHub, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, PEN Journal, Fader, Oxford American, Vanity Fair, The Best American Series, Ebony, Travel and Leisure, Paris Review, Guernica and more. 

Kiese Laymon's Bio.

Book: The Undocumented Americans

The Undocumented Americans cover

One of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard reveals the hidden lives of her fellow undocumented Americans in this deeply personal and groundbreaking portrait of a nation.

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. So she wrote her immigration lawyer’s phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants—and to find the hidden key to her own. 
- One of TIME’s must-read books of 2020 
- Finalist for the National Book Award 

Author: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has written about immigration, music, beauty, and mental illness for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Glamour, Elle, Vogue, n+1, and The New Inquiry, among others. She lives in New Haven with her partner and their dog.

Book: Living on the Borderlines

Living on the Borderlines cover

In Living on the Borderlines, intergenerational memory and trauma slip into everyday life: a teenager struggles to understand her grandmother's silences, a man contemplates what it means to preserve tradition in the wake of the "disappearing Indian" myth, and an older woman challenges her town's prejudice while uniting an unlikely family.

With these stories, debut writer Melissa Michal weaves together an understated and contemplative collection exploring what it means to be Indigenous.

Author: Melissa Michal

Melissa Michal is of Seneca, Welsh, and English decent. She teaches creative writing and literature and loves helping students find that they too can write. She is a fiction writer, essayist, photographer, and a professor. She has her MFA from Chatham University, MA from The Pennsylvania State University, and her PhD in literature from Arizona State University where she focuses on education and representation of Indigenous histories and literatures in curriculum. She has been grateful to read at the National American Indian Museum in DC and Amerind Museum in Dragoon. Melissa has work appearing in The Florida Review, Yellow Medicine Review, and the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program’s Narrative Witnessing project. She completed a short story collection, Living Along the Borderlines, published with Feminist Press in February 2019, and it was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether first book prize. Her first novel, Along the Hills, is finished and under revisions. She has also finished her nonfiction lyric essay collection, Broken Blood.

Book: Threading My Prayer Rug

Threading My Prayer Rug cover

This enthralling story of the making of an American is a timely meditation on being Muslim in America today. Threading My Prayer Rug is a richly textured reflection. It is also the luminous story of many journeys: from Pakistan to the United States in an arranged marriage that becomes a love match lasting forty-five years; from secular Muslim in an Islamic society to devout Muslim in a society ignorant of Islam, and from liberal to conservative to American Muslim; from bride to mother; and from an immigrant intending to stay two years to an American citizen, business executive, grandmother, and tireless advocate for interfaith understanding.

Beginning with a sweetly funny, moving account of her arranged marriage, the author undercuts stereotypes and offers the refreshing view of an American life through Muslim eyes. Sabeeha was doing interfaith work for Imam Feisal A. Rauf, the driving force behind the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, when the backlash began. She recounts what that experience revealed about American society and in a new preface discusses Islam in America in the time of Trump.

Author: Sabeeha Rehman

Sabeeha Rehman was born and raised in Pakistan. She came to the United States in 1971 after a hurried arranged marriage to a Pakistani doctor in New York. With a bachelor's degree in Home Economics, she settled into the life of a homemaker. Once both her sons were enrolled full-time in school, she went back to college to get her master's in healthcare administration and began her twenty-five-year career as a hospital executive. Her career spanned hospitals in New York, New Jersey, and Saudi Arabia.

Raising children Muslim in the absence of a Muslim community was a daunting challenge. In the early 1980s, she and her husband began the work of establishing a Muslim community on Staten Island, where they were living at the time. Their efforts culminated in the building of a mosque.

Ms. Rehman has spent the last several decades in engaging in interfaith dialogue with faith communities. She served as the director of interfaith programs at the American Society for Muslim Advancement and as the chief operating officer at the Cordoba Initiative, a multifaith organization dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and the West. She is active on the interfaith circuit, raising awareness of Islam, and Muslims in America.

When her grandson was diagnosed with autism, she left her career and cofounded the New York Metro Chapter of the National Autism Association, and served as its first president.

Her memoir, Threading My Prayer Rug, received Honorable Mention in Spirituality in the San Francisco Book Festival Awards of 2017. It was listed as a Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Book of 2016 and a Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction Books of 2017 by Booklist. She has contributed op-eds to the Wall Street Journal, and she blogs on topics related to American Muslim and Pakistani immigrant experience at

She lives in New York City with her husband Khalid, a retired hematologist/oncologist.