Introduction for Michael Copperman
Why There Are Words Presents “Migrate”
November 18, 2018
by Virginia Bellis Brandabur
In 2002, Michael Copperman left the west coast, where he’d been raised and educated. He went east to the Mississippi Delta for a job with Teach for America that took him into the public schools of the rural South, a place where all the great weight of America’s poverty and racism had come to rest, solely, squarely, on the big hearts of his young students. Out of Michael’s time with these children, out of his idealism and aspirations, his small victories and giant heartbreaks, came his book, Teacher, Two Years in the Mississippi Delta.
In this memoir, Michael often quotes the writing of his students, opening a space for their raw truth to be heard. These children, in turn, seem to have gifted their brutal worldliness and their fierce self-awareness to Michael, for his writing in Teacher has been described as “pure, hard honesty;” “powerful and revealing;” “beautiful as well as sobering;” “an honest voice I needed to hear.”
These days, Michael again lives in Oregon, but he has not left the Mississippi Delta behind: For the past decade, he has taught writing to low-income, first-generation students of diverse background at the University of Oregon. He has also founded the Oregon Writers Collective, with the goal of fostering emerging writers by connecting them with other authors in their community, and with an audience.
He has brought Mississippi home in his recent writing as well, grappling with his own raw truths: interrogating what it meant to grow up half-Asian “in the vast whiteness of Oregon,” dissecting the wrestling career he created “to become different than I was,” and coming clean about his role in the complex relationship with his father, in which “the past is bound up hopelessly with the present.”
Most importantly, Michael has doubled-down on that “pure, hard honesty” – it is at the heart of all his writing.
Please welcome Michael Copperman.