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NEA Big Read

NEA Big Read: From the Desk of Zoe Washington Middle Grade Reading Group

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Saturday, 1:00 pm EDT - 2:30 pm EDT June 12, 2021

Online via Zoom

In this 90-minute, single-session group for middle grade readers, ages 9-12, we’ll be reading and discussing the critically lauded, bestselling middle grade novel, From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks.

“This exceptionally sweet debut from Marks illustrates profound cracks in the American criminal justice system while telling an affecting story grounded in the middle-grade experience. The troubling ways race affects the characters…will facilitate important conversations about racial profiling and incarceration rates for people of color. Fortunately, Marks’ capable storytelling and engaging characters also combine into a wondrous confection of a book, full of heart and hope and promise.”
Booklist, starred review

When twelve-year-old Zoe Washington receives a letter from her incarcerated father, she sets off on a courageous search for the truth, confronting her own assumptions, her family’s disapproval, and the deep racial inequalities of the criminal justice system, while she tries to do what she believes is right.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington will encourage thoughtful conversations about advocacy, self-discovery, friendship, biases, and why words matter. We’ll explore these themes and more in an open, safe environment designed to offer middle grade readers a literary social outlet and a space to discuss social justice and allyship with their peers.


The Center for Fiction’s Big Read initiative, running from March to June 2021, includes free online reading discussion groups, workshops for young writers, flash fiction writing contest for teens, and public events with authors and scholars. This initiative is made possible through a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Marks-Janae-From-the-Desk-of-Zoe-Washington_front-cover-illustration-by-Mirelle-Ortega-design-by-Laura-Mock

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  • Nancy Lambert Headshot - Carla Cain-Walther

    Nancy R. Lambert

    Nancy R. Lambert

    Nancy R. Lambert (she/her) is a speculative fiction author from New York City who has written and ghostwritten more than 40 books for young readers. As N.R. Lambert, her short fiction appears in Don’t Turn Out the Lights: A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, PseudoPod, and Lovecraft Mythos. She’s also written for Entertainment Weekly, TIME, and LIFE. She was a 2019 U.S. National Park Service Artist-in-Residence at Fire Island National Seashore. In addition to her work as a pop culture author and freelance copywriter, she volunteers with Read Ahead and 826NYC. To learn more, visit NancyRLambert.com.