Where Am I Wearing? Where Am I Eating? Author Kelsey Timmerman on being an “Engaged Consumer” and the Power of All Campus Reads

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Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where Am I Wearing?, and Where Am I Eating?

We recently sat down with Kelsey Timmerman, journalist and author of two books, Where Are You Wearing? And Where Are You Eating?

Books in Common: Any idea about how many literary events you’ve done over the years? What do you enjoy about speaking to a crowd?

Kelsey Timmerman: Way more than 100.  I’ve talked to gymnasiums full of kindergartners, rotary clubs full of senior citizens, small library events where I was related to half of the people in attendance, and stadiums filled with thousands of people I’ve never met, and everything in between.

Whether on the page or stage, I love sharing the stories of the folks I’ve met on my global travels and how they’ve made me see the world differently.  When I write well, I can feel the words–the emotion, the humor, the joy, and the pain.  But writing is an act in isolation, as is reading.  The connection and the transference of those feelings to the reader is much more passive than that from a speaker on the stage to the audience. I like the immediacy of seeing my stories land on the hearts and minds of those in the audience.

BIC: What do you like about the Campus/Freshman Class Reads structure as a literary event format? Any thoughts on how they could be more effective?

KT: When I started to get invites to common reading programs, I couldn’t believe it: “You want me to visit with and speak to a few hundred or a few thousand folks who’ve read my book?” That’s like the best day of an author’s life, right?

I enjoy diving deeper into a discussion with folks who’ve read my work, and exploring larger takeaways from multiple disciplines and perspectives.  Participating in common reading programs has enhanced my understanding of my work.  I’ve had the chance to talk with historians, philosophers, economists, and freshmen across the country who have shared their unique views on a book that I’ve lived and have written.

I’ve seen a lot of universities and communities do some amazing programming around common reads.  I think it’s important to not look at the author’s visit as the single event of a program, and find ways to keep readers engaged.

For instance, in 2013 the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University both adopted my first book Where Am I Wearing? They teamed up to have several other events such as a visit to Cincinnati’s Freedom Museum.

Programs can also encourage readers to engage with authors through social media. I always enjoy interacting with readers as they read on Facebook (www.facebook.com/kelseytimmerman) and on Twitter (www.twitter.com/KelseyTimmerman).  A deeper level of engagement with the author can make the experience more real.

Here are some ways that I’ve interacted with common reading programs in the past: Common Read ideas Beyond the Book

BIC: Your two books, Where Am I Wearing, and Where Am I Eating explore the idea of being an “engaged consumer.” Why do you think this concept is particularly important for college students?

KT: College students are trying to figure out where they fit in our globalized world, and how they can put their skills and passions to use to leave their mark.

Ninety-seven percent of our clothes are made outside the USA, and the amount of food that we import into our country has doubled the last ten years.  The country of origin labels on our food and clothing are tangible ways that we interact with the world every single day, reminding us that we are members of a global society.  Once we realize how connected we are with the rest of the world, then I think most of us want to take the next step and find ways to be responsible, engaged consumers.

BIC: What are some other “teachable” moments in your books that make them work well for a Community/Campus Reads program?

KT: The titles of both of my books are questions. Curiosity is at the heart of my work.  I hope that readers are inspired to follow their own curiosities as they discover where they fit in as glocals (global + local) citizens, and what kind of mark they want to make on the world.

I also think my books work well in a common read environment because I leave room for the reader to think.  I take readers on these global journeys and present them with stories surrounding complex issues.  The issues they face–child labor, slavery–may seem like black and white issues at first, but in the cont

BIC: Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at the events that you’ve participated in?


Author Kelsey Timmerman presenting at an All Campus Reads Program

KT: There are many.

The most hilarious: Sometimes I’ll ask an audience member to go to the restroom and check the made in label of everything they are wearing.  So this guy, a freshman, goes to the bathroom and reports back, but there was one item he left out.

“What about your underwear?” I asked. He got this really sheepish look on his face, and then said, “I’m not wearing any?” I actually collapsed on the stage.  This poor freshman fella probably earned himself a nickname that he’ll never shake: Commando Joe.

So there are moments like that, but the ones that stick with me the most are the ones where a student or reader tells me that the book changed what they want to do with their life. Maybe they changed their major, or how they shop or eat or how they volunteer or give.

My books aren’t easy to research. I travel the globe and go to places that aren’t easy to get to, nor are they the safest. I’ve had plenty of moments while traveling that I wondered if it was worth it. When a reader shares how my stories impacted their everyday lives, I know that it is.

BIC: Anything else you’d like to add?

KT: I do my best to be an accessible common reading author.  If your community or university is reading one of my books, let me know. Let’s talk and brainstorm how we can make the books have the greatest amount of impact.  I can point you to discussion questions, service-learning guides, and activities related to both of my books.  I can shoot a YouTube video for your readers. Heck I’ve even  traveled to Guatemala and Honduras with students before as part of common reading programs.

From Colombian coffee farmers to Bangladeshi garment workers, folks around the world have let me into their lives in order to share their stories.  I have a responsibility to do just that.  If your community adopts one of my books, I want to help those stories reach as many folks as possible.

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