Michelle Kuo believes in the power of reading to connect us with one another, creating a shared universe.

Why you should listen

Michelle Kuo is a teacher, lawyer, writer and passionate advocate of prison education. She has taught English at an alternative school for kids who were expelled from other schools in rural Arkansas, located in the Mississippi Delta. While at Harvard Law School, she received the National Clinical Association's award for her advocacy of children with special needs. Later, as a lawyer for undocumented immigrants in Oakland, Kuo helped tenants facing evictions, workers stiffed out of their wages and families facing deportation. She has also volunteered at a detention center in south Texas, helping families apply for asylum, and taught courses at San Quentin Prison. Currently, she teaches in the History, Law, and Society program at the American University of Paris, where she works to inspire students on issues of migrant justice and criminal justice. This fall, she is helping to start a prison education program in France.

In 2017, Kuo released Reading with Patrick, a memoir of teaching reading in a rural county jail in Arkansas. A runner-up for the Goddard Riverside Social Justice Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the book explores questions of what it is we owe each other and how starkly economic and racial inequality determine our life outcomes.

(Photo: Jasmine Cowen)

Michelle Kuo’s TED talk