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Harriet Levin Millan

MBR Book Watch 

  • By Michael Jaurigue
  • 11 Jul, 2016

Advance Praise

How Fast Can You Run, a novel based on the life of Michael Majok Kuch
Harriet Levin Millan
Harvard Square Editions
2152 Beachwood Terrace, Hollywood, CA 90068
9781941861202 , $22.95,

The events surrounding the second Sudanese Civil War, seen through the eyes of one who was there, may not seem like an extraordinary account until readers realize that the eyewitness is a child and the war disrupted his life, his family, and sent him on a worldwide journey that ultimately resulted in healing and this book.

Few accounts can adequately capture such experiences, but where nonfiction may falter, How Fast Can You Run proves that an adept writer can step in and use the fiction format to capture the drama, psychology, and tension of civil war from a child's eye (in this case, Michael Majok Kuch).

A fiction writer can alter time and tweak events to heighten drama and create a more compelling narrative. A good fiction writer can inject observations from different character perspectives and can hone the entire production so that events and approaches to life make sense and stay true to character development. And an excellent wordsmith can bring everything together in a story line that's completely accessible to newcomers to this history.

How Fast Can You Run's story of Kuch, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, requires no prior familiarity with Sudanese history or culture and provides all this as a backdrop to its story of how Kuch survived against impossible odds, emigrated to America, and came to meet the author and see his story in book form.

Michael Majok Kuch was groomed to grow into a successful herder for his tribe when war changed his life. Not yet of age to assume these important responsibilities, he instead faced a civil war that would send him out into East Africa as a refugee, living for ten years in the camps, and eventually to America.

The novel starts with a bang (or, should it be said, a boom), and keeps on driving home its revelations about conflict, change, and a nearly impossible struggle for survival for a young boy dependent on adults around him for direction and safety: "LOUD BOOMING woke him. He thought it was elephants and opened his eyes. The hut was pitch-black. He needed to pee but was too afraid to step down on his wounded heel or crawl on his knees to the door. He was just a tiny boy, about five years old, afraid of scorpions nesting in the roof grass, snakes slithering through cracks and crocodiles scurrying up shallows. Another loud boom. Bursting light. Flames shot up. The thatched roof was on fire. His mother rushed toward him, holding his baby brother in her arms, shouting, "Kare! Run!"

As strife turn into years of struggle, Kuch faces adversity, owes many his life, stands among thousands of refugees hoping to emigrate to America, and confronts what's left of his own family as he directs them to a new country and assumes the role of leader under impossible circumstances at an impossibly young age. Adversity doesn't stop when they reach the promised land, either, as racial divide and new challenges await him and test every ideal he's survived for and built.

Because How Fast Can You Run is based on a true saga, the viewpoints and experiences of Kuch come to vivid life and weave a powerful saga of politics, struggle, and survival that's hard to put down. Any reader interested in accounts of the Sudanese war will find this a compelling method of absorbing history at its most meaningful: through the eyes of a young eyewitness who didn't just observe events, but lived through and survived -- Diane Donovan, Senior Editor, Midwest Reviews

By Harriet Levin Millan 11 Jun, 2017

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Harvard Square Editions at AWP

in Washington DC February 8-11

Attending this year's Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Washington D.C. next week? Harvard Square Editions is excited to be presenting migrant novel author, Harriet Levin Millan, in conversation with authors Fabienne Joshaphat and Dina Elenbogen in a panel entitled, “When Writers Move In and Out of Their Countries and Genres,”   Friday, February 10th at 9 AM   in the Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 4

What happens when poets delve into fiction and expand not only the borders of genre but their physical and emotional terrain? What explorations do they conduct in their attempt to resist limitations and cross cultural divides? The three panelists have among them written books set in Israel, South Sudan and Haiti. Come hear these practicing writers talk about what they have learned in their journey to overcome ascribed attitudes and identities.

HSE’s   How Fast Can You Run   will be for sale on the Politics and Prose Book Fair table or   reserve your copy here , and don’t forget to sign up for   How Fast Can You Run’s   Charter for Compassion Global Read that will take place on   Feb. 22 at 12 noon: for free registration,   click here .

By Harriet Levin Millan 15 Apr, 2017
By Harriet Levin Millan 26 Nov, 2016
By Harriet Levin Millan 26 Nov, 2016
By Harriet Levin Millan 05 Nov, 2016

It wasn’t an ordinary book launch. The real life characters I fictionalized in my novel based on the life of Michael Majok Kuch, How Fast Can You Run (Harvard Square Editions, October 28 2016) were in attendance.

I got the chills just looking around the room and seeing them. They included my protagonist, South Sudanese national, Michael Majok Kuch, his American parents, two of his former employers and several other friends and S. Sudanese immigrants. However, in order to write a compelling work of fiction, I needed to invent them as characters with different physical features, names and personalities than they had in real life. All good fiction is expressive of an imaginary realm of being, and that’s the great paradox. The more invention a writer can imbue into a scene, the more truth it holds.

The launch was held in Drexel University’s Pearlstein Gallery, 3401 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA concurrent with the gorgeous textile exhibit “Warp and Weft” by PEW Fellowship winner, Caroline Lathan-Stiefel. HavingHow Fast Can You Run’s real life protagonist and his friends in the room, helped the audience to experience how special it was for me to have worked with Michael. For three years we sat side by side on his couch while the afternoon light turned to dusk and I tape recorded his experiences. Afterward, I would go home, write a scene, come back the following week, show it to Michael to be certain that I did not make any historical errors, and if I did, revise it. I became a witness to Mike’s life. I learned how the UN dropped food bags from airplanes too close to the people running toward the food, which landed on several refugees and killed them. Or how boys in Kakuma Refugee Camp constructed soccer balls out of bloody surgical gloves wrapped in twine and covered in torn socks. These are details that no history book contains.

Drexel’s Africana Studies Director, Alden Young moderated the panel that both Michael and I participated in. When Dr. Young asked how the book came into being, I described the snowy January day that One Book, One Philadelphia’s director called me on the phone and invited me to choose ten of my undergraduate creative writing students to interview ten Sudanese refugees for a One Book writing project. These interviews were serialized in Philadelphia’s City Paper. Among the students who conducted the interviews was Deborah Yarchun now a rising playwright living in New York City. Michael was the first person we interviewed. Soon after, Michael, still a college student, asked me to write a book about his life. The moment I met him, I was overwhelmed by his brilliance and his buoyant spirit, which enabled him to overcome the trauma of fleeing his village in South Sudan at the age of five and live in various refugee camps for the next ten years before receiving political asylum to the US. So when he proposed that I write a book about his experiences, I jumped at the chance. Myself, a grandchild of refugees, I recognized the importance of telling Michael’s story so that it would not be forgotten the way my family’s history has been wiped out.

When Dr. Young asked how the book’s title got chosen, I explained that the reason Mike and I decided to title the book, How Fast Can You Run, was because we wanted people to stop seeing refugees as other and that we wanted people to understand that the unspeakable could occur at any moment to any one of us. At that point, Kuch explained how the book’s title particularly resonates with him.

“Being a refugee,” he said, “means having to always catch up.” Besides its references to fleeing, he described how the title portrays his feeling, once he came to the US in 2000 of trying to keep pace with the people around him and having to work extra hard to stay ahead.

Michael, who now works as a Research and Policy Advisor in the Office of the President in Juba, South Sudan, will be appearing with me on our book tour. We will be speaking at several other universities, schools, Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum, synagogues, book clubs and other organizations. Once Michael returns to South Sudan, Charter for Compassion will be sponsoring a Global Read via phone conference on Feb. 22, 2017 with the two of us. Besides the Drexel Panel, we will participate in a panel moderated by Dr. Derrick Kayango, CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta on November 17th at the Book Festival of the MJCCA.

By Harriet Levin Millan 08 Oct, 2016
We stopped sending people to S. Sudan on reunion trips when the new violence broke out. It just didn't seem conscionable to send people back to a war zone where anything could happen. Instead we used our funds to pay for the school tuition of an awardee's sister and also to pay money toward airfare of an awardee's mother to visit her in the US. I am so happy to say that this visit occurred only this week, (October 2016). The awardee and her mother were reunited after close to twenty-five years! Congratulations to the families involved. This is an overwhelming moment. Hearts filled to breaking and eyes welling with tears. Yet there is laughter too and joy.
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