It isn't often that students get a chance to connect with the authors they read in their high school English classes, but that's just what happened for a group of Hudson High School freshmen recently.
Teacher Kim Hall assigned her freshmen to read Elie Wiesel's "Night," a memoir of the author's experience as an inmate and survivor of several Nazi concentration camps when he was about the same age as her students. Wiesel, now 80, has written more than 40 books and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In making the award to Wiesel, the Nobel committee called him a "messenger to mankind" who continues to deliver a powerful message "of peace, atonement and human dignity" to humanity.
Hall said Wiesel's memoir is part of the ninth-grade English curriculum because it is particularly effective at grabbing students' attention while leaving a lasting impression with readers.
"I really enjoy the 'Night' unit because Wiesel is such a powerful writer and his story enthralls the freshmen students," said Hall. "We also use this memoir as a way to teach tolerance and acceptance in the classroom, which are enduring values we wish to impart to our students."
After reading the book, Hall said her students wanted to know more and so she had them write to Wiesel at Boston University, where he is a professor. The letters were sent first semester and Wiesel responded, using each of the students' names in a personal letter dated June 2. "His response was amazing, and I was shocked and extremely pleased when I read the personalized letter," said Hall. "This is an awesome way to finish out the school year! I gave each student a copy of the letter as a memento."
Her students felt the same.
"I really liked his book because he shared all of the stories from his life that he went through. I was really surprised he sent us a letter and thought it was really cool," said Emily Garcia.
"'Night' was really descriptive, and it made the topic of the Holocaust clearer because I saw it from his perspective," said Jon Renfrow.
And a third student identified only as Greg wrote, "I liked the book because it was a true story and it was really deep. I bet it was really hard for him to write it. It was really nice of him to write back."
In addition to the letter he wrote to the students, Wiesel also sent a letter of thanks and encouragement to Hall. "From their letters it is obvious that you are making an impact on your students' lives. I am pleased by your commitment to teaching young people and I hope that you continue your important work."
A copy of Wiesel's letter to the students accompanies this story.
For more information about Wiesel, visit www.eliewieselfoundation.org.