.In Conversation with Dashka Slater

In 2013, 16-year-old Richard Thomas set fire to 16-year-old Sasha Fleischman’s dress, causing second- and third-degree burns on Sasha’s legs. They were riding AC Transit’s 57 bus, a route that connects Oakland’s Black working-class neighborhoods and its affluent white enclaves. Richard is Black. Sasha is white. The attack shocked the city and drove a debate about hate crimes and restorative justice. Richard was subsequently charged with two felonies with hate crime enhancements because Sasha was agender — someone who doesn’t identify as having a specific gender. Richard’s case settled over a year later when he pleaded to seven years in state prison. The attack, and complex aftermath, is meticulously chronicled in Dashka Slater’s The 57 Bus. Slater compassionately tells Sasha’s story of growing up queer in a heteronormative society that directs ridicule and violence at nonconforming people. But Slater also shows that Richard isn’t a “bigot” or “thug.” Instead, he’s young man who has had to survive persecutions and traumas that uniquely afflict young Black men. The humanity of both teens shines through in this creatively written account based on interviews, court hearings, social media posts, and personal letters. 

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 7 p.m., free, East Bay Booksellers, 5433 College Ave., Berkeley, EBBooksellers.com

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