Helen Thorpe was born in London to Irish parents. She is an award-winning journalist who lives in Denver, Colorado. Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, and 5280.
Her first book, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America, was published by Scribner in 2009. It won the Colorado Book Award and was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts adapted the nonfiction book for the stage as a play.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War, was published by Scribner in 2014. TIME named it the number one nonfiction book of the year. The Boston Globe called it “utterly absorbing, gorgeously written, and unforgettable.” And The New York Times said: “Thorpe achieves a staggering intimacy with her subjects.”
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom, follows the lives of twenty-two teenagers from around the world over the course of one school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado, in a beginner-level English Language Acquisition class. Many arrive directly from refugee camps, some after having lost one or both parents; together, their class represents a microcosm of the global refugee crisis as a whole. The Newcomers tells the story of what happens during the students’ first year in America, and it follows the journeys of three families in particular—from Iraq, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—illuminating what life is like in refugee-producing parts of the world. “Few books could be more vital, in this particular moment,” writes Jeff Hobbs (The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace). The book was published by Scribner in 2017.
Helen Thorpe spent a year inside a high school classroom where she had the chance to observe 22 refugee and immigrant teenagers who had just arrived in the United States learn English together. The students came from around the world and perfectly mapped the countries that send the most refugees to the US. They excelled in their new home, in some cases acquiring so much English that they entered mainstream classes during their second year in the US. This was inspiring to witness, as many had arrived straight from refugee camps. Thorpe speaks about the transformation these teens went through after finding a safe home, celebrates the work of their dedicated English Language Acquisition teacher, and offers a fresh perspective on the subject of refugee resettlement, documenting how much joy and inspiration are found by those Americans who help displaced families find a secure place to live.
America has been continuously at war since the fall of 2001. This has been a matter of bitter political debate, of course, but what is uncontestable is that a sizeable percentage of American soldiers sent overseas in this era have been women. The experience in the American military is, it’s safe to say, quite different from that of men. Surrounded and far outnumbered by men, imbedded in a male culture, looked upon as both alien and desirable, women have experiences of special interest.
In this talk, based on her latest book, Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe shares the story of three women on a 12-year journey into the military, overseas to combat, and back home.
Thorpe bypasses the usual political rhetoric and instead conveys with objectivity and compassion the reality of individuals who are caught up in our broken immigration system today. No matter what one's opinions are about immigration, Thorpe offers fascinating insight into one of our most complicated social issues.
Identity & Coming of Age
Thorpe talks about what it means to struggle with one's identity, hide a stigmatized identity, or inherit an identity from one's parents and country. And what it means to craft an authentic identity of one's own, when one grows up pulled in two directions by different cultures.
Access to Education
Thorpe speaks eloquently about the struggles that face the first generation in a family to acquire a college education. The students she followed acquired bachelor's degrees even though their parents had not finished elementary school. Thorpe describes how this accomplishment was achieved and why these students stayed in school.
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom
A powerful and moving account of how refugee teenagers at a public high school learn English and become Americans, in the care of a compassionate teacher.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War
In Soldier Girls, Helen Thorpe follows the lives of three women over twelve years on their paths to the military, overseas to combat, and back home.
Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America
A powerful and moving account of four young women from Mexico who have lived most of their lives in the United States and attend the same high school. Two of them have legal documentation and two do not. Just Like Us is their story.