Granting Success: Talk Story as a Community of Practice

Author photo: Tina ChanAuthor photo: Tiffany MalleryAuthor photo: Patty Sumire McGowanTina Chan is the Reference Services Program Manager and Humanities Librarian at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is the liaison to the global languages section and the writing program. Tiffany Mallery is earning her masters of library science at Simmons University. Patty Sumire McGowan is the 2022–2024 APALA Family Literacy Focus Co-Chair and the Cataloger and Metadata Librarian at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Sarah Nguyn (not pictured) is co-chair of the APALA Family Literacy Focus committee 2022–2023 and a doctoral student at the University of Washington’s Information School.

As members of the Asian/Pacific American Library Association (APALA) Family Literacy Focus committee, we manage the Talk Story grant program. We hope this article will prepare you and your organization for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI), and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) storytelling-centered programming. We strive to provide informational and monetary resources for libraries and community organizations to implement culturally competent programming for AANHPI and AIAN communities.

What is Family Literacy? It is

  • parents, adults, and youth learning together;
  • intergenerational learning and knowledge of reading, writing, and especially of social and cultural histories; and
  • youth influenced by the learning attitudes and literacy behaviors demonstrated by adults.

Family literacy programming supports parents, grandparents, and caregivers as a child’s first teachers, following the understanding that learning is a lifelong process. Youth and their motivation to learn are influenced by the learning attitudes and literacy behaviors demonstrated by the adults in their homes and communities.1 Literacy behavior extends beyond print literacy and includes digital, financial, culinary, health, document, information, and media literacies, and more.2 Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture supports opportunities for adult family members to build their own literacy skills as they strengthen their youth’s literacy skills.

What Is Talk Story?

Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture is a family literacy program that reaches out to AANHPI and AIAN families and their intergenerational community members. Talk Story celebrates and affirms Asian, Pacific Islander, and American Indian intersectionality through books, oral traditions, art, and more to provide interactive and enriching experiences.

This program derives from the Hawaiian expression “talk story” that means “to chat informally” or “to shoot the breeze.” A linguistic scholar describes it as “a rambling personal experience mixed with folk materials,”3 while author Maxine Hong Kingston uses the term to describe a Chinese/Chinese-American storytelling style, which is “an oral tradition of history, mythology, genealogy, bedtime stories, and how-to stories that have been passed down through generations, an essential part of family and community life.”4

In practice, rewarding Talk Story programming has been carried out as a student-senior reading buddy program, partnering with indigenous storytellers and supporting community AANHPI and AIAN businesses and authors.

Some of the past grant recipients have included public libraries, tribal libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, and non-profit organizations. &


  1. Ohio Literacy Resource Center, “What is Family Literacy?” September 11, 2018, https://literacy.kent.edu/familyliteracy/whatisit.html.
  2. Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, Literacy for All: Adult Literacy through Libraries (Chicago: American Library Association, 2019).
  3. Karen Ann Watson, “Transferable Communicative Routines: Strategies and Group Identity in Two Speech Events,” Language in Society 4, no. 1 (1975): 54.
  4. Jeslyn Medoff, “Maxine Hong Kingston” in Modern American Women Writers, edited by Elaine Showalter, Lea Baechler, and A. Walton Litz, 257 (New York: Scribner, 1991).


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