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Veninga lecture, ‘Life after Hate,’ to kick off 2019 Central Wisconsin Book Festival

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WAUSAU — The Ninth Veninga Lecture will feature two unlikely friends — a former racist skinhead and a Sikh whose father was killed by a white supremacist in the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in 2012.

Arno Michaelis was a leader of a worldwide racist skinhead organization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to a Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service news release. He turned his life around when those he had once professed to hate, including people who were Jewish, gay or black, persisted in treating him with kindness.

Pardeep Singh Kaleka lost his father in the mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. In the midst of his grief, Kaleka reached out to Michaelis to try to understand the mindset of the white supremacist who had taken the life of his father and five others. The two quickly formed a strong bond, creating Serve 2 Unite, an organization aimed at diverting young people from extremist ideologies, gun violence, substance abuse and other forms of self-harm.

Together with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robin Gaby Fisher, Michaelis and Kaleka authored the book, “The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate,” published in 2018. WIPPS is collaborating with the Central Wisconsin Book Festival, and this Veninga Lecture will also be the kickoff event for the 2019 festival.

Other headliners for the book festival include bestselling poet, essayist and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib, and graphic novelist and Marathon County native Craig Thompson. Abdurraqib will share poems from his new collection “A Fortune for Your Disaster,” on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art. Thompson, whose new series, “Ginseng Roots,” draws from his own experiences working on a ginseng farm alongside his brother during their younger days, will sit down with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Rob Mentzer on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at the UW Center for Civic Engagement.

If you go

What: “Life After Hate” kick off event

When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sept. 23

Where: Wausau East High School Auditorium, 2607 N. 18th St., Wausau

More info: Free and open to the public.

Central Wisconsin Book Festival

For the full lineup of book festival events, visit www.mcpl.us/cwbf.

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