Alumnus in Literature, Anna Lenaker writes book

December 4, 2020, by Sandii Buckman

Image of Anna Lenaker, Inspire Alum

We are proud of Inspire Alumnus, Anna Lenaker, for writing her first book, Able to Be Otherwise. Anna graduated from Inspire School of Arts & Sciences in 2015. We had the chance to talk with her about her experience writing Able to Be Otherwise, and invite you to learn more about her inspiration as well as how you can support the publication of her book. Please join us in celebrating Anna’s work, and be sure to check out her recent feature in the Chico ER

What prompted you to write this book? 

I wrote Able to Be Otherwise with the hope that my story would bring more compassion and understanding to conversations surrounding poverty, addiction, and climate change. I wrote it in the six months after I graduated from policy school with my MPA. I knew a lot about these big issues (poverty, addiction, climate change) but felt like I hadn’t taken enough time to reflect on why they mattered to me. I am entering these conversations with lived experience as I share with my readers my reflections on my mom’s addiction, grief and California wildfires, and what it was like to attend an Ivy League as a first-generation and low-income student who grew up poor. I also hope to use my book as a natural jumping-off point for a career in policy–a sort of intimate account for why I care. 

What is your ideal outcome in terms of reaching an audience?

I need to fundraise between $5-$8K to cover the cost of publishing my book. With $5K, I’ll publish a paperback + ebook. If I make it up to $8K, I’ll also have the option to publish a hardcover and an audio book. I have currently raised approximately ~$4,100 in the last week (which is very exciting!). Once I publish in the formats I decide on according to the fundraising goals listed above, I’ll start turning a profit on my book. 

Donate to Anna’s Indiegogo Campaign by December 20th to help her meet her publishing costs! 

Image of Anna's book "Able to be Otherwise" on wooden table, sitting next to a cup of black coffee, a laptop, pair of glasses and indoor plant.

Who is your target audience? What would you like them to get out of reading this?  

My goal is to tell as many people as I can about my book. If I were to list out the type of people who I think would enjoy my book, I’d say first-gen/low-income students, activists, policymakers, travelers, friends, family, and anyone who enjoys the memoir genre. 

In terms of the big takeaway or message….My hope is that, in reading this book, my readers walk away with the conviction that the current state of things is not permanent nor unchangeable, but able to be otherwise. No matter how massive and daunting an issue (e.g., climate change), I think it is important that we do not resign ourselves to despair but commit ourselves to action and to the belief that change is possible. I hope my readers will join me in bringing about a more gentle and compassionate world. Good people standing together can accomplish good things. This is a simple proposition that is by no means original. I only intend to illuminate its truth in new ways.

Through sharing my story, I hope I can inspire greater compassion and understanding towards the poor, those struggling with addiction, and the Earth. I believe stories have great power to comfort, to encourage, and to change minds. I hope my memoir will do a bit of all of this. 

Any other ways the Inspire family and our community can support you?

Please share my book with anyone you think might be interested or consider posting about it on social media and tagging me. You can find my social media handles at the end of this post. Additionally, if you know anyone who works at a podcast, newspaper, magazine, or has a blog that you think might be willing to do a human interest story on me and my book, I would love to be connected with them. I like to think this book is being published not by me, but by my community. Without the support of friends, family, and strangers, I would not be able to bring my book into the world. Thank you all!

How does all of this fit into your Inspire education?

I could say a lot about my time at Inspire. I absolutely loved it [see my bio on the Foundation website]. I’m one of the few people I’ve met who legitimately loved their time in high school. It was at Inspire that I fell in love with learning and began to realize all that was out there to know. Taking AP US History (APUSH) with Mrs. De La Torre (DLT) was a real turning point for me. I wanted to quit my first month. I had gotten a poor grade on the first test and, when I went to DLT and told her I wanted to quit, she talked me out of it. This was one of the first real times in my academic career that I was terrified of failing. 

APUSH was forcing me out of my comfort zone but DLT wouldn’t let me quit. From this experience, I realized that I liked a steep challenge and I made it a point of mine in the years that followed to take on big challenges and get outside of my comfort zone. This spirit of getting uncomfortable compelled me to take Mandarin courses at Chico State after school, apply to schools like Brown, study abroad at Oxford, and travel to new places like Kenya and Japan. What’s special about Inspire is the fact that not only was I brought outside of my comfort zone so I could grow, but I did so in a safe, loving, and supportive environment filled with friends and teachers I admired and appreciated. 

About Anna

Anna Lenaker received her Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies and her Master of Public Affairs from Brown University. She has traveled to twelve different countries on four different continents, including spending a year of undergrad studying abroad at the University of Oxford. Anna accomplished all this as a first-generation and low-income student and, most importantly, with the love and support of her communities. In recognition of the love and support she has received, she is devoted to helping students pursue their educational goals, whether they are learning how to read, studying to get their GED, or applying to college. 

In writing Able to Be Otherwise, Anna hopes to contribute to ongoing conversations surrounding poverty, addiction, and climate change. She believes in the power of stories to comfort and to change minds and, in sharing hers, she hopes to inspire greater compassion and understanding towards the poor, those struggling with addiction, and the Earth. Anna wants her readers to walk away with a deep conviction that things are able to be otherwise and that a more gentle and compassionate world is on the horizon.

Anna is an avid reader, walker, and coffee drinker. She loves spending time with family and friends, traveling to new places, trying new foods, and binge-watching Jeopardy! and sitcoms.

You can connect with Anna by emailing her at or adding her on the following social media platforms:


[button link=”” type=”small” color=”purple” newwindow=”yes”] Read the ChicoER article highlighting Anna’s accomplishments [/button]

[button link=”” type=”small” color=”purple” newwindow=”yes”] Please consider donating to Anna’s crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of publishing [/button]

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