ESL Instructor Authors Book: America’s Youngest Ambassador


MSJC | Contributed

Mt. San Jacinto College (MSJC) is pleased to announce that a member of the college’s faculty will be releasing her first book.

Lena Nelson, English as a Second Language instructor in MSJC’s Adult Education department authored America’s Youngest Ambassador: The Cold War Story of Samantha Smith’s Lasting Message of Peace a comprehensive story of the late Samantha Smith, a fifth grader in Manchester, Maine.

Nelson has spent the past seventeen years researching and documenting the story of Samantha Smith and creating, the online archive of news articles and videos about this young girl’s experiences. The book delves deep into the life of Samantha Smith, who in 1982, amidst the nuclear paranoia that engulfed the U.S. and the Soviet Union, wrote a letter to the Kremlin asking Yury Andropov, the Soviet leader, if he was going to start a war.

When Pravda, the largest Soviet newspaper, published Samantha’s letter—and she received an unprecedented invitation to visit the Soviet Union —her family embarked on a historic journey that helped transform the hearts and minds of two nations on a collision course. 

Juxtaposing Samantha’s narrative with that of her own childhood in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Nelson explored the consequences of government propaganda on both sides of the ocean and reveals how Samantha Smith’s journey in the summer of 1983 helped melt the hearts of the Soviets and thaw the ice of the Cold War. Nelson met and worked closely with Samantha’s mother and media including as BBC World Service, BBC Russia, and Smithsonian, Portland Press Herald.

In 2013, Nelson had the opportunity to interview President Gorbachev for the 30th anniversary of Samantha’s trip to the Soviet Union. In 2017 her manuscript was nominated for the Allegra Johnson Prize in Memoir Writing.

The depth and breadth of Nelson’s research is truly remarkable. As a distinguished member of the MSJC faculty, she consistently inspires students in the ESL program and colleagues. This book is a testament to her passion and intellectual rigor.

America’s Youngest Ambassador: The Cold War Story of Samantha Smith’s Lasting Message of Peace will be released on June 1 with Down East Books, imprint of Globe Pequot, trade division of Rowman and Littlefield.

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