Common Reading

Calendar Highlights: Back to school in brief, Fall 2016

Dallas Hall at SMU

Welcome to the 2016-17 academic year! Here are a few Fall 2016 dates to remember:

  • Opening Convocation and Common Reading discussion: Sunday, Aug. 21
  • First day of classes: Monday, Aug. 22
  • General Faculty Meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 24
  • Labor Day: Monday, Sept. 5 (University offices closed)
  • First Faculty Senate Meeting of 2016-17: Wednesday, Sept. 7
  • Family Weekend: Friday-Saturday, Sept. 23-24
  • Fall Break: Monday-Tuesday, Oct. 10-11
  • Homecoming Weekend: Friday-Saturday, Nov. 4-5
  • Thanksgiving: Thursday-Friday, Nov. 24-25 (University offices closed, no classes on Wednesday, Nov. 23)
  • Last day of classes: Monday, Dec. 5
  • Reading days: Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 6-7
  • Final exams: Thursday-Wednesday, Dec. 8-14 (no exams scheduled for Sunday)
  • December Commencement Convocation: Saturday, Dec. 17 (official close of term and date for conferral of degrees)
  • Christmas/Winter Break: Friday, Dec. 23, 2016-Monday, Jan. 2, 2017 (University offices closed)

Visit the SMU calendar to keep an eye on upcoming events. Learn how to submit your own events at this link.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is topic of SMU’s 2016 Common Reading discussion Sunday, Aug. 21

Bryan Stevenson'Just Mercy' book cover was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of the criminal justice system.

One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice.

“Presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison,” Stevenson writes. His telling of the McMillian case is captured in Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, and his book will be discussed by faculty, staff members and new SMU students as the 2016 Common Reading on Sunday, Aug. 21, before Opening Convocation.

The story is “[e]very bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so … a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields,” wrote David Cole of The New York Review of Books in his review.

And Stevenson is “doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope,” wrote legal writer and novelist John Grisham, author of A Time to KillThe Client and The Innocent Man.

Stevenson will visit the Hilltop on Thursday, Oct. 13, for a free and open Common Reading Public Lecture at 4:30 p.m. in McFarlin Auditorium. On the same night, at 8 p.m., he will deliver the Jones Day Lecture in SMU’s 2016-17 Tate Distinguished Lecture Series. Watch for more information in a future SMU Forum post and at the Common Reading website.

> Learn more at SMU’s Common Reading website: smu.edu/commonreading

2015 Common Reading author Emily St. John Mandel to speak at SMU Wednesday, Sept. 9

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, North American coverEmily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, the 2015 SMU Common Reading selection, will present a free lecture at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, at McFarlin Auditorium. The entire community is invited to attend.

Station Eleven is set 20 years after a virus has killed almost all humanity. The main characters are a traveling troupe of actors and musicians who bring performances of Shakespeare to the small and struggling human settlements that remain. The novel tells the story of the global disaster in real time and of its survivors 20 years later.

Community members, alumni, book lovers and book clubs are invited to join SMU Reads, a program that encourages reading and supports literacy in the Dallas community. SMU Reads participants can take part in other events planned by the University’s SMU Reads partner, the Dallas Public Library.

By registering to take part in SMU Reads, you will receive regular e-mails informing you about special events and gatherings. In addition, you also will qualify to purchase Station Eleven at a 10 percent discount through the SMU Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Upcoming events include survivalist training at REI, urban emergency preparedness from Dallas County health leaders at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library and a pop-up performance of King Lear performed by Shakespeare Dallas.

Partners in SMU Reads include Big D Reads, Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, Dallas Public Library, Dallas Social Venture Partners, Deep Vellum, Friends of the SMU Libraries, Highland Hotel, Highland Park Library, Highland Park Literary Festival, Richardson Public Library, Shakespeare Dallas, SMU Alumni Relations, the SMU Barnes and Noble Bookstore, University Park Public Library, Well Read Women of Dallas, and Wild Detectives.

For more details about events and to preregister for Mandel’s lecture visit smu.edu/smureads.

Written by Nancy George

> Visit the SMU Common Reading website

SMU’s 2015 Common Reading explores the end, and beginning, of civilization with Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, North American coverSMU’s incoming class of 2019 will read and discuss the first work of speculative fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading program – Emily St. John Mandel’s acclaimed fourth novel, Station Eleven.

Mandel’s book explores a post-apocalyptic America in which a deadly strain of influenza has wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population, mere days after A-list actor Arthur Leander has died of a heart attack during a performance of King Lear. Leander’s fellow cast members who survive the pandemic band together as the Traveling Symphony, bringing music and theatre to the small and struggling human settlements that remain. The novel tells the story both of the global disaster in real time and of its survivors 20 years later.

A New York Times best-seller and 2014 National Book Award finalist, Station Eleven received the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year in May 2015. George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and FireGame of Thrones) chose it as his favorite book of 2014, calling it “beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac.”

“This is a book not as much about apocalypse as it is about our human society, particularly the objects and technology we live with but take for granted on an everyday basis,” said Associate Provost Harold Stanley in an e-mail to faculty and staff members dated Thursday, April 16, 2015. “…[T]he book enables readers to consider how art can create meaning and value in the most constrained of human circumstances.”

Station Eleven is the third work of fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading since the program began in 2004. The first, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, was the Common Reading book in 2007; We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulaweyo ’07 was the 2014 selection.

Past SMU Common Reading books also include Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (2004), Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (2005), The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (2006), The Devil’s Highway by Luís Alberto Urrea (2008), Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (2009), Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2010), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2011), The Big Short by Michael Lewis (2012), and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2013).

The Common Reading Selection Committee is now seeking leaders for the pre-Convocation reading discussion on Sunday, Aug. 23. Discussion leaders will receive a free copy of the book. Active and emeritus professors from all SMU schools are invited to take part, as well as University staff members.

In addition, St. John Mandel will give a public lecture for the entire community at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, in McFarlin Auditorium.

To volunteer as a discussion leader, or for more information on this year’s selection, contact David Doyle.

> Watch for more information at SMU’s Common Reading homepage: smu.edu/commonreading

Award-winning author NoViolet Bulaweyo ’07 returns to SMU for 2014 Common Reading discussion Monday, Sept. 15

Acclaimed author NoViolet Bulawayo ’07 returns to the Hilltop to discuss We Need New Names – her award-winning first novel and the University’s 2014 Common Reading – with the Dallas community. Her talk will begin at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 15, 2014 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater.

The lecture and Q&A are free and open to the public.

Bulawayo, known to many at SMU by her given name of Elizabeth Tshele, earned her master’s degree in English from the University in 2007 after receiving her bachelor’s in English from Texas A&M University-Commerce. In 2010, she received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Cornell as a Truman Capote Fellow. She recently completed a 2012-14 Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford.

Her pen name is a tribute both to her mother, who died when she was 18 months old (NoViolet means “with Violet” in her native Ndebele), and to her childhood home, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe.

“There’s a lot to be excited about,” says Senior Lecturer in English Diana Grumbles Blackman, director of SMU’s Discernment and Discourse Program and chair of the University’s Common Reading committee. “NoViolet is young, her star is rising, and we think students will be excited about where an SMU education might take them.”

Blackman never met Bulaweyo during her SMU student days, but “many, many of my colleagues are incredibly fond of her,” she says. “She has a lot of fans in the English Department, and they’re thrilled to see her back.”

SMU Magazine: Alumna traces career awakening to SMU

'We Need New Names' by NoViolet BulawayoWe Need New Names tells the story of 10-year-old Darling, a Zimbabwean girl whose unexpected opportunity to live in the United States turns out very differently from her fantasies. The semi-autobiographical first novel has received several prestigious awards and recognitions, including the 2014 PEN/Hemingway Prize for Debut Fiction, the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Additionally, Bulaweyo became the first black African woman to make the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (in 2013) and made The New York Times’ 2013 Notable Books of the Year list, as well as National Public Radio’s “Great Reads of 2013.”

We Need New Names is only the second work of fiction chosen for the University’s Common Reading since the program began in 2004. The first, How to Be Good by Nick Hornby, was SMU’s Common Reading selection in 2007.

The novel is also the first Common Reading selection to be written by an SMU graduate.

Learn more from SMU’s Common Reading homepage: smu.edu/commonreading

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