In 1982, Barack Obama Jr. – then an undergraduate at Columbia University – received word that the father he had barely known had died in a car accident in Nairobi. For the younger Obama, this sudden tragedy motivated a journey that took him from Kansas to Kenya and points beyond to learn the truth of his father’s life and reconcile the disparate elements of his own family experience.
The story that sprang from that journey prompted SMU’s Common Reading Selection Committee to choose Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, as the book every member of the University’s Fall 2009 incoming class will read and discuss.
The themes and topics in Obama’s book – written years before he entered public life – have “great relevance for college students,” says Tom Tunks, SMU’s associate provost for educational programs. He calls the book “a powerfully written coming-of-age story, humorous and wise,” in which the future president reveals “both the instability and the deep love of what was, even at best, a ‘nontraditional’ family.”
Tunks also cites the “remarkable candor” with which Obama describes the allure of partying, and with which he tells how his undergraduate years “brought him to a discipline and a sense of purpose in public service.”
“The Committee members were aware in making this choice that it might seem a controversial pick,” Tunks adds. “However, the book is not political in nature and is not meant to appear as such. Rather, the hope is that Dreams will encourage students, those new to the University and those continuing, to reflect upon their own choices and goals – those already made and those for the future.”
Watch for more information at Central University Libraries’ Common Reading homepage.