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:

Common Reading 2011: The price of immortality

Book cover of 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'Henrietta Lacks was a poor tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors. She died of cervical cancer in 1951, at age 31. Yet her cells – taken without her knowledge, from the tumor that killed her – are still alive today.

Bought and sold by the billions, HeLa cells have played a crucial role in developing the polio vaccine, uncovering the secrets of cancer, and revealing the effects of the atomic bomb, among other medical milestones. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown and for decades was buried in an unmarked grave. And even though her immortal cells launched a multimillion-dollar industry, her family never saw any of the profits.

SMU has named The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot as the class of 2015’s Common Reading Experience – the book all incoming first-year students will read and discuss together.

Skloot, a science journalist writing her first book, “tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society’s most vulnerable people,” according to a starred review from Publishers Weekly. National Public Radio called the book “one of the best conversation starters of 2010.”

The Common Reading Selection and Implementation Committee hails Skloot’s work for raising “thought-provoking questions in areas as disparate as medical ethics and the tension between a writer’s compassion for her subject matter and her insistence on telling the truth,” said Associate Provost Harold Stanley in a Feb. 7 e-mail announcing the selection.

In anticipation of the student discussions next fall, SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence and moderator Ron Wetherington will host a series of reading circles during Spring 2011.

The reading circle discussions are scheduled as follows:

  • Monday, March 21 (section 1)
  • Monday, March 28 (section 2)
  • Monday, April 4 (section 3)

All CTE discussions will be held noon-1 p.m. in the Texana Room, DeGolyer Library. Register online at the CTE homepage to participate.

All faculty and staff members who agree to host a Common Reading student discussion in August will receive a free copy of the book. To volunteer, contact Diana Grumbles, senior lecturer in English and director of first-year writing.

> Watch for more information at the Central University Libraries’ Common Reading page

Common Reading 2008: Life and death on the border

Book cover of 'The Devil's Highway'In May 2001, 26 Mexican men searching for work in America risked an illegal border crossing in Arizona’s brutal Sonoran Desert. Only 12 survived. Their stories – and those of the people who aided, pursued or betrayed them – are at the center of Luís Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway, SMU’s 2008 Common Reading Experience.

The book deals with controversial political questions such as immigration and border policy even as it forces readers to think about those issues in deeply human ways, says Benjamin Johnson, associate professor of history and author of Revolution in Texas: How a Forgotten Rebellion and Its Bloody Suppression Turned Mexicans Into Americans.

“Urrea’s searing writing makes it hard not to identify with the characters, ranging from the migrants and the families they left behind to Mexican consular officials and U.S. border patrol officers,” adds Johnson, who proposed the book for Common Reading. “It blends masterful writing, moral sensitivity and deep empirical research – and thus demonstrates some of the capabilities higher education can help to instill.”

>> Students “may find more in common than they realize” with book’s subjects

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Influential professors honored at 2007 HOPE Banquet

Fifty-three SMU educators were honored by student staff members at the Department of Residence Life and Student Housing’s 10th annual HOPE Banquet Oct. 21. The HOPE (Honoring Our Professors’ Excellence) Awards are determined by student staff member nominations and recognize professors whom they believe “have made a significant impact to our academic education both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Lucy Scott, executive-in-residence in the Journalism Division, was honored as 2007 Professor of the Year. Two others – Lecturer in English Diana Grumbles and Associate Professor of History Glenn Linden – were named Distinguished Professors, denoting that they have been recognized as HOPE Professors for at least 5 of the 10 years in which the honor has existed. Read the complete list of honorees under the cut.

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Common Reading committee seeks suggestions

With the fifth anniversary of SMU’s Common Reading Experience approaching in 2008-09, the Common Reading Selection Committee is looking for the book (or play, or monograph) that the class of 2012 will discuss as part of their introduction to college-level reading. The SMU and Dallas communities, including alumni and nonprofit leaders, gathered to discuss the 2007-08 Common Reading, Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good, in the Hughes-Trigg Theater Aug. 30. Read more.

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