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Jan. 19, 2005 -- No. 19
Summer reading program selection committee
picks ‘Blood Done Sign My Name’ for 2005
CHAPEL HILL –– Members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Summer Reading Program Book Selection Committee have made "Blood Done Sign My Name" their choice for incoming undergraduates to read and discuss.
As part of its summer reading program, UNC asks all new students – about 3,650 freshmen and 800 transfers – to read a book over the summer and come prepared to participate in small group discussions led by trained faculty and staff. The non-credit assignment, an academic icebreaker, is voluntary. Next fall’s discussion groups will be held Aug. 29, the day before fall semester classes begin.
UNC’s program focuses on discussion and dialogue, not the book itself. The goal is to create an intellectual climate in which students can come to their own conclusions and turn information into insight.
Published in 2004, "Blood Done Sign My Name" was written by Timothy B. Tyson, a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who grew up in eastern North Carolina as the son of a Methodist minister. The author traces his own experiences, including living in Oxford, N.C., as a white 10-year-old in 1970. That is when the murder of Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black veteran, ignited an explosive chapter in the history of racial conflict in North Carolina. Tyson earned a Ph.D. from Duke University.
A nine-member book selection committee of students, faculty and staff began meeting last October to consider books for this year’s program. Members today (Jan. 19) agreed on their final choice.
"Our committee concluded that "Blood Done Sign My Name" was an especially appropriate selection for a program that asks our new students to focus on discussion and dialogue about a compelling topic," said Dr. Holden Thorp, committee chair, professor of chemistry and director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. "We believe that the questions and issues raised by ‘Blood Done Sign My Name’ will provide many excellent opportunities for our new students to have thoughtful conversations in their discussion groups."
In a statement about their selection, committee members wrote that Tyson’s story was engaging and fearlessly shared his own emotions and insights about how a white person was touched by the racial tension that permeated the Jim Crow South.
"In recommending the book … we hope that Tyson’s candor will inspire readers to confront the fears and emotions that often attend discussions of race and to engage in a secure and energizing dialogue informed by historical clarity," committee members wrote.
The committee’s second and third choices, respectively, were "Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer," by Tracy Kidder, and "Life of Pi," by Yann Martel.
The selection committee started with suggestions about books, types of books or general topics from 224 people that covered a diverse group of topics, authors and viewpoints. Those suggestions included nominations and input from the university community resulting from a campus-wide email, online postings to the reading program Web page (www.unc.edu/srp/) and recommendations from alumni, members of the general public and others that were sent to the chancellor’s office.
The committee’s criteria for selecting a book include finding a work that will be intellectually stimulating to entering first year and transfer students and provoke thoughtful discussion. Other priorities are that the book should be engaging, relatively short and easy to read and address a topic or theme that students can apply to themselves, such as societal issues.
The committee’s meetings have been open. Although the university's position is that the committee does not meet the criteria for being subject to the N.C. Open Meetings Law, Chancellor James Moeser and his vice chancellors believe that an open process best serves the university and the committee. They say an open process helps the campus community and the public better understand the care and thoughtfulness that goes into the choice.
A resource development group with faculty experts and other staff will identify resources for the reading program Web site and for use by new students and trained discussion group leaders.
The reading program, now in its seventh year, was among recommendations from a 1997 faculty task force convened by the late Chancellor Michael Hooker to enhance UNC’s intellectual climate. Other recommendations implemented included a first-year seminar program, in which new students tackle academic subjects in depth for an entire semester with senior faculty, and an Office of Undergraduate Research.
Since 1999, the summer reading program choices have been "There Are No Children Here" by Alex Kotlowitz; "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz; "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman; "Approaching the Qur’an" by Michael Sells; "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich; and "Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point" by David Lipsky – all nonfiction.
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Contact: Mike McFarland, (919) 962-8593