One Book selection ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ aligns with campus theme

Western Carolina University’s One Book committee, which is responsible for selecting the book that is distributed to all first-year students before fall semester, has been wanting to choose a title that connects with the campus theme.

But because the committee begins nominating books in August in order to have one chosen by January for the following academic year, and the campus theme generally isn’t selected until February, it has been difficult to pair the two. This year, purely by coincidence, the committee’s book, “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez, corresponds with the 2018-19 campus theme, “Defining America.”

“The committee went with a gut instinct based on everything that’s going on in the world right now,” said Glenda Hensley, director of WCU’s First Year Experience. “Student surveys said they were interested in topics about race and class and civil rights. It worked out that our book and the campus theme are perfectly aligned this year.”

“The Book of Unknown Americans” is a narrative of intersecting stories of individuals who have immigrated to the United States. The stories are revealed in the shadows of 9/11. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character.

The One Book Program is headed into its fifth year. Its mission is to engage first-year students, as well as the campus community, in a common intellectual experience that promotes critical thinking and interdisciplinary conversation. Students are instructed to read the book before fall semester. It is a requirement for all students enrolled in a first-year transition course. The program is sponsored by the Office of Student Transitions in the Division of Student Success.

The committee is comprised of representatives from across the university as they nominate and discuss books before making a final decision in January. Hensley said this year’s committee saw more students actively participate than in year’s past.

One thing they did to facilitate that involvement was to conduct a student opinion survey last October. It was done through social media channels and involved freshmen through seniors. The survey consisted of a series of questions that ranged from what type of books do you like, what genres do you like, and what kinds of programs would you like to see to what can we do to make you want to participate to read?

The final question was open-ended, asking students to submit book titles they enjoyed reading and would recommend to others.

“We also hosted a series of student focus group meetings in the middle of the fall to have more in-depth conversations, specifically targeting non-first-year students, asking them for some feedback,” Hensley said.

This year, the program also will connect with the Spring Literary Festival in March. The book’s author, Henriquez, will come to WCU on Thursday, March 21, for a reception and book signing from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the A.K. Hinds University Center’s Grandroom.

Other One Book events and programs include:

New Student Convocation Keynote Speaker: Nikki Giovanni will speak at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17, at the Ramsey Regional Activity Center.

“Delores”: A documentary on the life and work of Delores Huerta will be shown at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, in the UC theater.

Defining America/One Book – One Look: A Gallery Exhibition: An art exhibit at WCU’s Fine Arts Museum from Tuesday, Sept. 11, to Friday, May 3, 2019. A reception will be held Thursday, Sept. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m.

We Were Migrants: Chronicle Of Indigenous Migrants From Chiapas, Mexico: An exhibit for Hispanic Heritage Month from Wednesday, Sept. 12, to Wednesday, Oct. 17, in the Fine Arts Museum’s atrium gallery.

Chancellor’s List Keynote Address: Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 5 p.m. in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Movie: “Coco”: Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7 and 10 p.m. both nights in the UC theater.

Tunnel of Oppression: It’s Hard To Have Liberty: Sponsored by Intercultural Affairs. Tuesday, Feb. 19, and Wednesday, Feb. 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

We Were Migrants: Chronicle Of Indigenous Migrants From Chiapas, Mexico: An exhibit for Hispanic Heritage Month from Monday, March 18, to Saturday, March 30, in the Intercultural Affairs gallery.

For more information, contact WCU’s Office of Student Transitions at 828-227-3017.