“America is broken. You don’t need a fistful of statistics to know this. You just need eyes and ears and stories.” — Editor John Freeman
Stories of struggle and conflict appear in abundance in the 2019-2020 KU Common Book, "Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation." The collection, edited by John Freeman, features essays, short stories, poems and more from 36 prominent writers and thinkers in the United States today. Combined, they provide a complex vision of the nation that demands conversation and action around the challenges that might — if we recognize what is shared — bring us together.
The personal, affecting pieces in this collection will draw incoming students into conversations already happening at the University of Kansas. The previous three KU Common Books—"Create Dangerously," by Edwidge Danticat; "Citizen: An American Lyric," by Claudia Rankine, and "Between the World and Me," by Ta-Nehisi Coates — invited explorations of identities surrounding race, gender and immigration. "Tales of Two Americas" expands representation of varied identities and unites them under the broader umbrella of inequality and privilege, providing ample opportunities for all members of the KU community to explore their own experiences as they relate to the experiences of others.
The KU Common Book program seeks to connect departments across campus and help first-year students get involved in the intellectual life of the university. Freeman’s collection speaks to a wide range of areas of study, including topics relevant to schools and departments such as journalism, psychology, sociology, the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, humanities, English, American studies and many more. From the long-form journalism of Rebecca Solnit’s opening essay to the poetry of Kevin Young, readers will enjoy the range of genres and the opportunity to find their new favorite author.
The 36 contributors are a highly decorated set of writers. Among them are winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lambda Literary Award and many more. Devotees of the KU Common Book program will be pleased to see pieces by previous common book authors, including Edwidge Danticat, Eula Biss and Timothy Egan.
The KU Common Book program creates a shared academic experience for first-year students and fosters connections among students, faculty and staff. New students receive the KU Common Book during Orientation and participate in discussion groups their first weekend on campus. These conversations continue in a broad network of courses that have adopted the KU Common Book — over 100 sections and counting. These activities are supplemented and enhanced by a series of events that happen across the academic year in partnership with campus departments and programs. Check in regularly with firstyear.ku.edu/common-book for updates on programming. KU Common Book events are free and open to the public.