Fostering community through reading

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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America book coverAn interdisciplinary series of events kicks off this week, addressing themes raised in this year’s Colgate Community Reads book, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.

Colgate Community Reads 2015 is intended to transform the traditional first-year summer reading assignment into a community-wide discussion, according to Jeff Bary, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and director of the first-year seminar program for the 2014–15 academic year.

As has been the tradition, first-year students were mailed a copy of Laymon’s book during the summer. However, the entire student body, faculty, and staff are invited to read the text as well, similar to the Colgate Reads program from the 2013–14 academic year. Instead of discussing the text in first-year seminar classes as has been done in previous years, students are required to attend two of 17 events in a series that includes performances, film screenings, and lectures by scholars from around the country.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America was selected after a campus committee considered approximately 50 titles nominated by students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Last spring, it was one of three titles that were sent to the Colgate community for a vote. The other contenders — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric — also touched on themes discussed in Laymon’s book.

“Given the campus and national events of the last academic year, the committee could not ignore the issues regarding race, gender, and socioeconomic status that come into focus for so many,” Bary said.

Tiger Sullivan ’19 described the book as a “modern-day update on the status of race issues in America.” Laymon “gets straight to the point,” he added. “Racism is still very much alive; in fact, it never really went anywhere.”

With the fall semester now underway, faculty from various departments have invited renowned members of their fields to lead the events featured in the program series and to add to the community’s conversation.

Portrait of Kiese Laymon

Professor Kiese Laymon

The series will officially kick off tomorrow, September 24, with a brown bag luncheon led by poet Tracie Morris at the Center for Women’s Studies at 11:30 a.m. Later that day, she will give a lecture titled “The Literary Canon and African American Aesthetics in Poetry” in the Ho Lecture Room in Lawrence Hall at 4:30 p.m. On Friday, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, will be speak on “Identity Matters: How Stereotypes Affect Where We Live, Study, and Play” as part of the Division of Natural Sciences colloquium at 3:30 p.m. in Love Auditorium.

Laymon, who is an English professor at Vassar College, will headline the series by giving a lecture in the chapel on October 27 at 7:30 p.m.

“I think it was a good book for Colgate to read as a community because it [will foster] a huge sharing of perspectives,” Sullivan said.