SEA 2023 Common Reading Initiative

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Toni Morrison, A Mercy (2008)

photo of Toni Morrison cover image of Toni Morrison's novel "A Mercy" photo of dana williams


With a plenary and student colloquy led by Professor Dana A. Williams, President of the Toni Morrison Society, Dean of the Graduate School, and Professor of African American Literature at Howard University

Friday, June 9, 2023

About the Common Reading Initiative

The “common reading” experience has become a popular strategy in US colleges and universities to help students acclimate to academic life. The experience creates a sense of community centered on a single book and showcases diversity of thought as students share their various interactions with the text. Those of you who were able to attend the last SEA conference, the March 2021 12th biennial meeting, will recall the success of the organization’s first common reading initiative, led by Cassie Smith, Brigitte Fielder, and Tara Bynum, as well as Michelle Bachelor Robinson  at Spelman College. The featured text that year was The Age of Phillis, by award-winning poet and scholar Honorée Jeffers, inspired by the work of Phillis Wheatley Peters and based on Jeffers’s fifteen years of archival research into the eighteenth-century poet’s life. The SEA’s common reading initiative reached undergraduate students across the country: around 30 SEA members taught The Age of Phillis or brought it to their students in independent study. Six undergraduates, sponsored by SEA faculty members, presented their thoughts in a colloquy with Professor Honorée Jeffers after her keynote reading. Other students shared their reading experiences in a book club forum facilitated by Derrick Spires and posted creative and scholarly work on the conference platform.

The Program Committee for the 13th biennial meeting hopes to continue this tradition and learn from the success of the inaugural event. The common text for the upcoming meeting—to be held in College Park, Maryland June 8–11, 2023—will be Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, a novel that explores the origins of racial thinking, gendered power, and colonial plunder in seventeenth-century North America. Members of the 2023 SEA Program, in coordination with the Common Reading Committee, will be collaborating with faculty at colleges and universities across the country to incorporate Morrison’s unforgettable novel about colonial America in their curriculums through course work, independent study, and book clubs, supported by the scholarship on the novel along with shared assignments, teaching notes, and reading questions available on this page.

Students are invited to participate in the SEA conference, virtually or in person. They can attend the plenary talk by Professor Dana A. Williams, followed by a student panel, on Friday, June 9, 2023. Professor Williams—President of the Toni Morrison Society and Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of African American Literature at Howard University—will reflect on Morrison, her authorial career, and the significance of A Mercy in this historical moment. She will then facilitate an open dialogue with a student panel about their experiences reading the novel and encountering the ideas and questions the work brings forth. Students are also encouraged to participate in book club-style forums and to present their own scholarly and creative work by contributing digital and multimodal projects for virtual display on the conference website. Finally, if there is interest, students are invited to organize their own student-led panels to run concurrently with other panel sessions, either virtually or in person.

Common Reading Initiative Resources

Common Reading Initiative Committee

Anna Brickhouse, University of Virginia
Tara A. Bynum, University of Iowa
Brigitte Fielder, University of Wisconsin
April Langley, University of South Carolina
Cassander Smith, University of Alabama
Kaitlin Tonti, Albright College

Photo of Toni Morrison (left): Angela Radulescu, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Dana Williams (right) credit: Justin Knight, Howard University.

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