UM Community Chooses ‘Callings’ as 2023 Common Reading Experience 

Dave Isay’s book focuses on finding joy, fulfillment in careers  

The Common Reading Experience steering committee has chosen author and noted radio journalist Dave Isay’s ‘Callings’ as the university’s 2023 selection. Isay’s book features more than a decade of interviews examining why people do the work they do. Photo by Harvey Wang/StoryCorps

OXFORD, Miss. – As University of Mississippi freshmen enter campus next fall, they will hold a book that discusses the work they will do for the rest of their lives.

The 2023 Common Reading Experience book, “Callings,” by author and well-known radio broadcaster Dave Isay, details the role occupations and passions play in leading a fulfilling life. The stories, cobbled together from more than a decade of radio journalism, focus on people who feel called to do the work they do.

The book is a reminder that occupations can be both personal and enriching, said Stephen Monroe, co-chair of the Common Reading steering committee and chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. 

“As a liberal arts university, we prepare students to lead meaningful lives,” he said. “We want them to find financial stability alongside fulfillment.

“I thank the selection committee – and the provost and chancellor – for choosing a book that is both practical and inspiring.” 

Each year, the Common Reading Experience steering committee, composed of students, staff and faculty, review book suggestions from around the campus community to select the work that each incoming first-year student receives before they arrive on campus. The author also gives the keynote address at freshmen convocation.

Isay, who founded StoryCorps, an ongoing oral history project that has recorded interviews with more than half a million people, is no stranger to Ole Miss.

In 2010, the University Libraries invited Isay to speak and selected his “Listening is an Act of Love” for that year’s One Book One Community. The following year, University Libraries and the Division of Student Affairs worked together to create the Common Reading Experience.

The common read introduces first-year students to a college experience predicated on literature and, hopefully, fosters a love of reading, said Natasha Jeter, vice chancellor for student affairs, who served on the steering committee. 

“This book talks about life and purpose after graduation,” Jeter said. “I hope the students find a sense of pride in their own interests and see that there is a place for them in the world. They are unique and perfectly positioned to be successful, no matter what path they choose.”

Many first-year experience and writing courses will use the book in class, where students will delve deeper into the ideas of purposeful work, Jeter said.

“The Common Reading Experience provides a foundation on what we do,” she said. “It’s about exploration and creativity and invoking thought assessment, challenging them to think critically.”

The book will also give new students an entry point to conversations with their peers and professors on campus, said Jason Ritchie, committee member and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

“Our new freshmen students are excited to come, but don’t always know where they’re going to go,” Ritchie said. “I think they will enjoy seeing how these people connect with their calling, and I think that will resonate with these young students who are seeing what their calling will be.”