University Seeks 2021 Common Reading Experience Nominations

Nominations sought for campuswide reading and discussion book throughout next academic year

Orientation leaders pass out copies of a UM Common Reading Experience selection to incoming freshmen in a previous year. The university is seeking nominations to become the focus of communitywide reading and discussion as part of the 2021 Common Reading Experience. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is giving faculty, staff, students and the community an opportunity to select its 2021 Common Reading Experience. Nominations for the 2021 book to be the focus of communitywide reading will be collected through Dec. 4

The Common Reading Steering Committee, which will read all the finalists, will begin choosing a selection in early 2021. All incoming Ole Miss freshmen and transfer students will get the chosen text with instructions to read it before the fall semester begins. Instructors will utilize the book in their classes, and faculty and staff are also encouraged to read the works.

The community has an opportunity to shape the year’s programming, said Stephen Monroe, chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and of the Common Reading Steering Committee. 

“More than ever before, we need common academic experiences,” Monroe said. “When we read together, we learn more about each other, ourselves and our world. I’m proud that UM has sustained such a wonderful common reading program.

“I encourage all students, faculty and staff to nominate a book for next year. We find great books only because we have great nominations.”

The UM community is reading “What the Eyes Don’t See” by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, which is the 2020 Common Reading Experience selection, through a series of ongoing programming. The book tells the story of the discovery that Flint, Michigan, had dangerous levels of lead in its tap water and follows the intense battle to expose the truth.

Hanna-Attisha, alongside a team of researchers, parents, friends and community leaders, discovered lead in the community’s tap water and then battled their government and endured a brutal backlash to tell the world about it.

The UM Common Reading Experience, created in 2012, aspires for an enriched sense of academic community through communal reading of a text. Each year, a committee of faculty, staff and students chose the selection, which is then approved by the Office of the Provost.

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond was the CRE selection in 2019. Previous selections include “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Ole Miss professor Tom Franklin, “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan and “The Education of a Lifetime,” a memoir by Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat.

The author is typically invited to speak at Fall Convocation, but COVID-19 restrictions and other issues prevented Hanna-Attisha from coming to campus to speak this year.

University officials intend to invite the next selection’s author to speak at 2021 Fall Convocation if possible, said Natasha Jeter, assistant vice chancellor for wellness and student success and co-chair of the CRE selection subcommittee. 

“We have every intent to invite the speaker to come to our campus for Fall Convocation,” Jeter said. “Of course, this depends on the status of the pandemic. However, this is the tentative plan. 

“As we go through the selection process, part of our final decision regarding the text is hinged upon whether or not the author can come for convocation.”

Maximizing the feeling of connection through the experience is always a priority for the CRE’s organizers, Jeter said. This leads to better recommendations and more enriching discussions, she said. 

“It brings students, faculty and staff together to explore literary works recommended by individuals from our community,” Jeter said. “Each year, we are amazed at the recommendations, and I am happy to say that the books selected always inform and challenge us in a way that makes us and our society better.”

Kirk A. Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African American studies and co-chair of the Common Reading Experience selection subcommittee, said it’s always rewarding to see the discussions.

“The UM Common Reading Experience program serves the entire university community, but it also relies on that community to provide the dozens of book nominations that we winnow down to a single title,” Johnson said. “It’s an exciting way for students, faculty and staff, and community members to unite behind a broader purpose.”

For more information on the Common Reading Experience, or to submit a nomination for the 2021 Common Reading Experience, go to