The experiences of a young woman who moves from her childhood home in rural Kentucky to a new life in Arizona will bring UNT students, staff and faculty members, as well as Denton citizens, together to discuss American identity and immigration during UNT's inaugural One Book, One Community reading program.
One Book, One Community, co-sponsored by the City of Denton, is an annual year-long reading and discussion program focusing on a chosen theme and a book that reflects that theme.
Under the program, which has a theme of "American Identity in an Age of Immigration: Beyond the Melting Pot," all incoming UNT freshmen will receive free copies of Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees at summer orientation. The debut novel by Kingsolver, the novel focuses on community, economic injustice and cultural differences by relating the main character's friendship with a family of Guatemalan immigrants and her care of a 3-year Cherokee child.
After being encouraged to read The Bean Trees during the summer, incoming UNT freshmen will discuss the book and issues surrounding American identity in small groups beginning Aug. 20 — the week before the 2008 fall semester begins. The Bean Trees also will be a required textbook in freshman composition courses, says David Holdeman, chair of the One Book, One Community committee and chair of the UNT Department of English.
"We're hoping the book and discussion groups, and other activities with the theme of American identity, will give freshmen a more coherent and vibrant experience during their first year at UNT," Holdeman says. "This is their first chance in college to pay sustained attention to an issue, and to learn how those in different disciplines approach an issue. We're also hoping they will connect to each other and the faculty by reading the same book."
He says the theme, which ties into the current debate on immigration reform in the United States, was chosen "in keeping with the ideas of diversity and international education that UNT wants to promote."
"There's only so much time you can devote to talking about one book, so the intent is to use the book as a springboard for larger discussion and study," he says.
Although the book discussion groups are only open to freshmen, all UNT students, staff and faculty members and Denton citizens will be encouraged to read The Bean Trees before attending events on campus that will focus on American identity, Holdeman says. The UNT Bookstore will carry extra copies of the book.
The campus events, which will be scheduled throughout the 2008-09 academic year, may include a political debate on immigration, film screenings, art exhibits and lectures. The UNT College of Public Affairs and Community Service's annual fall forum in September will have lectures with the theme, and the Department of English's annual Visiting Writers Series also will have a tie-in to the theme by bringing writers who are immigrants or who write about immigrants to UNT, Holdeman says.
The One Book, One Community project was first established in 1998 by the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library. It was designed to broaden and deepen an appreciation of literature through reading and discussion in a communitywide reading program.
In 2007, the City of Denton launched its own One Book, One Community project called Denton Reads, with the Denton Reads committee selecting one book to be read by adults and two to be read by children, depending on their reading level.
This year's Denton Reads book for adults is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, which is set in a future where mankind is facing annihilation by an aggressive alien society — an insect-like race known as Formics. The book is the first of the nine novels and 10 short stories in the "Ender" series. Card will visit Denton on Oct. 18 to give a lecture on his work.
Holdeman says Denton Reads differs from UNT's One Book, One Community project because Denton Reads events and discussion groups are scheduled over just two or three weeks, instead of an entire academic year.
"For the 2009-2010 academic year, our program and Denton Reads will be collapsed into one program," he says.