Common Reading is a signature Stanford New Student Orientation program for first-year and new transfer students. Each year, a faculty moderator makes book selections for incoming undergraduate students to read over the summer. The program culminates in a panel and roundtable discussion with the authors during NSO, where students are given the special opportunity to ask the authors questions and hear their perspectives.
In 2018, our faculty moderator, José David Saldívar (Professor of Comparative Literature), chose books on the theme of Globality and Migration:
- Chang-rae Lee | Native Speaker
- Edwidge Danticat | Brother, I'm Dying
- Yuri Herrera | Signs Preceding the End of the World
The Common Reading program is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.
The 2018 Faculty Moderator, Professor José David Saldívar
José David Saldívar is the Leon Sloss, Jr. Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, Program in Modern Thought and Literature, and Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity at Stanford. He is a scholar of late postcontemporary culture, especially the minoritized literatures of the United States, Latin America, and the transamerican hemisphere, and of border narrative and poetics from the sixteenth century to the present.
He is the author of many works and currently serves on the editorial boards of the journals American Literary History, The Global South, Aztlan, and World Knowledges Otherwise. He has received personal research grants from The Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the University of California President's Research Fellowship in the Humanities, the William Rice Kimball Fellowship, Stanford Humanities Center, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford.
In 2005, he received the Chicano Scholar of the Year Award from the Modern Language Association; in 2007 he received the Sarlo Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring Award from the University of California, Berkeley; and in 2016, he was the winner of the American Literature Society’s highest honor, the Jay B. Hubbell Medal. The medal is sponsored by the American Literature Society, an allied organization of the Modern Language Association, and is awarded annually to one “scholar whose lifetime of scholarly work has significantly advanced the study of American literature.” Before coming to Stanford in January 2010, Saldívar was the Class of 1942 Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The 2018 Books
In Native Speaker, author Chang-rae Lee introduces readers to Henry Park. Park has spent his entire life trying to become a true American—a native speaker. But even as the essence of his adopted country continues to elude him, his Korean heritage seems to drift further and further away. Native Speaker is a story of cultural alienation. It is about fathers and sons, about the desire to connect with the world rather than stand apart from it, about loyalty and betrayal, about the alien in all of us and who we finally are.
Brother, I'm Dying
From the age of four, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat came to think of her uncle Joseph as her “second father,” when she was placed in his care after her parents left Haiti for America. And so she was both elated and saddened when, at twelve, she joined her parents and youngest brothers in New York City. As Edwidge made a life in a new country, adjusting to being far away from so many who she loved, she and her family continued to fear for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorated.
In 2004, they entered into a terrifying tale of good people caught up in events beyond their control. Brother, I’m Dying is an astonishing true-life epic, told on an intimate scale by one of our finest writers.
Signs Preceding the End of the World
Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of the most arresting novels to be published in Spanish in the last ten years. Yuri Herrera does not simply write about the border between Mexico and the United States and those who cross it. He explores the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language as they move from one country to another, especially when there’s no going back.
Traversing this lonely territory is Makina, a young woman who knows only too well how to survive in a violent, macho world. Leaving behind her life in Mexico to search for her brother, she is smuggled into the USA carrying a pair of secret messages – one from her mother and one from the Mexican underworld.
The 2018 Authors
Chang-rae Lee is the author of five novels: Native Speaker (1995); A Gesture Life (1999); Aloft (2004); The Surrendered, which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and On Such a Full Sea (2014) which was a Finalist for the NBCC and won the Heartland Fiction Prize. His novels have won numerous awards and citations, including the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the American Book Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, ALA Notable Book of the Year Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Literary Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and the NAIBA Book Award for Fiction. He has also written stories and articles for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time (Asia), Granta, Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, and many other publications.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times notable book; Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Miami.
Born in Actopan, Mexico, in 1970, Yuri Herrera studied Politics in Mexico, Creative Writing in El Paso and took his PhD in literature at Berkeley. His first novel to appear in English, Signs Preceding the End of the World, was published to great critical acclaim in 2015 and included in many Best-of-Year lists, including The Guardian‘s Best Fiction and NBC News’s Ten Great Latino Books, going on to win the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. He is currently teaching at the Tulane University, in New Orleans.
Common Reading Chats
- Let's talk about the books! Join Professor José David Saldívar later this summer on Stanford Canvas to share your thoughts and insights about the books, the theme, favorite quotes and images, and anything else you'd like to talk about. You'll also be able to help frame the discussion with the authors at the Common Reading program during NSO by submitting specific topics and questions for the authors.
Common Reading Archive
Curious to know what books we've hosted in previous years? Check out our Common Reading Archive for a list of all past books and their authors!