Kevin Wilson leads this year’s Common Read

Larshell Green

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Since 2008, the university has been helping students, teachers and renowned authors connect through one common medium: a common text. The text chosen, which ranges from fiction, non-fiction or poetry is presented each semester as a starting point to discuss and respond to the literature being covered in mostly English 101 and 102 classes through the Common Read program.

This semester, Kevin Wilson, author of “Tunneling to the Center of the Earth” and “The Family Fang” was featured on Monday, Mar. 21. Wilson received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award.

From 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., student presentations were held in the Student Union Theater. Both dual enrollment and Southeastern students wrote papers involving the work of Wilson read them aloud on a panel as Wilson responded by asking questions and offering commentary.

“We start the day with the students presenting to the author and then the writer presents to the students,” said Department Head of English Dr. David Hanson.

Following was a question and answer session with Wilson from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. After, both Wilson and his wife, poet and writer Leigh Anne Couch, participated in a more advanced discussion about the craft of writing and publishing. It was available exclusively to undergraduate and graduate English majors in the Writing Center. 

The final session began at 6:30 p.m. in the Student Union Theater and was followed by a reception and book signing. Wilson answered questions from the audience and read an original short story, titled “The Horror We Made.”  The short story was about the frightening slumber party of teenage girls. It was also a favorite among the crowd, including sophomore finance major Michael Seither.

“I enjoyed the slumber party story,” said Seither. “I enjoyed the way he contrasted the characters and the way Wolfgang took control of everything and the way he made his characters.” 

According to Dr. Jason Landrum, head of the Common Read committee, authors are chosen from a running list of 10 to 15 authors each semester. Landrum explained that the committee has meetings about who they believe would be a good fit for campus.

According to Landrum, Wilson’s youthful characters in their late teens and early 20’s piqued the interest of the committee, ultimately contributing to Wilson being chosen.

Hanson recognizes the importance of the authors being able to connect with students and the reputations some of them as good teachers, such as Wilson who is a professor at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee.

“All of our authors are recognized nationally and internationally,” said Hanson. “We work hard to find authors whose writing is appropriate for the campus and is of the highest quality that we can obtain.” 

Landrum feels the Common Read programs keep the English department alive through crucial connections. According to Landrum, Common Reads are special and add energy to the faculty and students. 

“It’s a vital component of the interaction between our students and teachers,” said Landrum. 

According to Hanson, over the course of the history of Common Read, student questions for authors have gotten more sophisticated.

 “Students are becoming better readers,” said Hanson. “It was very striking how good the questions were and how various they were.”

Wilson feels that the Common Read program is beneficial to his relationship with his audiences.

According to Wilson, he considers how his themes of adolescence and young adulthood are perceived by students in college. 

“Well, my primary goal as a writer is to reach as many readers as I can,” said Wilson. “So, the Common Read allows a group of dedicated, careful readers to look at my work, which is all a writer can ask for. I guess I want the audience to feel like it wasn’t a waste of time. That’s all I can really hope for, that they felt that it was worth their investment.” 

According to Landrum, Common Read proved to be successful drawing in about 1,000 students collectively from all of the sessions. Although the next text is currently being debated by the committee, according to Landrum, the next Common Read will occur in October of next year.

For more information on the Common Read program, visit english.selu.edu/commonread/aboutCommonRead

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Kevin Wilson leads this year’s Common Read