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Colgate Reads initiative helped spark discussion far and wide

By Kellyann Hayes '16 on October 2, 2013
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Colgate Reads participants shared a conversation around "Tenth of December."

Colgate Reads participants shared a conversation around “Tenth of December.”

From Lawrence Hall to Hamilton Central School to a high school in New Jersey, the distinctive black-and-white cover of George Saunders’s Tenth of December seemed to be everywhere this summer — the visual cue to the inaugural Colgate Reads program.

Colgate Reads was simple: read a story, discuss the story. Approximately 2,150 people joined in to read the title story of Saunders’s new collection, surpassing the goal of 2,013 participants.

A visit to the program’s online forum, where participants could discuss the story and pose questions, proved that its purpose was achieved. Students, professors, alumni, staff members, townspeople, and friends all chimed in with insights and ideas, from the symbolism of colors, to the age dynamics between characters, to the influence of Saunders’s Buddhist beliefs.

In a particularly lively thread about the characters in the story, Raveen Bharvani ’85 commented on Saunders’s portrayal of truly human characters. “A lesser writer,” he wrote, “would have wrapped things up for both of the characters in much simpler ways, but life is not simple.”

Discussion of Tenth of December also showed up in surprising venues. A full-fledged debate formed on Colgate’s Class of 2017 Facebook page, where the newest members of the Colgate community offered their opinions and struggles with Saunders’s thought-provoking stories (their assigned pre–first-year summer reading assignment).

Posing and answering questions such as how Saunders’s satire compares with Twain’s, the students brought thinking fit for the classroom to popular social media.

Colgate Reads even stretched as far as Demarest, N.J., when Bridget Ryan ’05, a teacher at The Academy of the Holy Angels, asked 15 students in her AP English literature class to participate in Colgate Reads, which served as a springboard for class discussion.

“The forum was an excellent opportunity for me to introduce my students to the kind of intelligent and thoughtful discussion that I want them to have throughout the year,” Ryan said. “It was a great way to begin a year in which we focus a great deal on reading and discussing literature from multiple perspectives. In terms of my own participation,” she added, “the forum helped me think about the story in [new] ways.”

The founders of the program, Colgate English professors Jane Pinchin and Jennifer Brice, were particularly excited about the response from throughout the community. “We met our goal, but as exciting, we met it with a range of readers,” Pinchin said. “We had hoped for this expansiveness and this is exactly what we got.”

Brice and Pinchin continue the legacy of the late Professor Fred Busch by co-teaching the Living Writers course that he founded, a class that studies contemporary fiction and brings the authors to campus. A few years ago, they expanded the program with Living Writers Online for parents, alumni, and friends, before starting Colgate Reads in 2013.

“We are excited by the writers we bring,” Brice added. “By their quality. By the linking of the visit of writers and the reading of their work. A wonderful venture.”

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