2019 Common Reading author speaks at EMU later this month

Common Reading book

Helena María Viramontes, award-winning author and Goldwin Smith Professor of English at Cornell University, will touch on topics including economic exploitation, food systems, greed and self-reflection when she speaks at the Erb Memorial Union ballroom Oct. 21 at 4 p.m.

Viramontes is the author of this year’s UO Common Reading book, “Under the Feet of Jesus,” the story of Estrella, the daughter of a migrant farm worker named Petra, who is forced into living in temporary farm worker camps and laboring in the fields to feed her children after her husband leaves the family.

Helena María ViramontesThe novel focuses on the difficult and undervalued existence of migrant farm workers and explores topics related to the agricultural industry, farm labor policies, access to quality health care and material resources, environmental justice, and environmental racism.

Viramontes’ talk, “Hope to Resist: Battling Erasure and Inserting Our Histories into National Narratives,” will touch on themes present not only in this year’s UO Common Reading book but also in her other work, including her novel “Their Dogs Came with Them” as well as several short stories and works she has written or edited.

Viramontes said she hopes to inspire students to fight for causes that mean something to them personally.

“Sometimes students feel overwhelmed,” Viramontes said. “Something might spark their passion, but then it burns out. I want them to be the protest, and know that they can take little subversive acts every day. This is the way they become the protest. Then they know they can do something and they don’t feel so alone.”

The Common Reading program is part of the student success efforts at the UO. The program provides opportunities for community-building among new students and introduces them to the types of intellectual inquiry and discussion at the collegiate level. All incoming, first-year students are given a copy of the Common Reading book during IntroDUCKtion or before the start of the fall term.

Julie Voelker-Morris, director of the Common Reading program, said having a book used by departments and programs across campus in the exploration of cross-disciplinary themes engages students in not only the book but also academic disciplines they may not have realized they were interested in.  

In addition to Viramontes’ talk and book signing on campus, she will speak about writing fiction as a form of activism at the Eugene Public Library on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. and lead a workshop on teaching writing through the Teaching Engagement Program on Oct. 23 at 10 a.m.