The UO Common Reading Program is ready to welcome the class of 2021 with a new book selection, Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House,” winner of the 2012 National Book Award for fiction.
Lisa Freinkel, vice provost and dean for undergraduate studies, said Erdrich has long been hailed as one of the most important writers in contemporary Native American fiction. She called “The Round House” perhaps Erdrich’s “most brilliantly realized narrative.”
As in years past, the Division of Undergraduate Studies will provide Erdrich’s book to all first-year students this fall.
“Told from the perspective of a young adult narrator, with a great deal of humor and warmth, the book deals directly with questions of tribal sovereignty, federal Indian policy, sexual violence, social justice and individual accountability,” Freinkel said. “The novel manages to broach horrific scenes of injustice with great delicacy, modeling a discourse that tackles the most searing questions of our time with empathy and hope.”
The selection comes on the heels of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ sold-out lecture at Matthew Knight Arena and builds on a year of growth for the Common Reading program, in which the campus community embraced the difficult conversations on race in Coates’ “Between the World and Me.” Erdrich’s book will provide another opportunity to grapple with a range of challenging social issues.
The book is set in spring 1988, when a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is brutally raped. Traumatized, she is reluctant to reveal what happened to police, her husband or her teenage son. The son sets out to get answers on his own, a quest that takes him first to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe.
“And this is only the beginning,” says publisher HarperCollins. “Louise Erdrich’s novel embraces tragedy, the comic, a spirit world very much present in the lives of her all-too human characters, and questions of justice, revenge and regret.”
The Common Reading committee is developing programming and co-curricular opportunities to support students’ encounter with the text and welcomes partnership from faculty, staff and student groups. For information about partnering, contact Undergraduate Studies staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The vetting process was especially challenging this year,” said Sharon Kaplan, the program coordinator of the Common Reading Program. “The book selection committee sought a title that powerfully spoke to urgent concerns in the wake of our tumultuous national politics, as well as a title that rose to the top as literature, offered multiple entry points for teaching and research and would invite readers to become more empathetic toward multiple perspectives.”
Kaplan said “The Round House” was the committee’s standout choice, a sentiment echoed by the public comments solicited in January on the three finalists. One faculty member wrote that the novel would follow well from “Between the World and Me,” furthering conversations already begun at the UO on unequal access to the promises of American democracy.
“‘The Round House’ is both beautifully written and accessible to a wide readership,” the commenter wrote. “It will challenge students to think about histories of injustice and violence on American soil while also considering the power of well-crafted art as itself a way to confront those histories and shape a different kind of future.”
Review copies and curriculum resources will be available in spring term for faculty considering teaching with the book. For more information see commonreading.uoregon.edu or @UOCommonReading on Twitter.