NEHS Common Reader

The process of selecting a Common Reader for the NEHS network challenges the Advisory Council members each year. As announced, the 2019-2020 Common Reader will be A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza; the Advisory Council members gathered in St. Louis a few weeks ago spent considerable time reviewing numerous books and the data from the Common Reader survey distributed several months ago before making a decision. We also considered the results of the scholarship scores we had just used to determine the recipients of this year’s Merit scholarships. A summary of our deliberations follows.

The Advisory Council seeks to select texts each year that will challenge, inspire, and teach. We have selected fiction (primarily) but have also offered some non-fiction texts as the foundation for the scholarship essays. Last year, as you know, we decided to use two books, Everything I Never Told You and The Samurai’s Garden. While the double Common Readers elicited fine writing and the decision was supported by the majority of the respondents to the survey, the Advisory Council felt there were strong arguments to move back to one text as the Common Reader; a sense of unevenness in the scholarship essay scores based on the text selected was a concern. Were the books equally challenging? The most widely selected title was Everything I Never Told You, not a surprise—it is newer and the author is quite well known. Even so, several of the top essays were written based on The Samurai’s Garden, but concern lingered that the books were not of equal challenge.

A Place for Us rose to the top of the suggested texts for a range of reasons: it is contemporary; it addresses current, very real, societal issues; using it likely expands and stretches the applicants’ reading backgrounds; the complexity of structure, theme, character development, and emotional impact will, we believe, resonate with many students (and Advisors, for that matter). The Council also felt we would be able to craft thoughtful and challenging prompts that would engage our members.

Applicants for the Merit Scholarships are to read this text and select a prompt as the basis of their application submissions.

  • Prompts posted: Nov. 4, 2019
  • Scholarship Applications accepted: Dec. 9, 2019 - Jan. 21, 2020.



Approaches to the Common Reader

More About Fatima Farheen Mirza

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A Place for Us