A Few Words About Kingsborough's Common Reading for 2015 - 16:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Carefully chosen through a selection process by over sixty members of our campus community, all of us involved with KCC Reads are very excited about this year’s selection. Not only does it touch on a range of disciplines—the Behavioral Sciences, Women’s Studies, Speech and Communications, English, Political Science, and, depending on focus, courses in Philosophy, History, Health, Business and Culinary Arts too—Adichie’s novel is, in a word, perfect for our student body. It deals in a sustained and smart way with issues important on campus: immigration, first and foremost, as well as gender, race and class. These major tropes develop alongside lesser themes of religion, self-identity, home, romance and love, the family, and building careers in the 21st Century global marketplace. It is appropriate for courses looking at immigration and globalization, class and class cultures, American Studies, and race and Africana Studies, among others. Americanah is also a highly (indeed easily) readable text, an engrossing "page-turner" and sophisticated portrait of the lives of immigrants in today’s world. The text therefore works as well in developmental English and CLIP classes as it does in core content courses; and, though rather long, it can be parsed into sub-sections without difficulty, and taught in full or part.
These aspects come together as a strong commendation of the book. A teaching text works best when it is interesting, when it is understandable, when it addresses important topical concerns, and when students can identify personally with character, story, theme. That all of this is true of Americanah may explain why it won the committee vote in an unprecedented landslide—for the first time in my experience, nearly every voting member—including students, alumni, staff and faculty—chose this book, a ringing endorsement that likewise clarifies why it has garnered much in the way of literary "cred." Among other accolades, it was a New York Times's Ten Best Books of 2014; winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; an NPR "Great Reads" Book, a Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Seattle Times Best Book, and a Newsday Top 10 Book.
For KCC Reads, then, this year’s focus is immigration, immigrant life and the residency, legal, social and other structural concerns facing this population. This means our work for the coming academic naturally "plugs in" to other campus initiatives, such as Diversity Week, Immigration Day, Prof. Skoric’s Immigrant Women’s Group, her Immigration HUB, as well as to concerns of our Equity initiative and other priority projects. The premise of the novel is the relationship of its two protagonists, both born in Nigeria and who, after first falling in love and then graduating high school, become immigrants—Ifemelu to America, Obinze to England. Emily Raboteau’s Washington Post review characterizes it as a "book about the immigrant’s quest: self-invention, which is the American subject. ‘Americanah’ is unique among the booming canon of immigrant literature of the last generation." As the characters’ lives traject along very different paths, not only do Ifemelu and Obinze become estranged they also "lose" and must reconstruct their individual identities, their confidence and focus, and their "places" in the world. Their story prompts us to ask: What are the characters in search of? And, why do they decide, separately, to return home after working so hard to belong and thrive in new geographies?
As we know, our students are particularly well equipped to contemplate, answer and debate questions like these. With leadership of faculty using it, they will be encouraged to think about Americanah from various perspectives, to spend "quality" time mining Adichie’s brilliant novel for all it can teach us and all the knowledge we can produce by studying it. For example, we might think and learn about:
- the life conditions of documented and undocumented immigrants, including questions of sustainability, poverty, employability, displacement, family, or Raboteau’s "self-invention";
- the ways these experiences are inextricable from experiences of race in United States contexts, how the racialization of the body and "The Fact of Blackness," to borrow from Fanon, are clarified with dexterity and precision in Adichie’s nuanced representation;
- and, the important role of gender in general, and in immigrant contexts specifically, which this narrative cleverly explores and illuminates.
We look forward to everyone's support this year, engaging with the book and the program—through course adoptions, joining the Cohort (which could use additional members!), and attending program events. We’ll begin, as usual, with the Inaugural Lecture on Thursday September 17th. The official introduction to the book will be given by, Professor Indira Skoric of the Department of History, Philosophy and Political Science, an expert in the field of Migration Studies and a member of the KCC Reads Cohort. Save the date and join us for her one-hour lecture (and Q&A) in the Rotunda; it will be given twice, at 10:20 and again at 11:30 a.m. That same day, we’ll distribute books for students, from 10 am to 4 pm, and will hold a faculty brainstorming session on teaching Americanah from 3 – 4 pm. (All events: MAC Rotunda.)
We look forward to your participation in our year of spirited programming, community building and scholarly inquiry into Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah!
Books are available, for as long as they last, in Room M-386.
Please note: Americanah is available free at Bookshare.org for students who have print disabilities. Contact AccessAbility Services for more info: D-205, x5175.