Paw'd Defiance

Novel Idea

January 30, 2020 UW Tacoma Lecturer Annie Nguyen Season 2 Episode 9
Paw'd Defiance
Novel Idea
Chapters
Paw'd Defiance
Novel Idea
Jan 30, 2020 Season 2 Episode 9
UW Tacoma Lecturer Annie Nguyen

A common book is used by colleges and universities to get students on the same page - literally. The idea is to have students in different classes read the same book. UW Tacoma used to employ common books but shelved the idea a few years ago. The project has been revised with a particular emphasis on creating community. Indeed, the renewed effort is referred to as the "community book." In this episode we'll talk with UW Tacoma Lecturer Annie Nguyen about this year's community book "Washington Black" by Esi Edugyan. We'll discuss why this book was chosen and plans to host the book's author on campus.

Show Notes Transcript

A common book is used by colleges and universities to get students on the same page - literally. The idea is to have students in different classes read the same book. UW Tacoma used to employ common books but shelved the idea a few years ago. The project has been revised with a particular emphasis on creating community. Indeed, the renewed effort is referred to as the "community book." In this episode we'll talk with UW Tacoma Lecturer Annie Nguyen about this year's community book "Washington Black" by Esi Edugyan. We'll discuss why this book was chosen and plans to host the book's author on campus.

Sarah Smith:

From UW Tacoma. This is Paw'd Defiance.

Sarah Smith:

Welcome to Paw'd Defiance, where we don't lecture but we do educate. I'm your host, Sarah Smith and today on the Paw'd, the Common Book. The Common Book is typically a work of nonfiction or fiction that is taught in different classes across multiple disciplines here at UDUB Tacoma. We'll chat with UDUB Tacoma lecturer, Annie Nguyen about this year's Common Book selection, Washington Black, including why this particular book was chosen and how different instructors are utilizing it both in and out of the classroom.

Sarah Smith:

Well, welcome Annie, how are you today?

Annie Nguyen:

Good. How are you?

Sarah Smith:

Good. If you want to just take a minute and briefly introduce yourself, that would be great.

Annie Nguyen:

My name is Annie Nguyen and I'm a lecturer of writing studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. This year I'm working with a committee to promote and have adopted a Community Book for our university.

Sarah Smith:

And this is known as the Common Book, right?

Annie Nguyen:

Yes. This is a Common Book project.

Sarah Smith:

So tell us what is a Common Book and what is the Common Book this year?

Annie Nguyen:

Actually I think we're calling it Community Book. The concept is a Common Book. There's similar in the sense that the idea is that a Common Book is a book that is commonly read among a group of students at an institution. The Community Book I think we've adopted that terminology for our project just because we wanted to bring in people beyond just the immediate UWT student. For example, we would love eventually for the project to be adopted by the Tacoma library or by area museums which we already have affiliation and other partners and organizations as well. So the Community Book is a project in which the faculty, staff, alumni and students of the university will come together each year choose a book for various important reasons, be it literary, marriage or it's timeliness or just the ability for it to address a lot of different disciplines and have students read that book and then be able to discuss it between multiple classrooms.

Sarah Smith:

Can you tell us about the book that you decided upon this year? .

Annie Nguyen:

This year, we're reading Esi Edugyan's Washington Black and the book a novel basically recaps the story of a slave in Barbados who then is granted his freedom and so the book is actually an amazing narrative that kind of transcends time and place as Washington Black first is a slave on a plantation and then ends up eventually becoming a renowned scientist. And so without giving too much of the book away, the book travels between the Caribbean, United States, Canada then goes into Europe and Northern Africa. .

Annie Nguyen:

So there are a lot of different reasons that we chose the book. But one of those reasons is that we found a lot of different entry points into the book and then also we thought it was really relevant given the fact that last year we started looking at the history of the United States a little bit differently and started having discussions about the impact of slavery and how if you think about the history of the United States, starting with the first slave ship, how different it might be. Then if you were to think about it as when we had a Declaration of Independence or some other measure of tracking the United States history. So last year of course was when the 1619 project was released. That was when the first slave ship came to the United States and for that reason we thought that this book would be a good connection or tie in.

Sarah Smith:

And so it kind of ties across used in different classrooms and sort of ties in that interdisciplinary approach. That's a mouthful, to education. Would you say that's accurate?

Annie Nguyen:

Yes, that's the goal of the project. The goal of the project is to choose the interdisciplinary texts and have multiple perspectives looking at the same work. And so this book, it transcends concepts in history and political science and travel and marine sciences and biology. And so there's a lot of different ways to look at the novel and then there's a lot of ways to tie it into different things that professors are teaching on campus. Sarah Smith: So are there events or activities or things outside of the classroom then to help kind of support this project?

Annie Nguyen:

Yes, we are in the midst of developing a number of cocurricular activities and so, one of the events is on a talk that Libby Sunderman is doing at the Washington History Museum next month. We are also hoping to do a film screening and we're debating between a couple of different works, 12 Years A Slave was one of the movies that we had discussed. We also have just recently cobbled together enough funding to present a honoraria to Esi Edugyan herself. She lives in Victoria and we are inviting her to campus hopefully in May for her to talk about her work and discuss her writing process and her research process before writing the piece and then what she hopes that readers get from the work when she arrives.

Sarah Smith:

Sarah Smith: So what were some of the previous Common or Community Books that we've used at UW Tacoma?

Annie Nguyen:

So my understanding is that the Community Book program is relatively, well, maybe I should say it's a resuscitated program. UW Tacoma had something like this about eight years ago and also the University of Washington Seattle similarly had a Common Book program that also is no longer active. I'm not sure what happened in that narration because I wasn't on campus at the time or I wasn't working with UWT but this book, Washington Black is actually our pilot for adopting the Community Book for future years. So we're hopeful that by choosing a text like Washington Black that has so many different entry points and is so well recognized as I guess novel of great import. We're hopeful that more professors and more students are adopting the texts this year and are open to contributing nominations for next year's book and getting more involved as the project continues.

Sarah Smith:

So I know that this book has just... I read about it a little but I haven't actually read the book yet. It seems it deals a lot with the concept of freedom too, and sort of the complexity of what freedom means. What do you think about this particular text is important or maybe more, what do you want students to take from it?

Annie Nguyen:

I think that's a great question and candidly I think there are lots of different things that students could take from the book. And I actually taught the text this past fall quarter with my T core 101 students and was very surprised with what the students were able to come up with on their own. I had introduced a lot of different topics and had discussed historical relevance and scientific accuracy that was represented in the text. But my students when given the opportunity to discuss and research different aspects of the novel on their own, ended up pursuing a whole realm of topics that I didn't even consider or I hadn't even really thought was important. For example, one of my students did a research essay on bounty hunting. And the reason why is because when Washington Black does find or start his path towards freedom, he is actually persecuted by the. plantation owner.

Annie Nguyen:

And so this whole research project developed about the origins of bounty hunting and how bounty hunting today still exists. And then another student focused on the idea of parenting and parenthood because there are a lot of parent-child relationships in the novel. There are aspects of parenthood and slavery or how mothers were often taken away or children were often taken away from mothers in slave households. And then there was also a discussion of privilege and honor in certain parent-child relationships. Like how children are expected to live in their parents footsteps or for example, maintain the plantation and maintain the wealth of their families. And so it was really interesting because that student ended up doing an entire project about parental relationships and like what made for I guess what would be considered acceptable parenting at that time or what different models of parenting might've looked like.

Annie Nguyen:

And so it's interesting because I don't know that there's any one particular thing that I want students to take away from this book. And I don't think that any of the faculty members who are on the committee with me are expecting students to take any one concept or point away, but I do think that the overall idea that a novel could open the door to so much research or so much possibility or so many different ways to look at topics that we commonly think about is something that we wanted to embrace.

Sarah Smith:

Sarah Smith: Well, is there anything else that you wanted to add?

Annie Nguyen:

Well, I think that right now if there are any students who might be listening to this podcast or any of our professors, we are going to be working with Washington Black for the rest of this academic year and we're currently in the midst of soliciting nominations for next year's book. Right now we have a couple of nominations for both nonfiction and fiction books and we're open to taking a few more just to see what might be available. What we expect or hope to do in the next couple of months is present the community, staff, faculty, students, alumni, community partners with a short list of books that have been nominated and with recommendations for which ones should be adopted for next year. And then what we're hopeful to do is having students vote and choose what next year's book will be.

Annie Nguyen:

This year we didn't have Washington Black selected until August or September, right before the school year started. And that was a little bit of a challenge because when you choose a book that late it's really hard to develop a lot of co-curricular planning or how they'll be able to adopt the book into their fall classes and winter classes. But for next year's book we're hoping to choose the book by April so that faculty members and students can get excited about next year's book well ahead of time. So I guess if you are listening and you have any suggestions, we are open in taking any suggestions and we look forward to seeing students embrace this book and seeing students and faculty at future Community Book events.

Sarah Smith:

Sarah Smith: Thank you to our guests and thank you for listening. Be sure to like and subscribe. You can find us on Spotify, Google Podcasts, PocketCasts, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.