Each year, the Sweet Briar community comes together over a common text, one chosen for its artistic merit and its engagement with vital questions and ideas. Students, faculty, and staff gather for lunch-hour conversations throughout the year and host the writer for both an informal afternoon Q&A in the beautiful Cochran Library and then an evening presentation in the Babcock Performing Arts Center.
Sweet Briar College’s Common Read selection for the 2019-2020 academic year features not one book, but a pair of books “in dynamic and rich conversation with one another across thousands of years,” says Director of the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts Carrie Brown. They are Madeline Miller’s No. 1 New York Times best-selling novel “Circe”—about the legendary sorceress and goddess who (among other things) turns men into pigs in The Odyssey—and Emily Wilson’s celebrated translation of “The Odyssey,” the first English translation by a woman. The writers will visit campus and bookend the year: Madeline Miller on Thursday, Nov. 7, and Emily Wilson on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Their presentations are free and open to the public. Read more.
Madeline Miller grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She has taught and tutored Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students for the past twenty years. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.
“The Song of Achilles”, her first novel, was awarded the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a New York Times Bestseller. It has been translated into over twenty-five languages including Dutch, Mandarin, Japanese, Turkish, Arabic and Greek. Madeline was also shortlisted for the 2012 Stonewall Writer of the Year. Her second novel, “Circe”, was an instant number 1 New York Times bestseller, is currently short-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and won the Indies Choice Best Adult Fiction of the Year Award and the the Indies Choice Best Audiobook of the Year Award. It was also given The Red Tentacle Award, an American Library Association Alex Award (adult books of special interest to teen readers), and the 2018 Elle Big Book Award. Madeline’s essays have appeared in a number of publications including the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Telegraph, Lapham’s Quarterly and NPR.org. She currently lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Emily Wilson is professor of Classical Studies and graduate chair of the Program in Comparative Literature & Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania. Wilson attended Oxford University (Balliol College B.A. and Corpus Christi College M.Phil.) and Yale University (Ph.D.). In 2006, she was named a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome in Renaissance & Early Modern scholarship. She lives in Philadelphia with her three daughters and three cats.
In November 2017, Wyatt Mason profiled Professor Wilson in The New York Times Magazine. “When I first read these lines early this summer in The Paris Review, which published an excerpt, I was floored. I’d never read an “Odyssey” that sounded like this. It had such directness, the lines feeling not as if they were being fed into iambic pentameter because of some strategic decision but because the meter was a natural mode for its speaker.”
Past Common Read Selections
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Described by The New York Times Magazine as “the rare novelist to become a public intellectual, as well as a defining voice on race and gender for the digital age,” Nigerian-born Chimamanda Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” is one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists” has been viewed over four million times and ignited an international conversation about feminism. A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, Adichie has won many awards for her work, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Orange Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times and Zoetrope.
Adichie first visited Sweet Briar in 2009 after the publication of her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus”, a piercing coming-of-age story about a young woman in Nigeria whose awakening occurs in the midst of a military coup. Since the publication of “Purple Hibiscus,” she has gone on to publish the novel “Half a Yellow Sun,” about Biafra’s desperate struggle for independence within Nigeria, a collection of short stories, “The Thing Around Your Neck,” two works of non-fiction, including “We Should All Be Feminists” and “Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.” Her novel “Americanah,” licensed for publication in 29 languages and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction was listed among the New York Times Book Review’s “Ten Best Books of 2013.” “Americanah” is a love story, the tale of two young people whose paths diverge. It is also a trenchant (and sometimes funny) investigation of race, immigration, culture, ethnicity, and the social and political forces that seek to divide and conquer us, as well as those which keep us together. “There are some novels that tell a great story,” wrote Elizabeth Day in The Guardian, “and others that make you change the way you look at the world…. ‘Americanah’ is a book that manages to do both.”
She returned to the College in October 2018. Read how one student reacted to Adichie’s visit to campus.
More Common Reads:
- “Strength in What Remains” by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Kidder
- “Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization” by Reza Aslan
- “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof