Common Reading

Building Connections Through Literature

The Common Reading Program affords students the opportunity of participating in a common curricular experience that creates community and a common ground for discussion.

The program is tailored specifically for incoming first-year students. Students are expected to have read the book before the first day of class and will join together with faculty and peers to discuss and think critically about key concepts. The Common Reading Program will encourage students to partake in intellectual engagement and will create a sense of community among newly admitted Panthers.

About the Program

The FIU Common Reading Program is targeted specifically at incoming first-year students as an introduction to the academic expectations of the university. It is an effort to create a shared intellectual point of engagement for first-year students and create a sense of community.

As a FIU freshman, they will read the selected common reading book before the first day of class. Faculty and staff also read the book and engage students and others in discussions that challenge all to think critically about the text.

Common reading programs are increasingly popular features of first-year programs at colleges and universities across the nation. After our pilot program in 2008, both students and instructors in our first-year seminars reported a high level of communal and academic engagement as a result of integrating the common reading into the curriculum.

Common Reading Video

Common Reading History

  • "Made in China" (2023-2024, Class of 2027)
  • "App Kid" (2022-2023, Class of 2026)
  • "Sitting Pretty" (2021-2022, Class of 2025)
  • "A Dream Called Home" (2020-2021, Class of 2024)
  • "Determined" (2019-2020, Class of 2023)
  • "A Stone of Hope" (2018-2019, Class of 2022)
  • "The Promise of a Pencil" (2017-2018, Class of 2021)
  • "In Order to Live" (2016-2017, Class of 2020)
  • "The Prince of Los Cocuyos" (2015-2016, Class of 2019)
  • "No Turning Back" (2014-2015, Class of 2018)
  • "Wine to Water" (2013-2014, Class of 2017)
  • "I’m Down" (2012-2013, Class of 2016)
  • "The Red Umbrella" (2011-2012, Class of 2015)
  • "A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants" (2010-2011, Class of 2014)
  • "Funny in Farsi" (2009-2010, Class of 2013)
  • “Breath, Eyes, Memory” (Pilot study, Class of 2012)

Common Reading Essay

Every year, first year students are welcome to submit their essays for the Common Reading Essay Contest. The essay contest (with cash prizes) will be held in the Spring semester. Students will be able to upload their essays beginning Monday, June 17th via this link. The common reading essay contest will close on Friday, March 15th, 2025. 



This Year's Essay Prompt

Using your critical thinking skills, select a theme, character, or event from Sarafina’s story that you can relate to, and write a 2-3 page reflective essay. Be sure to include examples from Sarafina’s life and your life, and how you can relate the two.

2024-2025 Common Reading Book Selection     

Learn More About Past Books

  • "Made in China" (2023-2024)

    About the Book for 2023-2024

    About the Book
    Anna Qu – “Made in China”

    When Anna Qu was fifteen years old, she made the decision to report her parents to the Office of Family and Children Services after experiencing years of neglect and abuse from her parents. This was after she was being forced to work exorbitant hours in her parents’ factory and being sent to China for standing up for herself.

    Despite the challenges she faced in her upbringing she was able to support herself through college for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Once she completed her degree, she worked at a start-up and later became an adjunct professor at Monmouth University. Her works have been featured in various literary magazines such as Poets & Writers, Three Penny Review and Ploughshares and she was most recently awarded the 2023 Black Mountain Institute Shearing Fellowship.

  • "App Kid" (2022-2023)

    About the Book for 2022-2023

    About the Book
    Michael Sayman – “App Kid”

    When Michael Sayman was thirteen, he made a Club Penguin Resource Guide app after teaching himself how to code. He didn't think much when he decided to upload it to the Apple App Store, but once he did, his life changed.

    He earned about $10,000 a month with his app and used that money to help his family through the 2008 financial crisis. His work eventually caught Mark Zuckerburg’s attention and Michael became Facebook’s youngest intern. After working at Facebook and helping develop Instagram Stories and the now defunct LifeStage App, he moved on to other tech companies like Google and Roblox. He now works at Twitter to focus on features geared toward younger audiences.

    Author Visit

  • "Sitting Pretty" (2021-2022)

    About the Book for 2021-2022

    About the Book
    Rebekah Taussig – “Sitting Pretty”

    Ever since she was a child, Rebekah Taussig has had to figure out how to navigate a world that not only ignores her but is not built for her as a woman who uses a wheelchair. Despite the ways society represents (or in some cases, does not represent) disabled people, Rebekah was able to carve her own path and figure out the ways in which she can live a fulfilling and wonderful life. Along with curating her Instagram (@Sitting_Pretty) which features micro-essays about her life as a disabled woman alongside photos of her with her family, plants and/or thrifted clothing, she has her hands full with teaching her high school students.

     Author Visit

  • "A Dream Called Home" (2020-2021)

    About the Book for 2020-2021

    About the Book
    Reyna Grande - "A Dream Called Home"

    As an immigrant in an unfamiliar country, with an indifferent mother and abusive father, Reyna had few resources at her disposal. Taking refuge in words, Reyna’s love of reading and writing propels her to rise above until she achieves the impossible and is accepted to the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    Although her acceptance is a triumph, the actual experience of American college life is intimidating and unfamiliar for someone like Reyna, who is now estranged from her family and support system. Again, she finds solace in words, holding fast to her vision of becoming a writer, only to discover she knows nothing about what it takes to make a career out of a dream.

    Through it all, Reyna is determined to make the impossible possible, going from undocumented immigrant of little means to “a fierce, smart, shimmering light of a writer” (Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild); a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist whose “power is growing with every book” (Luis Alberto Urrea, Pultizer Prize finalist); and a proud mother of two beautiful children who will never have to know the pain of poverty and neglect.

    Told in Reyna’s exquisite, heartfelt prose, A Dream Called Home demonstrates how, by daring to pursue her dreams, Reyna was able to build the one thing she had always longed for: a home that would endure.


    Author's Visit

  • "Determined" (2019-2020)

    About the Book for 2019-2020

    About the Book
    Martin Baranek – “Determined”

    After the Nazis invaded his shtetl in World War II, young Martin Baranek went on to survive the ghetto, a labor camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death march, and Mauthausen. With his undying spirit—and a series of miracles—Martin escaped the train headed for Treblinka, where the majority of his family perished, and was twice sent to the quarantine barracks in Birkenau to be sent to the gas chambers. Twice he escaped with only moments to spare. Determined is about Martin’s journey- a triumph of hope over despair.

    "If Martin Baranek's memoir of his hellish journey were fiction, I would dismiss it as beyond comprehension. The fact that in this book Martin's own words testify in some detail to his experiences from ghetto to work camp to extermination camps to death march to liberation and eventual arrival to the Land of Israel, powerfully teaches us that the unbelievable actually happened. This is an eye opening window into humanity at its lowest and cruelest. It is also one human being's intense will to survive and rebuild his life anew. I found it riveting and gut wrenching. Martin Baranek's journey is a triumph of hope over despair."
    -Rabbi Gary Glickstein

    "I first encountered Martin Baranek as an articulate and reflective survivor in the course of my research on the Wierzbnik ghetto and the Starachowice slave labor camps. As his powerful memoir records, these were but the first two circles of Hitler's inferno through which he descended in the years of the Holocaust. They were followed by Birkenau, Mauthausen, and Gunskirchen, with each stage of his incredible odyssey more challenging and horrifying that the previous one. Martin's overall story remains very powerful."
    -Christopher R. Browning, Frank Porter Graham Professor of History Emeritus. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    "It has been said that a thousand doors had to open and close in the exact right time and succession in order for one to survive the Holocaust. If even one door opened or closed at the wrong time, your fate was sealed. Unlike 6 million other Jews, the doors Martin Baranek went through appeared for him at just the right time. 
    But his survival was not just a matter of luck. Shining through on every page of this exceptionally moving tale are Martin’s courage, perseverance and sheer will to live under the most brutal of conditions This painfully honest account is a true testament to the power of the human spirit to triumph over unimaginable adversity. Martin's story is a remarkable memoir that is nothing short of inspiring.You may have questions about God after reading this book - but you will most certainly believe in miracles.”
    -Eli Rubenstein, National Director, March of the Living Canada


    Author Visit

  • "A Stone of Hope" (2018-2019)

    About the book for 2018-2019

    About the Book
    Jim St. Germain – “A Stone of Hope”

    In the tradition of The Other Wes Moore and Just Mercy, a searing memoir and clarion call to save our at-risk youth by a young black man who himself was a lost cause—until he landed in a rehabilitation program that saved his life and gave him purpose.

    Born into abject poverty in Haiti, young Jim St. Germain moved to Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, into an overcrowded apartment with his family. He quickly adapted to street life and began stealing, dealing drugs, and growing increasingly indifferent to despair and violence. By the time he was arrested for dealing crack cocaine, he had been handcuffed more than a dozen times. At the age of fifteen the walls of the system were closing around him.

    But instead of prison, St. Germain was placed in "Boys Town," a nonsecure detention facility designed for rehabilitation. Surrounded by mentors and positive male authority who enforced a system based on structure and privileges rather than intimidation and punishment, St. Germain slowly found his way, eventually getting his GED and graduating from college. Then he made the bravest decision of his life: to live, as an adult, in the projects where he had lost himself, and to work to reform the way the criminal justice system treats at-risk youth.

    A Stone of Hope is more than an incredible coming-of-age story; told with a degree of candor that requires the deepest courage, it is also a rallying cry. No one is who they are going to be—or capable of being—at sixteen. St. Germain is living proof of this. He contends that we must work to build a world in which we do not give up on a swath of the next generation.

    Passionate, eloquent, and timely, illustrated with photographs throughout, A Stone of Hope is an inspiring challenge for every American, and is certain to spark debate nationwide.

    Jim St. Germain is the co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT) and is on the Board of the National Juvenile Defender Center and was recently appointed by former President Barack Obama to the Coordinator Council on Juvenile and Justice Delinquency Prevention. For more information, please visit Plot for Youth and read the authors bio.


    Author Visit
  • "The Promise of a Pencil" (2017-2018)

    About the book for 2017–2018

    Adam Braun – “The Promise of a Pencil”

    Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request led to a staggering series of events that took Braun backpacking through dozens of countries before eventually leaving a prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise, the award-winning organization he started with just $25 that has since built more than 250 schools across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    The Promise of a Pencil chronicles Braun’s journey to find his calling, as each chapter explains one clear step that every person can take to turn their biggest ambitions into reality. If you feel restless and ready for transition, if you are seeking direction and purpose, this critically acclaimed bestseller is for you. Driven by inspiring stories and shareable insights, this is the book that will give you the tools to make your own life a story worth telling.

    Adam Braun is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Pencils of Promise and has been a featured speaker at the White House, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations. To learn more, visit Braun's website.

    “A compelling and singular story filled with universal truths every needs to hear.”
    -US Senator Cory Booker


  • "In Order to Live" (2016-2017)

    About the book for 2016–2017

    Yeonmi Park – “In Order to Live”

    Yeonmi Park has told the harrowing story of her escape from North Korea as a child many times, but never before has she revealed the most intimate and devastating details of the repressive society she was raised in and the enormous price she paid to escape.

    Park’s family was loving and close-knit, but life in North Korea was brutal, practically medieval. Park would regularly go without food and was made to believe that, Kim Jong Il, the country’s dictator, could read her mind. After her father was imprisoned and tortured by the regime for trading on the black-market, a risk he took in order to provide for his wife and two young daughters, Yeonmi and her family were branded as criminals and forced to the cruel margins of North Korean society. With thirteen-year-old Park suffering from a botched appendectomy and weighing a mere sixty pounds, she and her mother were smuggled across the border into China.

    I wasn’t dreaming of freedom when I escaped from North Korea. I didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All I knew was that if my family stayed behind, we would probably die—from starvation, from disease, from the inhuman conditions of a prison labor camp. The hunger had become unbearable; I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of rice. But there was more to our journey than our own survival. My mother and I were searching for my older sister, Eunmi, who had left for China a few days earlier and had not been heard from since.

    Park knew the journey would be difficult, but could not have imagined the extent of the hardship to come. Those years in China cost Park her childhood, and nearly her life. By the time she and her mother made their way to South Korea two years later, her father was dead and her sister was still missing. Before now, only her mother knew what really happened between the time they crossed the Yalu river into China and when they followed the stars through the frigid Gobi Desert to freedom. As she writes, “I convinced myself that a lot of what I had experienced never happened. I taught myself to forget the rest.”

    In In Order to Live, Park shines a light not just into the darkest corners of life in North Korea, describing the deprivation and deception she endured and which millions of North Korean people continue to endure to this day, but also onto her own most painful and difficult memories. She tells with bravery and dignity for the first time the story of how she and her mother were betrayed and sold into sexual slavery in China and forced to suffer terrible psychological and physical hardship before they finally made their way to Seoul, South Korea—and to freedom.

    Still in her early twenties, Yeonmi Park has lived through experiences that few people of any age will ever know—and most people would never recover from. Park confronts her past with a startling resilience, refusing to be defeated or defined by the circumstances of her former life in North Korea and China. In spite of everything, she has never stopped being proud of where she is from, and never stopped striving for a better life. Indeed, today she is a human rights activist working determinedly to bring attention to the oppression taking place in her home country.

    Park’s testimony is rare, edifying, and terribly important, and the story she tells in In Order to Live is heartbreaking and unimaginable, but never without hope. Her voice is riveting and dignified. This is the human spirit at its most indomitable.

  • "The Prince of Los Cocuyos" (2015-2016)

    About the book from 2015-2016

    Richard Blanco – “The Prince of Los Cocuyos”

    A poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, which explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities.

    Richard Blanco’s childhood and adolescence were experienced between two imaginary worlds: his parents’ nostalgic world of 1950s Cuba and his imagined America, the country he saw on reruns of The Brady Bunch and Leave it to Beaver—an “exotic” life he yearned for as much as he yearned to see “la patria.”

    Navigating these worlds eventually led Blanco to question his cultural identity through words; in turn, his vision as a writer—as an artist—prompted the courage to accept himself as a gay man. In this moving, contemplative memoir, the 2013 inaugural poet traces his poignant, often hilarious, and quintessentially American coming-of-age and the people who influenced him.

    A prismatic and lyrical narrative rich with the colors, sounds, smells, and textures of Miami, Richard Blanco’s personal narrative is a resonant account of how he discovered his authentic self and ultimately, a deeper understanding of what it means to be American. His is a singular yet universal story that beautifully illuminates the experience of “becoming;” how we are shaped by experiences, memories, and our complex stories: the humor, love, yearning, and tenderness that define a life.

    About the Author

    Richard Blanco’s mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born on February 15th, 1968. Forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more to New York City. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the concerns of place and belonging that would shape his life and work. Eventually, the family settled in Miami where he was raised and educated. Growing up among close-knit Cuban exiles instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he’d carry into his adult life as a writer.

    Though possessed by a strong creative spirit since childhood, Blanco also excelled in math and the sciences. As such, his parents encouraged him to study engineering, believing it would ensure a more stable and rewarding career for him. He took their advice, earning a degree from Florida International University in 1991 and began working as a consulting civil engineer in Miami. In his mid-20s he was compelled to express his creative side through writing, prompted by questions of cultural identity and his personal history. He returned to Florida International University where he was mentored by poet Campbell McGrath, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1997.

    Blanco’s first book of poetry City of a Hundred Fires was published in 1998 to critical acclaim, winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The collection explored his cultural yearnings and contradictions as a Cuban-American, and captured the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba, his figurative homeland. After the success of his first book, Blanco took a hiatus from his engineering career, and accepted a position at Central Connecticut State University as a professor of creative writing. While living in Connecticut, he met his current life-partner, Dr. Mark Neveu, a renowned research scientist.

    Driven by a curiosity to examine the essence of place and belonging, Blanco became an extensive traveler; and eventually moved with Mark to Guatemala, then to Washington, DC in 2002. In DC, he taught at Georgetown and American universities, The Writers Center, and at the Arlington Country Detention Facility. Poems relating to his journeys through Spain, Italy, France, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and New England comprised his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (2005), receiving the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for his explorations of the ideal of home and connections sought through place, culture, family, and love.

    But soon Blanco was on the move again, returning in 2004 to Miami, his home away from home, where he resumed his engineering career. Engineer by day, he designed several town revitalization projects; poet by night, he completed an electronic chapbook of poems, Place of Mind. He also began working on another collection before moving once again. This time to Bethel, Maine, a ski resort town on the foothills of the White Mountains, where he sought the peace and tranquility of nature, which he considers a universal home. While in Maine, he completed Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012; it related the author’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities.

    After the re-election of President Barack Obama, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, following in the footsteps of such great writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Blanco wrote One Today, an original poem for the occasion, which he read at Obama’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on January 21, 2013. That day confirmed him as a historical figure: the first Latino, immigrant, and gay writer bestowed by such an honor, as well as the youngest ever, at the age of 44. In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American, and his life-changing role as a public voice.

    Since the inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, and received an honorary doctorate from Macalester College. He continues connecting communities with poetry through the art of occasional poetry. To help heal the emotional wounds of the Boston Marathon bombings, Richard wrote Boston Strong, a poem he performed at the TD Boston Garden Benefit Concert and at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. He has also written and performed occasional poems for such organizations as Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Fragrance Awards at Lincoln Center.

    Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?

    For more information, you may visit Blanco's website.

  • "No Turning Back" (2014-2015)

    About the book from 2014-2015

    Bryan Anderson – “No Turning Back”

    Bryan relates the story of how he was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq, his subsequent rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center, and his determination to enjoy life and take advantage of the opportunities before him. He talks about his background, his life before his injury, and the steps he has taken to adapt to life after his injuries. Bryan relates his experiences of accepting the new realities of his life and reinventing himself around them. He talks about his experiences with Esquire Magazine and how he landed on the cover of this major publication, how he came to be the spokesperson for Quantum Rehab, and the latest updates in his budding acting career. Bryan emphasizes taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and challenges his audience to do the same in spite of the challenges they face.

    About the Author

    Bryan Anderson

    Bryan currently resides in the Chicago area nearby his parents, Jim and Janet, identical twin brother Bob, and teenage sister Briana. In addition to academic excellence, Bryan excelled in sports during his high school years and competed as an accomplished gymnast in state level competitions. Following graduation, he worked for American Airlines as a Ground Crew Chief at O’Hare airport.

    Bryan enlisted in the Army in April 2001 and had a ‘ship out’ date of September 11, 2001. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and was stationed in the Baghdad area. He attained the rank of Sergeant in the Military Police (MP), conducted police training courses in Iraq and gained additional law enforcement experience at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary as a prison guard.

    In October 2005, Bryan was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in the loss of both legs and his left hand. As a result of his injuries, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Bryan received rehabilitation for a period of 13 months at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He is one of the few triple amputees to have survived his injuries in Iraq.

    Bryan’s story has received extensive media coverage including a cover story in USA Today, two feature articles in Esquire Magazine (one a cover shot in January 2007), as well as numerous articles in major newspapers and publications, from his hometown Chicago Sun Times to the LA Times and NY Times. He recently appeared in a 60 Minutes segment profiling Gary Sinese.

    Bryan has appeared in the HBO Documentary, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq, and in a CSI: NY episode titled DOA for a DAY as a murder suspect. He appeared in the Golden Globe Award winning film The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, which was released in December 2008. Bryan was interviewed by MTV News ‘Choose or Lose Street Team’ and has appeared on the daytime drama ‘All My Children.’ He was the subject of the Captain America comic, ‘Theater of War – to soldier on,’ released in August 2009. Bryan has finished work on a book titled No Turning Back, released November 1, 2011, and most recently hosted a new PBS show in the Chicago area, Reporting for Service with Bryan Anderson, which received an Emmy Award. He also received a Telly Award for his work on a Quantum Rehab product video titled ‘Life Beyond Limits’ and is scheduled to appear in an episode of ‘Hawaii 5-0’ this season (2014).

    Bryan is the national spokesman for Quantum Rehab, a division of Pride Mobility Corporation, and travels the country making numerous personal appearances while delivering his message of perseverance and determination in major rehab facilities. In addition, he is an Ambassador for the Gary Sinise Foundation and is a spokesman for USA Cares, a national non-profit organization based in Radcliff, Ky., that is focused on assisting post 911 veterans in times of need.

    Bryan is an energetic and enthusiastic individual who enjoys challenging his limits. He snowboards, wake boards, white water rafts and rock climbs. He loves to travel and enjoys meeting new people.

    For additional background information, you may visit Anderson's website.


    Dick McLane
    182 Susquehanna Ave.
    Exeter, PA 18643
    800-800-8586 x1099 Ext.1099

  • "Wine to Water" (2013-2014)

    About the Book from 2013-2014

    In 2003, Dickson “Doc” Hendley was like most American college students and just having fun. Yet, he remembers “a sinking feeling in my stomach, like I should be doing something better with my life” (p. 27). Within months, the college senior and popular bartender launched an organization that has already improved—and saved—thousands of lives in more than nine countries around the globe.

    Despite being the son of a preacher, Doc doesn’t fit the Good Samaritan stereotype. Self-described as “rough around the edges” and tattooed, Doc took an early dislike to rules and developed a taste for whiskey and Harleys while still a teen. As his college graduation neared, Doc began to dread the prospect of life “in a cubicle” (p. 27).

    By chance, Doc learned about an international aid organization named Samaritan’s Purse and began brainstorming ways that he could help the world’s needy. That night he woke up from his sleep with the words “wine to water” spinning around in his head.

    Doc hit the Internet and learned that “unclean water kills a child every twenty seconds—it’s more lethal than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined” (p. 30). He immediately began drawing on his connections to host a party benefiting clean water initiatives. Within a month, he’d raised twelve thousand dollars.

    Suddenly, Doc had to decide where it should go. “I never wanted Wine to Water to be like one of those bullshit nonprofits that used the majority of the donations to pay staff” (p. 37). After talking to a Samaritan’s Purse director, he unexpectedly walked out with a twelve-month job assignment in Darfur—and the authority to distribute the money where he felt it was needed most.

    Nothing could prepare Doc for what awaited him. He had flown from verdant North Carolina into a barren desert landscape where average daytime temperatures hit 120-degrees and government-sponsored Janjaweed soldiers had already killed a hundred thousand civilians and displaced more than a million more.

    While Doc had fantasized about “instantly morphing into some superhero water savior” (p. 55), the reality was infinitely more complex. But as inexperienced as he was in some ways, Doc knew a lot about human nature: “It’s not so much about how good and fast you are at making a Fuzzy Navel; it’s about developing a good relationship with the people sitting in front of you at the bar” (p. 111).

    So whether he was hiring staff, placating soldiers, or declining proffered brides, Doc tactfully negotiated an unfamiliar culture to do his real work. Slowly, Doc began repairing wells, installing water bladders, and teaching the locals how to maintain them—sometimes while the bullets were being aimed at him.

    In plainspoken and impassioned prose, Wine to Water shares the story of Doc’s unlikely transformation from a rough-and-tumble bartender to CNN Hero. As informative as it is harrowing and inspiring, Doc’s account of our global water crisis and his continuing quest to provide stricken peoples with clean water resoundingly proves that one man is capable of changing the world.

    Dickson “Doc” Hendley at FIU

    Whether he is describing being shot at by the Janjaweed militia; the dedication of his who co-workers who pray five times a day; how to dig a grave in the desert; or children’s excitement when a well starts pumping out water, he illuminates the facts of the crises in a very human way. Hendley’s humanitarian work in Africa (and Haiti, where he headed after the 2010 earthquake) is inspiring, especially considering how many lives he has influenced despite how little he knew about water problems before he started. At the core, however, is the story of Hendley himself: a coming-of-age tale about a young man who as a teen rebelled against his “preacher man” dad to become “the life of the party” only to figure out that he “didn’t have to be a perfect do-gooder to actually do some good in this world.” – Publishers Weekly

    About the Author

    In 2003 Doc Hendley dreamed up the concept of Wine To Water while bartending and playing music in nightclubs around Raleigh, North Carolina. In January of 2004 he held his first fundraiser and by August was living in Darfur, Sudan installing water systems for victims of the government-supported genocide.
    When Doc returned home in 2005, the haunting memories of what he had seen in Darfur drove him to continue growing the organization he had started only two years earlier. And in 2007, after working two jobs and volunteering his time for over three years, Wine To Water became an official 501 (c)(3) and Doc’s dream finally became a reality.

    Hendley’s work aims to help the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean water, a figure estimated by the World Health Organization. Nearly two-thirds of that group lives in Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, 42 percent of the population lives without yard taps, household connections or other improvements to sanitize water. Unclean water is the number one killer of children in the world. Water borne illnesses kill far more children the HIV/AIDS and Malaria combined. Every 15 seconds a child dies from unclean water.

    Doc Hendley was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes for 2009 (chosen by a panel of judges including Gen. Colin Powell, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Turner and Sir Elton John).


  • "I'm Down" (2012-2013)

    About the book from 2012-2013

    I’m Down is a humorous memoir about growing up white in a black community and trying to fit into a family that is literally splitting down class and racial lines.

    I’m Down is a memoir by the American author Mishna Wolff, originally published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. In the book she relates her experience of being white while growing up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and having a different financial situation and culture than the other white children than the ones at her upper class, private school filled with mostly white kids. She fights for acceptance in her neighborhood as she is perceived as “too white” while she struggles with acceptance (and accepting others) in her prestigious school. Mishna has trouble dealing with bullying from her peers, meeting the expectations her father sets for her (no matter how unusual they seem), the pressure she puts on herself, and learning who she is while society is pushing and pulling her into what they want her to be. She competes with the children in her neighborhood to be the funniest, the meanest, and the toughest while she strives to be rich, successful, and seemingly carefree like her school friends. When she returns home to her father and his any girlfriends and potential wives, she suppresses her school side to impress her father, while at her mom’s house and at school she suppresses her neighborhood life to appeal to her mother. The theme of the book is the conflict she faces as she discovers two very different cultures and how they clash in her own life while she is stressed to discover herself as well. She spends the book (her life) trying to figure out which culture, which household, which side of the family she belonged to [Source: Wikipedia].


    Mishna Wolff at FIU

    About the Author

    Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black. “He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosbyesque sweater, gold chains, and a Kangrol – telling jokes like Redd Foxx, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn’t tell my father he was white. Believe me, I tried.” And so from early childhood on, her father began his crusade to make his white daughter down.

    Unfortunately, Mishna didn’t quite fit in with the neighborhood kids; she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing, she couldn’t double Dutch, and she was the worst player on her all-black basketball team. She was shy, uncool, and painfully white. And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich white school, she found she was too “black” to fit in with her white classmates.


  • "The Red Umbrella" (2011-2012)

    About the book from 2011-2012

    Cuba, 1961: Two years after the communist revolution, Lucia still leads a carefree life, dreaming of parties and her first crush. But when the soldiers come to her small town, everything begins to change. Suddenly, the revolution hits home. Freedoms are stripped away. Neighbors disappear. Her friends feel like strangers. And her family is being watched.

    As the revolution’s impact becomes more oppressive, Lucia’s parents make the heart-wrenching decision to send her and her little brother to the United States…alone!

    Suddenly plunked down in Nebraska with well-meaning strangers, Lucia struggles to adapt to a new country, a new language; a new way of life. Will she ever see her home or her parents again? And if she does, will she be the same girl?

    Christina Diaz Gonzalez based this novel on the experiences of her parents, and of the over 14,000 other unaccompanied minors who came to the United States to escape Castro’s regime in a program known as Operation Pedro Pan.

    Christina Diaz Gonzalez at FIU

    About the Author

    Christina Diaz Gonzalez practiced law for several years before returning to her childhood passion for stories and writing. The Red Umbrella is her first novel. Christina lives in Miami, Florida, with her husband and two sons. To learn more, visit Gonzalez's website

  • "A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants" (2010-2011)

    About the book from 2010-2011

    Six years ago at the age of twenty-one, Jaed Muncharoen Coffin, a half-Thai American man, left New England’s privileged Middlebury College to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in his mother’s native village of Panomsarakram, thus fulfilling a familial obligation. While addressing the notions of displacement, ethnic identity and cultural belonging, A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants chronicles his time at the temple that rain season-receiving alms in the streets in saffron robes; bathing in the canals; learning to meditate in a mountaintop hut, and falling in love with Lek, a beautiful Thai woman who comes to represent the life he can have if he stays.

    Part armchair travel, part coming-of-age story, this debut work transcends the memoir genre and ushers in a brave new voice in American nonfiction. “Jaed Coffin takes us on the eternal quest which Joseph Campbell described as the journey of the hero in search of enlightenment. But A Chant to Sooth Wild Elephants is also a touching memoir of growing up in dual cultures with a foot in both First and Third Worlds. Coffin takes us inside those worlds and on that quest with such honesty, skill, humor and intimacy that we can’t help but follow. A rare look into a culture from an insider/outsider’s point of view.” –Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

    “A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants has the kind of hard, shimmering, simple prose that set Hemingway apart as a writer to watch in his first book of stories. Jaed Coffin is not only a writer to watch, however. As he demonstrates in this lively memoir, he’s a writer who has already achieved that rare thing: a singular voice, and one that satisfies the ear with its quiet music, that feeds the eye with image after image of life.”-Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life

    Jaed Coffin at FIU

    About the Author

    Jaed Coffin has worked as a boxer, sea-kayak guide, and lobsterman. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Middlebury College and a MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Writing Program. He lives in Brunswick, Maine.

  • "Funny in Farsi" (2009 - 2010)

    About the book from 2009-2010

    In 1972, when she was seven, the Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond Firoozeh’s father’s glowing memories of his graduate school years here. In a series of deftly drawn scenes, Funny in Farsi chronicles the American journey of Dumas’s wonderfully engaging family; her engineer father, a sweetly quixotic dreamer who first sought riches on Bowling for Dollars and in Las Vegas; her elegant mother, who never fully mastered English (or cared to); her uncle, who combated the effects of American fast food with an array of miraculous American weight-loss gadgets, and Firoozeh herself, who as a girl changed her name to Julie and who encountered a second wave of culture shock when she met and married a Frenchman, becoming part of a one-couple melting pot. An unforgettable story of identity, discovery and the power of family love,Funny in Farsi will leave us all laughing…without an accent.

    Firoozeh Dumas at FIU

  • “Breath, Eyes, Memory” (Pilot study 2008-2009)

    About the book

    “Breath, Eyes, Memory” by Edwidge Danticat 

    At an astonishingly young age, Edwidge Danticat has become one of our most celebrated new novelists, a writer who evokes the wonder, terror, and heartache of her native Haiti--and the enduring strength of Haiti's women--with a vibrant imagery and narrative grace that bear witness to her people's suffering and courage.  

    At the age of twelve, Sophie Caco is sent from her impoverished village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York, to be reunited with a mother she barely remembers. There she discovers secrets that no child should ever know, and a legacy of shame that can be healed only when she returns to Haiti--to the women who first reared her. What ensues is a passionate journey through a landscape charged with the supernatural and scarred by political violence, in a novel that bears witness to the traditions, suffering, and wisdom of an entire people.

Selection Committee

  • Charlie Andrews, Interim Vice President, Student Affairs
  • Valerie Morgan, Director, Office of Academic Support Initiatives & Services
  • Giovanna Tello, Assistant Director, Office of Academic Support Initiatives & Services
  • Douglas Hasty, First Year Experience Librarian, University Libraries
  • Jennifer Gebelein, Director of Academic Initiatives, Office of Academic Support Initiatives & Services

For additional information on the Common Reading Program, please contact:
Valerie Morgan, Ed.D.
Director, Office of Academic Support Initiatives & Services
(305) 919-5755