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Contributed by Thomas Rochon on 04/30/2014
I am pleased to announce that The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride, has been selected for the First-Year Reading Initiative for the 2014–15 academic year. The novel won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2013, with the judges calling McBride “a voice as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain.”
The Good Lord Bird is the fictional memoir of Henry Shackleford, a teenaged slave in Kansas who joins up with the abolitionist John Brown. Shackleford narrates his encounters with historical figures such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and the events of Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. It was recently announced that the story will be made into a motion picture, with McBride serving as the film’s producer.
Described as both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival, The Good Lord Bird is an absorbing mixture of history and imagination. Our first-year students will be asked to stretch their own imaginations by considering what it is like to come of age under the radically foreign circumstances of self-reliance, hidden identity, and enslaved relationships.
McBride first gained acclaim with his own 1996 memoir, The Color of Water, about growing up in New York City as the son of a Polish Jewish mother and an African American father. That book was the inaugural selection for the First-Year Reading Initiative in 2003.
McBride’s other novels include Miracle at St. Anna and Song Yet Sung. He is also an accomplished journalist, musician, and songwriter, and he is currently serving as a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University.
Incoming first-year students will receive a copy of The Good Lord Bird during their visit to campus for orientation. At the beginning of the fall semester, they will attend a presentation and then participate in small-group discussions with faculty and staff volunteers who have also read the book. Arrangements are also being made for McBride to give a presentation on campus.
I wish to thank the First Year Reading committee, chaired by Shaianne Osterreich, for leading us to this excellent selection as the first college-level reading to be completed by the class of 2018.