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Class of 2018 summer reading book "Americanah" brings diversity to summer books of the past

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel "Americanah" has been chosen as the summer reading book for the Class of 2018—the first time that Duke has chosen a book written by a woman of color.

A 19 member committee of students, faculty and staff selected the book. Focusing on the dual stories of a woman who flees Nigeria to attend college in the United States and her high school love interest, who illegally emigrates to England, "Americanah" has been critically praised since its release last year.

Diversity is not a specific factor in the selection process,” Simon Partner, co-chair of the selection committee and professor of Japanese history, wrote in an email Monday. “But we are delighted that this book features a brilliant young voice representing the perspective of a young African immigrant woman who happens to speak to some of the most vital issues in our society.”

The book was chosen from a pool of five finalists after plentiful discussion among committee members, Partner said. Guidelines included whether or not the book would prompt stimulating debate, resonate with incoming students and enrich the intellectual lives of the readers, he noted.

The other finalists were "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" by Ben Fountain, "The Dinner" by Herman Koch, "The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards" by Kristopher Jansma and "The Yellow Birds" by Kevin Powers.

The committee received more than 600 recommendations and considered more than 400 books, according to a Duke News press release.

Since the Summer Reading Program began in 2002, the selected authors have included two women and two men of color, but Adichie—who is Nigerian—is the first woman of color.

During orientation week, freshmen will discuss the book in small groups—the first shared intellectual experience they will have as Duke students. Plans are being finalized to have Adichie speak at Duke early in the Fall, the press release stated.

"Americanah" was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by The New York Times Book Review and won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

We hope that Duke freshmen will engage with the important issues raised by the book,” Partner wrote. “I really can't say what lessons they will learn - I think that the book is sophisticated enough not to convey any simple take-home messages.