This year’s Duke Common Experience summer reading pick is Kiley Reid’s debut novel “Such a Fun Age,” which explores everyday racism, implicit biases and privilege.
Reid’s novel tells the story of a 25-year-old Black woman named Emira who works part-time as a babysitter and is about to age out of her parents’ health insurance. Emira works for a wealthy white couple and is accused of kidnapping the child she is babysitting for by a grocery store security guard. Following the incident, the relationship between Alix, the child’s privileged white mother, and Emira, the underemployed Black babysitter, is explored further.
Reid will speak to the Class of 2025 during orientation week, either virtually or in-person, according to a news release.
The events in “Such a Fun Age” occur during the 2016 election and Reid explores themes of race, privilege, job insecurity, white savior complexes, fetishization of Black women, class and racial profiling.
“I wanted to explore these instances of racial biases that don’t end in violence as a way of highlighting those moments that we don’t see on the news but still exist every day,” Reid said in a 2020 interview.
“This particular text was selected because we think the story is compelling and our student leaders [First-Year Advisory Counselors and Transfer Advisory Counselors] will be able to host thoughtful discussions with incoming students,” wrote Jordan Hale, associate dean of students and director of new student programs, in an email.
The Common Experience book is sent to all incoming first-years over the summer. The book is selected by a committee of students, staff and faculty and is coordinated by the New Students Program, which takes nominations from the Duke community for several weeks in the fall. After the author costs are evaluated, the committee narrows down their choices and sends information about the choices to the Duke community for feedback. At least two people on the committee read each book, Hale wrote.
“We do hope incoming students take away [that] we are not perfect people. We each have experiences that shape our lens with which we view the world,” Hale wrote.“As they start college at Duke, we hope incoming students will remember to have a broad worldview and not limit their opportunities to meet amazing people by labeling someone before they get to know them.”
Common Experience books are generally chosen to spark discussions among first-years about complicated topics. Duke’s Class of 2020 read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, a legal memoir about the fight to free an African American man wrongly convicted of murder.
Duke made headlines in 2015 after assigning first-years to read “Fun Home,” a graphic-novel memoir by Alison Bechdel which touches on sexuality and complicated family dynamics. Some first-years refused to read the book due to complaints of “pornographic” content that did not align with their religious beliefs. Others found the book choice insensitive to conservatives.
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Paige Carlisle is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for The Chronicle.