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'Just Mercy' Selected for UM 2017 Common Reading Experience

Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” will be the focus of campuswide discussion throughout 2017 after being selected for the University of Mississippi’s Common Reading Experience.
Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and others. The book tells his story about the redemptive power of mercy and serves as Stevenson’s call to fix the justice system. He has agreed to be the keynote speaker Aug. 22 at the university’s Fall Convocation.
The Common Reading Experience began with the 2011-12 school year and continues in 2017-18 with the selection of “Just Mercy.” All incoming freshmen and transfer students will get copies of the book with instructions to read it before the fall semester begins.
Instructors from the Department of Writing and Rhetoric, First-year Experience, Department of Nursing and others then utilize the text in their classes. Faculty and staff are also encouraged to read it in an effort to enrich the sense of community here. The program aspires for an enriched sense of academic community through a communal reading of the text.
This past fall, faculty, staff and students, as well as alumni and residents of the greater Oxford community, were invited to nominate a suggested title. Each committee member read each book on the short list.
“Just Mercy” was recommended in January to the UM Common Read Experience committee, which is chaired by Bob Cummings, director of the university’s Center for Writing and Rhetoric. The Common Reading Experience committee made the final recommendation to the provost.
The book recommended by the selection committee has been the one used as the common read each year so far. 
The 2016 Common Reading Experience selection was “Ten Little Indians,” written by Sherman Alexie. Previous selections were “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (2011), “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by UM professor Tom Franklin (2012), “The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education” by Craig Mullaney (2013), “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan (2014) and “The Education of a Lifetime” (2015), a memoir by UM Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat.
The committee made an excellent choice with “Just Mercy,” which was the committee’s overwhelming favorite, said Kirk A. Johnson, associate professor of sociology and African-American studies and co-chair of the Common Reading Experience selection subcommittee.
“I think students will enjoy the structure of the book,” Johnson said. “On the one hand, it’s the true story of a lawyer who advocates passionately for at-risk clients. But the author intersperses his narratives with explanations of how the criminal justice system as a whole is criminally unjust.”
Students will be drawn in by the narratives Stevenson weaves, but they’ll also “stay for the big picture,” Johnson said.
“In the process they’ll learn a lot about how an institution that represents fairness places some Americans at great risk of harm,” he said. “I think they’ll also be inspired to advocate for justice in their own lives.”
A 1985 graduate of Harvard, Stevenson has a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from the School of Law. He joined the faculty at New York University School of Law in 1998, according to NYU’s website.
A New York Times bestseller, “Just Mercy” won the 2015 Carnegie Medal for Best Non-Fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the NAACP Image Award for Best Non-Fiction. In 2014, it was named by Time magazine as one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books and by Esquire magazine as one of the Five Most Important Books.
In the book, students will encounter stories of those who have been jailed, as well as the lawyers, judges, detectives and correctional officers who have shaped their fates, said Savannah Kelly, assistant professor, research and instruction librarian and a member of the Common Reading Experience committee.
“It is my hope that students will read Stevenson’s text with an open mind and a willingness to reconsider the prevalence of mass incarceration in the United States, and the assumptions we make as a society concerning the nature of justice, equality and fairness within our criminal justice system,” Kelly said.
By Michael Newsom
Questions email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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