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2015 Reading Project: Men We Reaped

by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped, is a critically acclaimed memoir by National Book Award-winning author and Tulane professor Jesmyn Ward. With vivid prose, Ward examines the lives and untimely deaths of five young men she was close to, including her beloved brother. Her own story provides a poignant counterpoint: a private school education funded by her mother's employer eventually led her to Stanford, two graduate degrees, and literary acclaim. Yet she remains haunted by the memory of these men, and by the role that poverty and racism played in their fates. The work was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by The New York Times, NPR, and Time magazine, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.



2014 Reading Project: Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children


by Sarah Carr

Hope Against Hope is a riveting, factual look at the controversial reinvention of the New Orleans school system in the aftermath of Katrina and the levee failures. Award-winning education reporter Sarah Carr spent a full year shadowing rookie teacher Aidan Kelly, veteran principal Mary Laurie, and high school student Geraldlynn Stewart and her family. Their personal stories add depth to the national debate over school reform, and also provide an intimate look at the specific challenges faced by New Orleans charter schools. The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as “an important book about issues facing urban districts everywhere."



2013 Reading Project: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in an astounding percentage of the African-American community being warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second-class status — denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities nationwide.



2012 Reading Project: Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans


by Dan Baum

Nine Lives was written when Dam Baum, assigned to cover Hurricane Katrina by The New Yorker, grew “frustrated by having to focus so much on the disaster and its aftermath.”  He decided instead to celebrate “the most interesting thing about New Orleans” – its people.  Through telling the life stories of nine unique New Orleanians from different neighborhoods, the author paints a fascinating portrait that Susan Larson called “One of the most moving -- and riveting -- books ever written about the rich and complicated life we live here.” (Times-Picayune, 2009).



2011 Reading Project: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


by Rebecca Skloot

This award-winning bestseller tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, also known as "HeLa" to scientists.   Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.  Her cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. It’s a story inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of.



2010 Reading Project: Zeitoun


by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun chronicles the Katrina saga of a Syrian-American contractor who stayed behind during the storm. With his wife and children safely evacuated, Abdulrahman Zeitoun became a hero in a canoe in the days following the levee failures, ferrying strangers to higher ground and feeding pets that neighbors had left behind.  But instead of earning the respect of the military forces that had been sent to the city, he aroused their suspicion. Arrested on false charges, he was turned over to the Kafkaesque improvised justice system that sprang up in Katrina's wake-- a system that refused to allow him even a phone call to his wife.  Eggers spent three years working with the Zeitoun family to tell their story. The result is a riveting real-life drama, rendered in heartbreaking detail.



2009 Reading Project: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


by Junot Díaz

The 2009 book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008, as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for best novel of 2007. It chronicles the painfully awkward adolescence of an overweight Dominican-American teenager, a hopeless romantic who nurses his frequently broken heart with heavy doses of sci-fi and fantasy. Stuck between two cultures—and saddled with a nasty family curse—Oscar struggles to find his place in the world, with results alternately humorous and heartbreaking. In his New York Times review, Michiko Kakutani wrote that The Brief Wondrous Life is "so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets 'Star Trek' meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West."


The Reluctant Fundamentalist

2008 Reading Project: The Reluctant Fundamentalist


by Mohsin Hamid

2008's book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, marked the first time that a work of fiction was  chosen for the Tulane Reading Project. Hamid's engaging prose and page-turning plot leave the reader pondering themes of national identity and prejudice, American hubris, and the immigrant experience in the post-9/11 world. His protagonist, a young Princeton-educated Pakistani, challenges the "us versus them" mentality that has become so prevalent in American culture. Students explored the book through a series of events including a lecture by author Mohsin Hamid, a performance by Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, and a screening of the acclaimed film Persepolis.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe

2007 Reading Project: Field Notes from a Catastrophe

by Elizabeth Kolbert

Based on a series of articles written for The New Yorker, Field Notes  tackles what is undoubtedly one of the most significant – and controversial – issues facing the world: global warming. Acclaimed journalist Elizabeth Kolbert traveled all over the globe to talk to researchers and environmentalists and to people who are already experiencing the effects of global warming in their everyday lives. Writing wryly and incisively about the politics and rhetoric of environmental policy making, she asks us to consider what, if anything, we can do to save our planet.  

Song For My Fathers

2006 Reading Project: Song For My Fathers

by Tom Sancton

Song for my Fathers is Tom Sancton’s memoir of falling in love with the music and ways of African-American jazzmen as a white teenager in mid-20th-century New Orleans. In the last years of the segregation era, Sancton’s father introduced him to the musical community fostered by the newly-opened Preservation Hall. There, Sancton learned to play the clarinet from “the mens,” musicians who had been contemporaries of Louis Armstrong. Song for my Fathers honors the “mens” whose artistic legacy Sancton continues, his unconventional father, and the hope for racial harmony and understanding.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

2005 Reading Project: Mountains Beyond Mountains*

by Tracy Kidder

Powerful and inspiring, Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the true story of Paul Farmer, a gifted man who has made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of the world’s poorest citizens. Farmer is a medical doctor, Harvard professor, famous infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist and the recipient of a MacArthur grant. Farmer’s story is compelling in its illustration of how change can take place even under seemingly insurmountable circumstances, but above all it is a story of courage and hope.
*The 2005 Reading Project was cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina.

The Color of Water

2004 Reading Project: The Color of Water


by James McBride 

A lyrical memoir, The Color of Water presents us with two complex voices and an intertwined narrative. James McBride, an accomplished black musician and writer, recounts his childhood and adolescence as one of twelve mixed-race children of poverty growing up in a Brooklyn housing project. The other voice belongs to Rachel Shilsky, the daughter of a failed Polish rabbi who grew up in the South, fled to Harlem, married a black man, founded a church and put twelve children through college. The narratives converge, as Rachel is none other than McBride’s own mother. The Color of Water is an eloquent exploration of the power of race, poverty, religion, and family in America.

West of Kabul, East of New York

2003 Reading Project: West of Kabul, East of New York

by Tamim Ansary

West of Kabul, East of New York is Tamim Ansary's memoir of his childhood in pre-war Afghanistan as the son of an Afghan father and an American mother, his adulthood in the U.S., and his return to the Middle East. Always a divided, bicultural and reflexive self, Ansary's story serves as conduit for a bittersweet analysis of the nature of Islam and the Afghan value system.

Rising Tide

2002 Reading Project: Rising Tide

by John M. Barry

As John M. Barry expertly details in Rising Tide, some natural disasters transform much more than the landscape. Barry explains how ineptitude and greed helped cause the 1927 Mississippi River flood, and how the policies created to deal with the disaster changed the culture of the Mississippi Delta. Existing racial rifts expanded, helping to launch Herbert Hoover into the White House and shifting the political alliances of many blacks in the process. An absorbing account of a little-known, yet monumental event in American history, Rising Tide reveals how human behavior proved more destructive than the swollen river itself. (

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