In classrooms across Dallas, book clubs throughout the United States, and at dormitory desks on the Via dei Ceraseti in Italy, sit books by Anthony Doerr. Doerr’s historical fiction novel “All The Light We Cannot See” and memoir “Four Seasons in Rome” have both been distributed to University of Dallas students and to a number of Dallas schools by the new program, UD Reads.
UD Reads is a new community within the University of Dallas created by the Provost’s Office, the Eugene McDermott Lectureship and the Cowan-Blakely Memorial Library. The reading initiative hopes to extend UD’s reach to unite students in the Dallas area, alumni across the country, and UD students abroad in Rome.
Cherie Hohertz, Dean of University Libraries and Research, is chair of the new program. Co-chairs of UD Reads are Dr. Carmen Newstreet and Assistant Provost Ryan Reedy.
Initially, the concept of the program came from Hohertz’s desire to expand the Cowan-Blakely library book club, said Newstreet.
“When I heard Cherie’s idea, I thought, ‘Why stop at UD?’” Newstreet said.
This reading initiative is the first of its kind and the first project UD Reads has taken on, said Hohertz.
The program works with public, private, and charter schools around the Dallas and Irving area, Hohertz said. Currently, 4000 students are involved, to whom UD has provided a total of 1500 copies of “All The Light We Cannot See” for the students to share.
Books were purchased with funds from the McDermott endowment, Reedy said.
According to the UD website, The McDermott lecture by Doerr will take place on March 5, 2019, at Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Prior to, the lecture, Doerr will lead two events on the UD campus: a creative writing symposium and a luncheon discussion on his memoir. The next day, Doerr will present a final lecture entitled “Creative Failure.”
The goal is to have the lunch discussion live streamed to the Rome campus, Newstreet said.
The lecture has garnered much attention and excitement, Hohertz said.
“Initially, my nightmare was a lack of response,” Hohertz said. “Now, we’ve rented this huge hall, and we’re probably going to have to be turning people away.”
UD Reads chose to include “All The Light We Cannot See” in its first program due to its critical acclaim, historical value, and excellent storytelling, said Hohertz. The program also took into consideration sparkling reviews of the book from the UD book club in which Hohertz and Newstreet participate.
“For UD reads, we wanted our first book to have some weight behind it, and this novel is brilliant,” said Hohertz.
To begin, UD Reads had to reach out to the Dallas diocesan schools, said Hohertz. Matthew Vereecke, current superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Dallas and adjunct professor at UD, was instrumental in getting this program on its feet.
“All 31 diocesan schools decided to participate in the program,” wrote Vereecke.
Students involved range from grades 8 to 12, into whose curriculum the novel has been incorporated. A number of schools are using the book to supplement history lessons on World War II and the Holocaust, said Vereecke.
UD reached out to the Irving schools, whose director of the literature curriculum was willing to participate, said Hohertz.
Newstreet said the program helps foster scholarly relationships to familiarize UD with communities beyond the Irving campus.
In the future, UD Reads would like to achieve national recognition through efforts of alumni, said Newstreet. The first book has spread from the Cowan-Blakely library book club to alumni book clubs across the US, as well as to alumni who teach in local Dallas schools.
“The initiative was so well received because schools are happy to work with UD,” Newstreet said.
The bigger mission of UD Reads will need larger sponsorship, according to Reedy. The university has a number of corporate and foundational organizations interested in underwriting the current purchase of the books, Reedy added.
“We are in the process of looking at ways to continue the program [after this year], including funding through literacy grants from the NEA Foundation, the US Department of Education, and the National Literacy Foundation,” Reedy wrote.
Each freshman of the 2018 class received a copy of “All The Light We Cannot See” with their orientation packet, said Hohertz. The 2018 fall and summer Rome students received copies of the memoir “Four Seasons in Rome,” as will the spring 2019 Rome students.
Doerr has much in common with the average UD student, said Newstreet. His memoir, “Four Seasons in Rome,” reflects on his time as an American student in the heart of Italy. Current English professor for the Rome program, Dr. Scott Crider, wrote a lesson for the Romers on journaling using excerpts of the memoir to illustrate different writing techniques, said Newstreet.
The chance to have the entire student body, alumni, and surrounding school community participate in a sustained academic reading of the same book is a unique opportunity to unite, said Hohertz.
“There are few dioceses that can boast a Catholic University, and fewer still that can connect with the university in a meaningful way within the Catholic Schools,” wrote Vereecke. “We are very thankful to have both with the University of Dallas.”
Hohertz said the past few years at UD have been a tense time, and UD Reads hopes to offer a kind of reinvigoration to the community.
“It has been a stressful few years, between Cap Bar changes and presidential searches,” Hohertz said. “We thought this was a great way to unite the community, with something we can all get behind — we all love to read.”