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Common Reading 2008

The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
To come to college means to come into a new relationship with books.
As the first class that enjoyed a Common Reading prepares to graduate, the Common Reading Program is now an established start-of-school tradition at SMU. Students new to SMU receive the selected book during the summer at AARO and read it before they arrive for the start of the fall semester. Faculty, staff, and returning students already have begun reading and discussing the book in preparation for the small-group conversations with new students that take place just before Rotunda Passage and Opening Convocation—truly an afternoon of SMU new-student traditions. Students will find that the book and the questions it raises will be part of the curriculum of their first-year writing courses as well. Undocumented (October 1) McCord Auditorium

This year’s Common Reading is The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. The goal behind this selection—and of the Common Reading Program as a whole—is to engage the SMU community in the kinds of discussions that will prepare the University’s newest students for the rigors and delights of the life of the mind. The Devil’s Highway undoubtedly will provide such an opportunity. Urrea’s non-fiction account of a group of 26 men who crossed the US border from Mexico is a challenging read in all senses of the term, and the topic of illegal immigration could not be more timely, as we already can see in the ongoing presidential debates. Moreover, Urrea complicates his subject by avoiding simple categories of “good” and “bad” for the cast of figures who populate the book: the immigrants themselves, many of whom go into debt for what they consider to be the chance of a lifetime; the border agents, whose job it is to catch such men in a desert that seems boundless, and the smugglers (“coyotes”) who lead the disastrous effort.

Evoking questions of politics, geography, and simple humanity, The Devil’s Highway is a book that should have relevance for all readers. The many student, faculty, and staff volunteers who support the Common Reading Program work hard to ensure a meaningful, thought-provoking experience for incoming students, recognizing, though, that the new students’ thought, input, and sharing of ideas are critical to the Program’s success. We look forward to vigorous discussions of Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway.

Author on Campus
Author Luis Alberto Urrea will be discussing his book at Hughes Trigg Theater on Monday Sept. 8 at 4pm. Urrea will also be appearing with SMU’s Professor Ben Johnson on KERA’s Think with Krys Boyd at noon that day. This interview will then be available as a podcast from the KERA website. Urrea recently wrote the preface to Johnson’s book “Bordertown :The Odyssey of an American Place”, to be published by Yale University Press on September 30.
Film and Discussion
Crossing Arizona
(7pm - Wed. Sept 17 - McCord Auditorium – Dallas Hall)

Examines the border crisis through the eyes of Arizona ranchers, border patrol agents, politicians, farmers, humanitarians, and Mexican migrants. Join Professors Ben Johnson (History) and Harold Stanley (Political Science) to discuss this provocative documentary.


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