University College Utrecht project One Book One Campus now university-wide
One Book One Campus is a reading and community-building project taking place at Utrecht University during Diversity Month. This year, all students and employees of Utrecht University are invited to read Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and join the conversations on diversity and inclusion in education. Assistant professor Agnes Andeweg started the project at University College Utrecht back in 2017. We talk with her about the idea behind the project, the selection of the book and what she hopes for the future.
One Book One Campus
Firstly, who actually came up with the idea for One Book One Campus?
“It was our current Director of Education at University College Utrecht Christel Lutz who suggested it to me. She had come across One Book One Campus at a university in the US, where she was working at the time. The idea of reading a book together immediately appealed to me. In the Netherlands we do have Nederland Leest – which is organized by the public libraries, but I thought it would also be a great way of staging conversations and building community at the university. As a literature teacher I consider fiction a source of knowledge in the sense that it interrogates your beliefs and encourages self-reflection, so it belongs at a university. Moreover, research has shown that reading for enjoyment has really beneficial effects!”
The project has been around for 5 years. How did it develop and how is this edition different from the previous ones?
“The ingredients are basically the same still: the invitation to read, to respond (via art), and to engage in talking to each other. One Book One Campus is a way of making reading social, and of thinking about societal issues via talking about a novel. The advantage of a novel over say, a newspaper article or a speech is that no matter how outspoken a novel may be, its purpose is not to make an argument but to affect you. A novel offers up the world through the prism of individuals and thus invites you to see different perspectives. That’s especially the case in Girl Woman Other, which presents no less than twelve characters. What is different from previous editions is that I started at UCU, and that it is now UU-wide! So the scale is different, which means that many more people are involved, at many places in the university. For example there are now 12 locations where people can pick up their book. It is really exciting how many people are responding positively. I am excited that we will have reading groups with students trained at UCU in the method of shared reading (in the Community Engaged Learning course ‘From Literature to Life’) and that we will offer those at five locations in the university. Also different is that it is now a part of Diversity Month, which gives it a clear focus.
How did the selection of this particular book came to be?
I presented some suggestions to the interfaculty Equality, Diversity & Inclusion steering group, and we did a poll among colleagues. There are practical considerations too in the selection: is the book available in English & Dutch, can the author come over for a visit? This novel was the result. Its topics and characters fit really well with the theme of the Diversity Month, which is inclusive education. There are students in it, and teachers to whom readers might relate.
The author is coming to Utrecht on the 31st of October. What would you like to ask her?
“I would like to know is how this novel has changed her life. One could say an underlying assumption of One Book One Campus is that a novel could change your life (in whatever small way). Another question: her first character is Amma: a radical, activist theatre maker whose play on the Dahomey Amazons premieres in London. What do the Dahomey Amazons mean to Evaristo? I read the twelve characters in her novel as a cast of Amazons – what does she think of that reading?
If you could choose any author for the next edition, who would it be?
For a future Diversity Month I’d love to invite the Frenchman Édouard Louis. Other favourite candidates of mine are the Juli Zeh’s, Corpus delicti, about a society obsessed by health. Or Lieke Marsman or the Indian Amitav Ghosh, who wrote novels about climate change. For a university, a science fiction novel would also be interesting, like Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation or Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein. There is enough to choose from!
More About One Book One Campus
Students and employees can order a discounted copy of Girl, Woman, Other in the UU webshop for only €6. During Diversity Month, you can join Girl, Woman, Other reading sessions every day, at different locations in the university. The Meet & Read sessions do not require preparation, and all UU faculty, students, and staff are welcome to join. The author of the novel, Bernardine Evaristo, will visit Utrecht on Monday, October 31st. The event is open to all. Visit www.uu.nl/onebook for more information.