Prior to their arrival on campus for the Fall 2019 semester, incoming first-year students were assigned to read and respond to the book Home Fire, by British Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie. A modern twist on Sophocles’ play, Antigone, Shamsie’s critically-acclaimed novel won the United Kingdom’s 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, according to NPR.
Home Fire, based on two Muslim families in London, attempts to address stereotypes and expectations Muslims face in the contemporary Western World.
Every new class at Colgate is asked to read one book prior to their arrival on campus, followed by a written response that is their collective first homework assignment of their college careers. This year, the prompt for the Class of 2023 asked that they ponder the futures of the characters after the ending scene. The prompt asks the class of 2023 to explore what they believe happens in the final moments of the book and project what might happen five minutes later, five days later and five years later. The prompt asks readers to think about perspective — how will the world react to the events of the book? How can we, the readers, use our insider information for good? Are things always as they seem? What effect does time have on our stories?
First-year Lauryn Johnson commented on her experience and thoughts reading the book.
“It was a clever book, especially the way in which it was based off of Antigone, an Ancient Greek tragedy, but still included many aspects of our current culture and diversity,” Johnson said. “I think it is great that the author is coming to campus. It gives us, readers, the opportunity to ask questions and hear the thoughts of the author that may not have translated through words on a page.”
The book was selected for the First-Year class to read as it is also being featured in this semester’s Living Writers speaker series. Living Writers is an English 300 course taught during the fall semester by Professor Jennifer Brice. An associate Professor of English, Brice specializes in creative nonfiction, science writing, travel writing, nature writing and literature of the North, according to the Colgate University website.
The upcoming series brings ten writers to campus, giving the students of the class and the broader Colgate community the opportunity to interact directly with renowned authors. The class is self-paced and uses on online platform, allowing parents, alumni and any Colgate Community member to follow along. This year’s series begins September 12 with Jenny Zhang on her work, Sour Heart.
Junior Annie Knowles said her favorite part of the class was hearing the authors respond to different interpretations of their writing, and how that differentiated from their own goals or plans.
“I loved Living Writers because meeting the authors and getting to know them allowed me to look at the books and connect with them in a different, more personal way,” Knowles said.
Kamila Shamsie’s presentation in the ‘Living Writers’ series takes place Thursday, October 24th at 4:30 p.m. in the Memorial Chapel. Attendance is free and open to the public.