Class of 2022 to Read Jesmyn Ward's 'Sing, Unburied, Sing'

book cover, Sing, Unburied, sing An award-winning novel about a bi-racial teen robbed of his childhood because his mother is a drug addict, his father is in prison and his little sister needs him has been selected as the Duke University Class of 2022 Common Experience summer reading book. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is written by Jesmyn Ward, a MacArthur Genius Award-winner who has won two National Book Awards for fiction. 

The story about an African-American family in crisis in a fictional small Mississippi town weaves together elements of myth and Southern gothic tradition to create a spell-binding tale, said Janie Booth, member of the First-Year Advisory Council and a student member of the book selection committee.   

‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’ is not only beautifully and lyrically written, it also leaves you haunted by the story of a family in the South weighed down by burdens of grief and trauma,” Booth said. “It will challenge first-year students to think more deeply about the lives of people who are regularly labeled as below the poverty line, and hopefully spark discussion about masculinity, American history and racism.”

The Duke Common Experience Program provides incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class, with the summer reading choice as a key focal point. A committee composed of students, staff and faculty selected the book after a review of numerous recommendations, along with input from the larger Duke community.

"The opportunity to continue this program and bring Jesmyn to campus is something we are excited about,” said Jordan Hale, director of Duke’s New Student Programs. “This book is beautifully written and will give members of the Class of 2022 something to think about in terms of class identity, race, love, life and their own personal narratives.”

The committee members did not come to their decision easily, picking seven of the more than 215 recommendations. Finalists included:

  • Red Notice by Bill Browder
  • One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • Dreamland by Sam Quinones
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Recent past summer reading selections include “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” by Richard Blanco in 2017; “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson in 2016; “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel in 2015; and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in 2014. 

A special printing of the “Sing, Unburied, Sing” will be mailed this summer to members of the Duke Class of 2022.