After attending The Common Reading Program, a conference session at the 2008 San Francisco, California, First Year Experience national conference, Dr. Dixie Dennis, an Austin Peay State University (APSU) administrator, decided to create a similar reading initiative for APSU students. Following this conference, Dr. Dennis invited faculty from the academic colleges and the library, personnel from new student programs, public relations, the book store, student life and leadership, and an APSU student to form a committee. This committee established The Peay Read to provide a sense of community and to contribute to the academic experiences for APSU 1000 students. Unlike traditional first-year-experience common reading programs, The Peay Read opportunity includes sophomore, junior, and senior students.
The Peay Read was designed with the university vision in mind to “create a collaborative, integrative learning community, instilling in students habits of critical inquiry as they gain knowledge, skills, and values for life and work in a global society.” After reviewing several books, the committee chose Saints at the River as the 2013 common reading. Written by Ron Rash, the book explores what actions, if any, might be taken by a young girl’s parents to release her body from the bottom of a nationally designated wild and scenic river in northwest South Carolina. Through monthly meetings, committee members worked diligently to plan related activities to enhance students’ knowledge, skills, and values as they participate in The Peay Read experience. These activities will culminate in Rash’s address to the APSU student body and the Clarksville community on September 26, 2013.
Each year, all first-year students will submit creative responses centered on themes in the selected book. Finalists will be invited to a dinner with Rash and will have an opportunity for him to sign their copies of his book. Additional activities include faculty-led book discussions, and rafting and canoeing trips. Furthermore, all first-year students will receive book marks with quotations from Saints at the River to encourage discussion and inquiry.
This year, The Peay Read Committee hopes that after reading Saints at the River, our students reflect on how they might apply this message from the novel, “find a single good cause, no matter how small, and put all your energy into that” (141).