Common Context Program

Program Overview

E. M. Forster once urged his readers: “Only connect!” The English Department’s Common Context program, a feature of its introductory core literature and writing course (ENGL 121), helps students follow Forster’s injunction. Each academic year the department selects a context that has strong contemporary resonance for our lives, and that has also provided a powerful focus for some of the greatest imaginative literature: Water, Beauty, Work, Exploration, Home, Atonement, or Sanctuary, to name a few examples that have been either proposed or adopted in recent years.

Rather than adopt a single text to facilitate discussion of the Common Context, the Department celebrates the diversity of human literary expression by encouraging individual instructors to select a text that will address the given year’s theme in a primary way. Instructors also design writing assignments that will engage students in the ethical, political, and artistic implications of the theme chosen for that particular year. The Common Context is not just a focus, but a nexus as well, providing opportunities for learning and conversation across academic disciplines and linking to key parts of the University mission, including diversity, sustainability, and a focus on the common good. 

2017-2018 Common Context Theme: Sanctuary

Our Theme



Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Viet Thanh Nguyen Q & A and Craft Talk
3:30pm, OEC Auditorium

Students will have an opportunity to ask Viet Thanh Nguyen questions about his books and learn more about the craft of writing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Viet Thanh Nguyen Reading and Lecture
7:00pm, OEC Auditorium

Viet Thanh Nguyen will read selections from his books and discuss the concept of sanctuary in his writing. Books will be available for purchase and a signing will immediately follow
the event, which is free and open to the public.

Our Guest Lecturer

Viet Thanh Nguyen

‌‌Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association.

His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. For additional information about Nguyen, please visit his website.

Previous Common Context Themes

2010-2011: Water
2011-2012: Hunger
2012-2013: The Meaning of Work
2013-2014: Wonder
2014-2015: Illumination
2015-2016: Disquiet
2016-2017: Mercy