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. 

2019-2020 Common Context Theme: Reckoning

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Our Theme

‌When we think of reckoning, we might think of a tall, dark man dressed in black showing up to an unnamed town to take vengeance on the wicked and unrighteous. That scene makes a heck of a movie, but reckoning can also be a way of thinking about our existence in the world as being connected to the fortunes of others. Too often we live our lives as if the choices we make will have no impact on other people. But the notion of reckoning reminds us that we live in a shared world among others, that there is always a price that must be paid for any decision we make, and the collector doesn’t care if we have the money or not.

Reckoning can also be the consideration that one goes through in deciding how to deal with whatever awaits us in our lives. We will all face something at one time or another, something of our own making or someone else’s (or no one’s), that will confront, test, and possibly transform us. In Edwidge Danticat’s work, there is always a specter of the things we must face: secrets, lies, fears, trauma, threats, risks, the evil deeds of others – evil inside ourselves. The world she writes about in works like The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker, Claire of the Sea Light, Brother I’m Dying, and others – no matter how evil functions within it, is not inherently evil, for it is how we reckon with the presence of evil that determines what kind of people we are, how we will live, and the nature of the world we will live in.

If we orient ourselves toward living in a world where our actions have consequences, maybe we can think to act preventatively to stave off those apparitions that haunt us. Maybe we will seek to repair the harm to others that has already been done. Maybe to reckon with is to prevent the judgment we ourselves have created by opening ourselves to the lives of others. Maybe the threat of reckoning requires that we reckon with justice.

Our Guest Author

Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat is the author of numerous books, including the soon-to-be released Everything Inside: Stories (due out August 27th); Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times notable book; Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Miami. Photo Credit: Lynn Savarese Photography

Rich with hard-won wisdom and humanity, set in locales from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond, Everything Inside is at once wide in scope and intimate, as it explores the forces that pull us together, or drive us apart, sometimes in the same searing instant.

In these eight powerful, emotionally absorbing stories, a romance unexpectedly sparks between two wounded friends; a marriage ends for what seem like noble reasons, but with irreparable consequences; a young woman holds on to an impossible dream even as she fights for her survival; two lovers reunite after unimaginable tragedy, both for their country and in their lives; a baby's christening brings three generations of a family to a precarious dance between old and new; a man falls to his death in slow motion, reliving the defining moments of the life he is about to lose.‌


Monday, November 25, 2019
Edwidge Danticat Craft Talk and Q&A
3:30pm, O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium

English Students will have an opportunity to learn about the craft of writing from author Edwidge Danticat and ask her questions about her various works.

Monday, November 25, 2019
In Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
7:00pm, Anderson Student Center, Woulfe Alumni Hall

Edwidge Danticat will read selections from her new short story collection, Everything Inside, and discuss the concept of reckoning in her writing. Copies of Everything Inside and Danticat's earlier books will be available for purchase and a signing will immediately follow the event. This event is free and open to the public.

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
2017-2018: Sanctuary
2018-2019: Recovery