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IC Connections Summer Common Reading Program


This novel follows a young slave woman, Cora, on a riveting journey toward freedom on the Underground Railroad which, by Colson Whitehead's unique conception, is literal instead of metaphorical. Freedom proves elusive, and at each stop along these tracks, she learns to reckon with different faces of bondage and oppression. Cora's harrowing quest leads the reader to a deeper knowledge that freedom does not emerge simply out of a moment of escape or a victory in war. The novel invites its readers, who live and work in an age in which inequalities and oppression are no less abundant, to ask what risks we might be called to take in promotion of freedom in our world. This critically and popularly acclaimed novel won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the National Book Award in 2016, and was an official selection of Oprah's Book Club.

Purpose of the Summer Common Reading Program

The IC summer common reading program is designed to introduce new students to the intellectual life of Illinois College. The goals of the program are to stimulate discussion and critical thinking surrounding topics of contemporary relevance, to enhance the connection between students, faculty and staff, and to provide a common experience.

The Assignment

All first-year students are expected to complete the common reading over the summer. As they read, students will also complete a note-taking assignment to be turned in the first day of their seminar class. This will prepare them to begin writing their first essay under the guidance of their seminar professor during the first weeks of classes. Details of the program will be introduced to students and their family members during the READY, Set, Go! registration days.

Upcoming Events

  • Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ODEI) Discussion Forums
    Dynamic discussions with students, faculty and staff on The Underground Railroad, led by professors Alonzo Ward and Lisa Udel  – September 11 at 5 p.m., Kirby 110 
  • Student "Book Club" Series
    Student-only conversation series, led by members of the English Club (snacks provided!) – September 10, 17 and 24 at 8:30 p.m., Kirby 110 
  • “An Evening with Harriet Tubman – A Historical Interpretation by Kathryn Harris”
    September 25 at 6:30 p.m., Sibert Theatre (convo credit)
  • TheatreWorks production - “Against the Tide: Illinois College and Abolition”
    A play about Jacksonville's historical connections to abolitionist activities and The Underground Railroad, written by Tara McClellan McAndrew. Performances on October 27 and November 1-3 at 7:30 p.m., and on November 4 at 2 p.m., Sibert Theatre (all November performances carry convo credit)
  • Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives Visit
    The archive tour will invite visitors to go behind-the-scenes at the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives and explore the early history of Illinois College and Jacksonville, including abolitionist and Underground Railroad activities (by appointment, email Samantha Sauer:
  • Colson Whitehead Convocation
    Author's talk, "Revisiting the Underground Railroad," with Q & A in Sherman Gymnasium in Bruner Fitness and Recreation Center, followed by book signing in Bruner, Wednesday evening, September 12. Plan to arrive by 6:30 PM.
    • Faculty, staff, continuing IC students, transfer students and the general public need to reserve and present a (free) ticket, available at:
    • First-year students will be provided with a ticket

Community Connection - Read with us!

Nearly 100 continuing students, staff and faculty have "opted in" to the summer reading program and will read the novel this summer. They have also pledged to come to lead and participate in events related to the book, including the September 12 appearance of author Colson Whitehead on campus! The event includes a reception at the Jacksonville Public Library from 5 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a convocation in Sherman Gymnasium, Bruner Fitness and Recreation Center at 7 p.m.

Jacksonville community members are invited by Illinois College and the Jacksonville Public Library to read the book and attend events hosted this summer and fall. Check out the upcoming JPL events here!

"Electrifying." "Heart-stopping." "Stunningly daring."

This book is unlikely to bore you, but it is likely to challenge you. Whitehead's unflinching portrayal of the most horrific aspects of slavery, combined with unconventional literary devices, will surely stir strong feelings and raise questions. Illinois College is committed to offering you a community of support for this intellectual and emotional work, both this summer and once you arrive on campus. Beyond your First-Year seminar class, here are some opportunities to engage with other readers of the book: