A Look At: Edgewood College

Edgewood CollegeLisa St. John Allaman, coordinator for Edgewood College Siena/Common Reads, explains how the program is organized and the lessons they have learned to increase participation.

Would you tell us a bit about your program? For instance how long has Edgewood College been hosting the Siena/Common Reads event, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?
I think we have had the Common Reading program for the last several years. The Siena Lecture has been around a lot longer than that. The Siena Lecture was started by the Dominican sisters, and was named after St. Catherine of Siena, who was a philosopher and theologian during the 14th Century. Every year, there is a main event that brings new thought and ideas to campus. Last year, we combined the Common Reading main event with the Siena main event to pool funds and promote this event as widely as possible.

What have you found are the keys to choosing a book that interests students, while at the same time allows them to find valuable lessons they can take with them in and out of the classroom?
We try to pick books that are not really long, or they won’t read the whole thing. Also, we try to choose books that have a relevant topic, or a topic that can be made relevant to them. We open up the selection process by allowing anyone to nominate a book, and then a committee narrows it, and then everyone is eligible to vote for it. (see editorial on voting systems)
What did you learn from last year’s program that is helping you this year? What are you changing, what worked well?
Connecting with Books in Common has helped! You guys are so organized and made the visit much easier to plan. We need to plan ahead, pool resources when possible, and get as many community organizations involved as possible.

What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a community reads program?
Keep talking to people… we were only able to afford it last year because Christie realized that Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, was going to be in the area, and we could have her here for less. That made a huge difference for us.

How has your relationship with Books In Common helped with your program this year?
The collaboration between Christie and me was super helpful. It was nice to have one person I knew I could go to, to answer questions, or from whom I could get information. It made the process much simpler and easier to manage. There was no question or detail that was too small for Christie to answer cheerfully.

Any suggestions for what you’d like to see from the BooksInCommon.org website and newsletter that would be helpful to other event organizers?
Continue to stick with the one-on-one organization. I think if I were dealing with an office of people, it would be hard for me to stay on top of things.

Orphan Train honors discussion 2 - edgewood

Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, discussing her book and writing process with Edgewood Honor students.

What are some of your fondest or most notable memories from past events?
Watching Christina talk to a group of Honors students. She was very engaging and funny, and not at all aloof. She answered questions but more importantly, she asked them questions. I think she made them feel like this famous author thought they had something important to say. I gave her a tour of Madison, and she was so kind and open with me. She was a great advocate for students to write and read.

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