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Required Reading Without Rhyme but Plenty of Reason

The story of immigrant families and the West Virginia coal-miners in the early 1920s is hardly typical fodder for a book of poetry. But because author Diane Gilliam Fisher finds a way to make her collection of poems in Kettle Bottom so uniquely compelling and authentic, the book was this summer’s required reading for members of the incoming class of 2009.

“This is the first time that we have selected a book of poetry,” said Tom Riddell, dean of first-year students at Smith, who chairs the committee that chooses the book for summer reading. “It’s rare that poetry is picked for the summer reading by any college.”

Smith’s summer assignment is intended to engage new students in meaningful issues. Supplying an abundance of information using a minimum of words, Kettle Bottom addresses several topics pertinent to modern society: poverty, lack of affordable health care, racism, religious freedom, corruption and rampant injustice.

Before classes started, first-year students met in small groups in residence living rooms to discuss Kettle Bottom with staff and faculty members as part of orientation programming. The same evening, Fisher gave a reading from her work, followed by a book signing and reception.

Kettle Bottom was published in 2004 by Perugia Press, a company in Florence, Massachusetts, that produces one collection of poetry each year by a woman at the beginning of her career. It was named a Book Sense Top Ten Poetry Pick for 2005 by the American Booksellers Association and nominated for the Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award.

Fisher’s Kettle Bottom joins such past summer reading selections as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats and lê thi diem thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For.

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