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Smith Reads


Dean of the First-Year Class

Jane Stangl
College Hall 101

Walk-In Hours

10:30 a.m.–noon Monday
1:30–3 p.m. Thursday

What is Smith Reads?

Smith Reads is a first-year reading experience for all students new to Smith College. This includes first-year students, Ada Comstock Scholars and transfer students. The program consists of three essential components:

  • Reading the assigned text before your arrival at Smith
  • Attending the guest author's speaking engagement
  • Participating in the in-house discussion of the reading

The first-year reading program at Smith has been in place since 1999. Implemented by then Dean of the College Maureen Mahoney, the first reading was Respect, by Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot. Since its inception the program has been a co-curricular initiative. The program's mission is predicated on the awareness that co-curricular initiatives are vital to a student's overall academic success and residential experience.

As a community initiative, Smith Reads operates so that all incoming students:

  • are provided with a shared intellectual experience upon their arrival at Smith
  • may engage in a facilitated conversation about topics of intellectual, social and/or ethical significance with their house peers
  • are offered an opportunity to read and personally interact with critically acclaimed authors, scholars and artists
  • can interact immediately with Smith faculty and teaching staff invested in their learning

Smith Reads enables new students to consider the college's essential capacities, which are designed to guide a student's education. Further, close readings of the chosen text enhance the attributes we espouse as a liberal arts college, where critcial thinking, respectful conversation, attentive listening and articulating ideas and thoughts are valued.

Why Smith Reads?

Reading closely and deeply serves as a tool—a means—not an end in itself. Reading prompts participants to reflect on their own background, beliefs and experience. Engaging in reading with others provides all readers with a commonality to anchor further conversation.

While long-form written texts (books) comprise the basis of most first-year reading experiences, other forms of "texts," such as paintings, photographs, film, poetry and works of art are also considered valuable as potential and future reads.

Suggest a Book

Past Readings

  • 2016: A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki '80
  • 2015: The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway
  • 2014: Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us, Claude Steele
  • 2013: My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor
  • 2012: Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, Alice Yaeger Kaplan
  • 2011: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
  • 2010: Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • 2009: The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones
  • 2008: Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey
  • 2007: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • 2006: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder
  • 2005: Kettle Bottom, Diane Gilliam Fisher
  • 2004: The Gangster We Are All Looking For, Lê Thi Diem Thúy
  • 2003: Atonement, Ian McEwan
  • 2002: Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
  • 2001: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman
  • 2000: My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki
  • 1999: Respect, Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot

Learn more about Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For the Time Being, the Smith Reads selection for 2016. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Ruth Ozeki '80 is currently the Elizabeth Drew Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College.