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A Culture of Care

Read Smith’s plans for the spring 2021 semester.
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Smith Reads

A selection of book jackets

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

See the Smith College Libraries website for more information about this year’s reading selection and a link to ebook copies, author interviews and more. 

Smith Reads 2020–21

Book jacket image of Educated by Tara Westover
Educated: A Memoir
By Tara Westover

“An astonishing account of deprivation, confusion, survival, and success.”—Kirkus Reviews

“In Educated, her riveting memoir, Ms. Westover brings readers deep into this world, a milieu usually hidden from outsiders ... Her story is remarkable, as each extreme anecdote described in tidy prose attests. That someone who grew up in her circumstances could achieve as much as she has is astonishing. All the same, readers who enjoyed more mundane backgrounds will empathise. The central tension she wrestles with throughout her book is how to be true to herself without alienating her family. Her upbringing was extraordinary, but that struggle is not.”—The Economist

For new students entering in spring 2021, we highly recommend that you read Westover’s book. The memoir will provide a connecting point of reference with first-year peers.


This book contains controversial social issues that may be difficult for some readers to digest. References are made to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, mental health and the N-word. Gas lighting and spiritual questioning included.

Reading Educated is highly recommended, but not required. 

Why Smith Reads?

The first-year reading program at Smith has been in place since 1999. Since its inception, the program's mission has been predicated on the awareness that co-curricular activities are vital to a student's overall academic success and residential experience. 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.

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 that are designed to guide their education. Close readings of the chosen text enhance the attributes we espouse as a liberal arts college, where we value critical thinking, respectful conversation, attentive listening and articulating ideas and thoughts.

Past Readings

Following is an abbreviated history of past books for Smith Reads. 

2019—How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, Andrew Hoffman

2018—We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

2017—The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez

2016—A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

2015—The Collapse of Western Civilization, Naomi Oreskes

2014—Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele

2013—My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor

2012—Dreaming in French, Alice Kaplan

2011—The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

2010—Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women, Nicholas D. Kristop and Sheryl WuDunn

2009—The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones

Smith Reads Talks with Author Ruth Ozeki ’80

Learn more about Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For the Time Being, which was 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.