Colorado College’s Groundbreaking 2019-20 Common Read: “The Round House”

By BELLA LAWRENCE

This fall, incoming Colorado College students received their inauguration into academic discourse through the topically dense and critically acclaimed novel “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, which is a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe, also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa. “The Round House” takes place in North Dakota on a fictional Ojibwe reservation and is told from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy named Joe. 

As stated on CC’s website, the novel follows Joe through his adolescence and into manhood as he “seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.” The crime — the violent rape of his mother — sets the stage for his entrance into the world of his father’s career as a Tribal Judge, the complicated nature of native peoples’ jurisdiction, and questions of racial and ethnic identity, privilege, prejudice, and justice. 

Dwanna McKay, assistant professor of Race, Ethnicity, & Migration Studies and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, proposed “The Round House” as this year’s Common Read. On the first day of New Student Orientation , McKay led a panel of students and faculty in a discursive analysis of the text’s thematic content to kick off First-Year-Experience discussions on the novel. The panel focused on passages in Erdrich’s work that challenged ideas of American Exceptionalism, freedom, and legal justice while emphasizing her craft in developing what CC identified as her “most accessible novel to date.”

While undoubtedly a piece packed with topics deeply relevant to the College’s current discussions of race surrounding Native Peoples, the plot of “The Round House” is also inseparably steeped in the aftermath of a rape. Throughout NSO, there were questions of whether or not a novel of this content ought to come with trigger warnings — especially as a first assignment and a common read. However, first-year students will hopefully have extended opportunities to engage and grapple with the challenging themes of Erdrich’s novel. 

This read has been dubbed the 2019–20 read, and director of academic programs and FYE Aaron Stroller stated his intention to have discussion on the text extend beyond NSO on Aug. 18, 2019 at the FYE mentor welcome dinner. 

 

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