The Common Book



As part of Writing Across the Curriculum activities at Middlesex Community College, each year, a Common Book is recommended for the whole college, selected for literary quality and relevance to many subject areas. Common Books in previous years include Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts; Not Born in the U.S.A., edited by the MCC Writing Across the Curriculum Committee; Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison, by MCC Professor Jean Trounstine; Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan; and When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (Full historical list here.)

The Common Book for 2010-2011 is

Dreams from My Father:
A Story of Race and Inheritance
by Barack Obama

In previous years, the Common Book has served as a foundation for lectures, panel discussions, theater performances, videos, films, art displays, essay contests, museum trips, and other events. But most important of all, the Common Book has served as the basis for many valuable classroom experiences and thought-provoking discussions among students, faculty, and staff at the college. For that, ultimately, is the most fundamental purpose.

Parts or all of the Common Book may be required in classes in all disciplines. This book may be read independently by students with very little additional time required in classes or might be used as a whole or in part by professors in various disciplines.

It is available in paperback at both the Bedford and Lowell campus bookstores and can also be purchased at most bookstores; it is also available for circulation at both MCC's Bedford and Lowell libraries. We strongly encourage you to read the book so that you can take full advantage of your educational experience at Middlesex Community College. There will also be several activities to supplement the book throughout the school year. We hope you are stimulated, challenged, informed, and rewarded through your reading of the current Common Book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama.

MCC Activities Related to Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama - Spring 2011

Ways MCC faculty are using Dreams from My Father in their courses and/or programs

Read excerpts from Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Listen to an audio clip of the book

Publisher's webpages for Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Faculty - Ordering Desk or Examination Copies

Faculty Blackboard Website to Support Common Book
(sign on and find this on your courses list; if not enrolled, please email
Tom Laughlin at laughlint@middlesex.mass.edu

Common Book Criteria & Suggestions for Future

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Nine years before the Senate campaign that made him one of the most influential and compelling voices in American politics, Barack Obama published this lyrical, unsentimental, and powerfully affecting memoir, which became a #1 New York Times bestseller when it was reissued in 2004. Dreams from My Father tells the story of Obama's struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego.

Obama opens his story in New York, where he hears that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has died in a car accident. The news triggers a chain of memories as Barack retraces his family's unusual history: the migration of his mother's family from small-town Kansas to the Hawaiian islands; the love that develops between his mother and a promising young Kenyan student, a love nurtured by youthful innocence and the integrationist spirit of the early sixties; his father's departure from Hawaii when Barack was two, as the realities of race and power reassert themselves; and Barack's own awakening to the fears and doubts that exist not just between the larger black and white worlds but within himself.

Propelled by a desire to understand both the forces that shaped him and his father's legacy, Barack moves to Chicago to work as a community organizer. There, against the backdrop of tumultuous political and racial conflict, he works to turn back the mounting despair of the inner city. His story becomes one with those of the people he works with as he learns about the value of community, the necessity of healing old wounds, and the possibility of faith in the midst of adversity.

Barack's journey comes full circle in Kenya, where he finally meets the African side of his family and confronts the bitter truth of his father's life. Traveling through a country racked by brutal poverty and tribal conflict, but whose people are sustained by a spirit of endurance and hope, Barack discovers that he is inescapably bound to brothers and sisters living an ocean away—and that by embracing their common struggles he can finally reconcile his divided inheritance.

A searching meditation on the meaning of identity in America, Dreams from My Father might be the most revealing portrait we have of a major American leader—a man who is playing, and will play, an increasingly prominent role in healing a fractious and fragmented nation.
--From the publisher of hardcover, Random House

Product Description
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother's family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father's life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.

From the Inside Flap
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother's family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father's life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.

Pictured in lefthand photograph on cover: Habiba Akumu Hussein and Barack Obama, Sr. (President Obama's paternal grandmother and his father as a young boy). Pictured in righthand photograph on cover: Stanley Dunham and Ann Dunham (President Obama's maternal grandfather and his mother as a young girl).
--From the publisher of hardcover, Random House

SOME REVIEWS OF DREAMS FROM MY FATHER

"Provocative . . . Persuasively describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither."
—New York Times Book Review

"Fluidly, calmly, insightfully, Obama guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race."
—Washington Post Book World

"Beautifully crafted . . . moving and candid . . . this book belongs on the shelf beside works like James McBride's The Color of Water and Gregory Howard Williams's Life on the Color Line as a tale of living astride America's racial categories."
—Scott Turow

"This may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."
—Joe Klein, Time Magazine

"[T]he most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president."
—Michiko Kakatani, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times

"Obama's writing is incisive yet forgiving. This is a book worth savoring."
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

"Whatever else people expect from a politician, it's not usually a beautifully written personal memoir steeped in honesty. Barack Obama has produced one.'
—Oona King, The Times of London

"Elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama was offered a book contract, but the intellectual journey he planned to recount became instead this poignant, probing memoir of an unusual life. Born in 1961 to a white American woman and a black Kenyan student, Obama was reared in Hawaii by his mother and her parents, his father having left for further study and a return home to Africa. So Obama's not-unhappy youth is nevertheless a lonely voyage to racial identity, tensions in school, struggling with black literature; with one month-long visit when he was 10 from his commanding father. After college, Obama became a community organizer in Chicago. He slowly found place and purpose among folks of similar hue but different memory, winning enough small victories to commit himself to the work; he's now a civil rights lawyer there. Before going to law school, he finally visited Kenya; with his father dead, he still confronted obligation and loss, and found wellsprings of love and attachment. Obama leaves some lingering questions (his mother is virtually absent) but still has written a resonant book.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

"An honest, often poetic memoir about growing up biracial. Obama was the son of a Kenyan student at the University of Hawaii and a white woman, the daughter of transplanted Kansans. Their marriage broke up after Barack Obama Sr. left Hawaii in 1963 to pursue a Ph.D. at Harvard; he died in a car accident in Kenya in 1982, when his son was 21. The author met his father only once, when he was ten years old, and this encounter with a stranger did not resolve his emotional confusion about his identity. "I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know what that meant," writes Obama. He turned to books by Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes and to neighborhood basketball courts, where he bonded with older black men. Obama records his interior struggle with precision and clarity as he confronts racism (a high school basketball coach calls a group of black men "niggers") while maintaining love for his white relatives. He turns to drugs and alcohol to dull his confusion, but finally realizes that his identity as a black man in America must be a path he creates for himself. Subsequently, while a student at Columbia University, he learns of his father's death just after they have made plans for him to visit Kenya. The unresolved nature of their relationship gnaws at him even after he moves to Chicago, where he practices civil rights law. A pilgrimage to Kenya to meet siblings from his father's two other marriages finally enables him to put his demons to rest. At its best, despite an occasional lack of analysis, this affecting study of self-definition perceptively reminds us that the dilemmas of race generally express themselves in terms of individual human struggles."
—Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.

"Obama argues with himself on almost every page of this lively autobiographical conversation. He gets you to agree with him, and then he brings in a counternarrative that seems just as convincing. Son of a white American mother and of a black Kenyan father whom he never knew, Obama grew up mainly in Hawaii. After college, he worked for three years as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side. Then, finally, he went to Kenya, to find the world of his dead father, his "authentic" self. Will the truth set you free, Obama asks? Or will it disappoint? Both, it seems. His search for himself as a black American is rooted in the particulars of his daily life; it also reads like a wry commentary about all of us. He dismisses stereotypes of the "tragic mulatto" and then shows how much we are all caught between messy contradictions and disparate communities. He discovers that Kenya has 400 different tribes, each of them with stereotypes of the others. Obama is candid about racism and poverty and corruption, in Chicago and in Kenya. Yet he does find community and authenticity, not in any romantic cliché‚ but with "honest, decent men and women who have attainable ambitions and the determination to see them through.' "
—Hazel Rochman, ALA Booklist

In discussing Dreams from My Father, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has called Obama "a writer in my high esteem" and the book "quite extraordinary." She praised "his ability to reflect on this extraordinary mesh of experiences that he has had, some familiar and some not, and to really meditate on that the way he does, and to set up scenes in narrative structure, dialogue, conversation--all of these things that you don't often see, obviously, in the routine political memoir biography. [...] It's unique. It's his. There are no other ones like that."

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION ON BARACK OBAMA

From the official White House website

From Barack Obama's website

From the publisher

INTERVIEWS & SPEECHES

2004 Video of then Illinois U.S. Senator-Elect Barack Obama discussing Dreams from My Father. Obama also talks about the challenges he expected to face when he took his U.S. Senate seat in January 2005. Includes Q & A. (courtesy of BookTV.org)

Video of 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston keynote address by Barack Obama (courtesy of C-Span & YouTube.com)

A More Perfect Union speech

Video of 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver address by Senator Barack Obama

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

From Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago
(their common book for 2006)

From Barack Obama's webpage – community blogs

Intro & Chapter 1

Chapter 2

OTHER COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES USING THIS BOOK FOR COMMON READING

Boston College
California State University – East Bay
Ithaca College
La Guardia Community College
Truman College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Washington

Last Modified: 6/10/16