Programs & Events
Programs & Events

First Year Reading Program

The 2016 First Year Reading Program selection will be announced May 2016.

First Year Reading Program 2015

book cover

Welcome! We're glad you’ve come to learn more about the First Year Reading Program and are excited that you will soon be joining us on campus.

The First Year Reading Program book selected for the Class of 2019 is Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. Members of the Class of 2019 will be mailed copies of the book in mid-July.

In this remarkable and timely work, acclaimed author and Pomona College professor, Claudia Rankine, uses poetry, essay, cultural criticism, and visual images to explore what it means to be an American citizen in a “post-racial” society. Claudia Rankine's bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV — everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

A defining text for our time, Citizen was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry—it was also a finalist in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee. Citizen also won the NAACP Image Award and the LA Times Book Award for poetry. A finalist for the National Book Award and longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award, Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category, and it was selected as an NPR Best Book of 2014.

Key Events

Throughout the academic year, there will be a number of interesting programs and events related to themes in this year's book, Citizen: An American Lyric. Keep an eye on the Events section to learn more about what we have planned. Key events include:

Small Group Book Discussions

During Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation on Friday, August 21st, 2015 at 10:00 AM, all first year students will participate in dynamic group discussions of this year's book.

Assembly Series

Monday, September 21, 7:00 PM Location: Graham Chapel
Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric

Blackboard Assignment

Part of your participation in the First Year Reading Program requires that you log onto Blackboard, the WUSTL course management portal, and submit a 250 word response to one of the following three questions by Monday, August 17, 2015 at 5:00 PM CST. 

Please reference specific pages in your response:

1. Before reading the book, what did the title of “Citizen” mean to you? What meaning did it have after reading?

2. What issue(s) does Rankine target when she discusses visibility - or the lack thereof - throughout the book? Explain your analysis.

3. In what ways do poetry and visual art engage the subject of race and racism differently than another approach (such as an academic study or legal argument)?

You will find your FYRP discussion section listed on Blackboard ( under “My Courses.” Your submission will only be visible to the faculty or staff member leading your discussion group.

Technical Support
Should you encounter any difficulties, please contact Student Technology Services by email or phone at 314.935.7100.

FYRP History

FYRP History

The First Year Reading Program aims:

  • to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University in St. Louis academic community.
  • to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • to provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty in an informal discussion outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.

Past FYRP Books

2014: Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights 

by Kenji Yoshino

In this remarkable and elegant work, acclaimed NYU law professor Kenji Yoshino fuses legal manifesto and poetic memoir to call for a redefinition of civil rights in our law and culture.

Everyone covers. To cover is to downplay a disfavored trait so as to blend into the mainstream. Because all of us possess stigmatized attributes, we all encounter pressure to cover in our daily lives. Given its pervasiveness, we may experience this pressure to be a simple fact of social life. Yoshino’s argument draws deeply on his personal experiences as a gay Asian American. He follows the Romantics in his belief that if a human life is described with enough particularity, the universal will speak through it. The result is a work that combines one of the most moving memoirs written in years with a landmark manifesto on the civil rights of the future.

2013: Notes from No Man's Land

by Eula Biss

In this series of forthright essays, Biss sets out to examine issues of race and identity in America through the lens of history and of family. She makes links between lynching and the spread of the telephone, both of which required tall straight poles in public places. She considers the legacy of Reconstruction in public school systems, particularly the New York City classrooms where she teaches, and questions the instruction to make her students "better people." She remembers the white and black dolls she shared with her sister in light of the famous Doll Studies of Mamie and Kenneth Clark, and she rereads Laura Ingalls Wilder as she settles into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago

Throughout, Biss acknowledges her own assumptions and privileges. Never hesitating to ask difficult questions and face the sometimes-embarrassing answers, she still remains hopeful about the possibilities of diversity. - Graywolf Press

2012: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

by Wes Moore

Book Jacket of The Other Wes Moore

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world. (Random House, Inc.)

Author, Wes Moore visited campus and engaged with students during the day in various settings before delivering his Assembly Series lecture, which was standing room only.

2011: The Cellist of Sarajevo

by Steven Galloway

Book jacket of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Set during the "Siege of Sarajevo" (1992-96), this forceful but quietly spoken novel puts us at the side of ordinary citizens as they venture out in the city to buy bread or refill water jugs, uncertain whether a sniper or artillery shell will make their next step their last. In memory of 22 fellow citizens killed in a single attack, a cellist, in full sight of the attackers, sends up his music for 22 days to the hills where they hide, and to the heavens.

Author, Steven Galloway visited campus and delivered the First Year Reading Program Assembly Series talk. He also met with several small groups of students to discuss the book, his life as an author, and other related topics.

2010: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Book jacket of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

In this engaging and suspenseful novel, a young Pakistani man tells his story to an American over a meal in a Lahore marketplace. The book explores complex themes of culture, identity, profiling, coming of age, and the immigrant experience.

Political commentator, human rights lawyer, Washington University alumnus and founder of, Arsalan Iftikhar visited campus and participated in several sessions with students. He also delivered the First Year Reading Program Assembly Series talk.

2009: When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie OtsukaBook jacket of When the Emperor Was Divine

Author Julie Otsuka, visited campus and interacted with students in small group settings. She also gave an Assembly Series address to the campus community.

2008: Field Notes from a Catastrophe

by Elizabeth KolbertBook jacket of Field Notes from a Catastrophe

Growing out of a groundbreaking three-part series in The New Yorker (which won the 2005 National Magazine Award in the Public Interest category), Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, brings the environment into focus and asks, "What, if anything, can be done to save our planet?"

2007: Einstein's Dreams

by Alan LightmanBook jacket of Einstein's Dreams

Einstein's Dreams is a series of vignettes set in the spring of 1905, just as Einstein was formulating his theory of relativity. Each vignette presents a vision of time that might have passed through Einstein's mind during this period. This book challenges the reader to stretch his or her imagination about time, to question ordinary assumptions, and to consider how conceptions of time shape human understanding of ourselves and our world.

Author, Alan Lightman visited campus and had the opportunity to dine with student winners of the "Finish the Story" contest. He also addressed the campus community in an Assembly Series lecture.

2006: One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All

by Mark R. RankBook jacket of One Nation Underprivileged

In conjunction with the Danforth Campus dedication and the theme "A Higher Sense of Purpose," One Nation Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All, by Mark R. Rank was selected as the 2006 First Year Reading Program book.

Mark R. Rank is the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. He is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts and speakers in the country on issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice.

In the book, Rank examines and dissects the issue of poverty in American and shows that the fundamental causes of poverty are to be found in our economic structure and political policy failures, rather than individual shortcomings or attitudes. He demonstrates that a significant percentage of Americans will experience poverty during their adult lifetimes and suggests a new paradigm for understanding and addressing national poverty.

Professor Rank addressed students in an Assembly Series lecture.

2005: "The Achievement of Desire" from Hunger of Memory and "Poor Richard" from Brown

both by Richard RodriguezBook jacket of Brown

In 2005 the First Year Reading Program Steering Group chose two works by essayist and public commentator, Richard Rodriguez. Students read Rodriguez's book, Brown, in their Writing I Class, and had the opportunity to hear Rodriguez speak about racial and cultural assimilation in America when he came to campus in October. Many students met with Rodriguez, had dinner with him and continued the dialogue throughout his two-day visit.

2004: Freedom: A Book of Common Readings

Multiple authorsBook jacket of Freedom

In anticipation of the 2004 election and the Presidential Candidates' debate at Washington University, the 2004 Book of Common Readings was anchored by The Declaration of Independence, one of the most important texts in political history both within and outside the United States. Accompanying primary texts by Frederick Douglas and others stimulated critical thinking about the Declaration and its legacy in debates about liberty, equality and justice. Professor Dan Shea's introduction to the book challenged students to "claim their education."

2003: Washington University 150th Anniversary Celebration Book of Common Readings

Book jacket of Washington University 150th Anniversary Celebration Book of Common Readings

In 2003, Washington University celebrated its 150th anniversary. The theme of this sesquicentennial year was "Treasuring the Past, Shaping the Future." In keeping with that theme, a group of faculty and administrators developed a book of common readings for new students focused on the history and meaning of education.

The book, consisting of essays, poems and excerpts of longer work, included pieces by Washington University founder William Greenleaf Elliot, Washington University professor Gerald Early, W.E.B. DuBois and bell hooks.

New students met in small groups with members of the faculty to discuss the book of common readings and examine their goals for their own education. The cover of the book was designed by Washington University students from the College of Art.

Letter from the Provost


Dear Class of 2019,

On behalf of the University's Faculty and the 2015 First Year Reading Program, we welcome you to Washington University! We're very excited that you will soon be jooining us, and we are busy preparing for you arrival.

The First Year Reading Program initiates your intellectual college experience and highlights the essence of your education - habits of inquiry and debate that underlie effective citizenship in communities beyond the self. Throughout the first semester, you will encounter themes from the book in classes, discussions and on-campus programming.

On Friday, August 21, 2015 as part of the 13th annual First Year Reading Program, you will be participating in a dynamic and thought-provoking discussion of the book, Citizen: an American Lyric, by Claudia Rankin.

In the last year, discussions on the issues of identity, justice, and power have taken place across America. Much of this dialogue has centered in the great American city you will soon call your home for the next four years. There couldn’t be a better time or place to explore this book.

Rankine’s poetry highlights the ways in which these issues permeate everyday life, causing injury and preventing some people from being full citizens. Rankine writes that “Just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.” Instead, we need to get about the business of dismantling the obstacles that strain the formation of bonds across difference. This requires dedication and drive. Rankine inspires us to commit to that project and imagine a world better than the one we have inherited. 

Welcome, Bears. Let's get started.

Holden Thorp
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Professor of Chemistry and Medicine
Washington University in St. Louis

Letter to Incoming Freshmen

Letter to Incoming Freshmen

At Washington University there are many experiences that unite us: walking with a crowd of new students through a walkway lined with glow sticks during Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation, painting the underpass, exploring The Loop, or swinging in a hammock on the Swamp. By reading this book, you are participating in one of the numerous traditions that ties you to the Wash U community. For the past fourteen years, every incoming first-year student has read the same book as their future classmates, and has had the opportunity to participate in an engaging dialogue with their new peers, facilitated by dynamic faculty members. Every student has their own story: we come from across the country and around the world, we have experienced different upbringings, and we have various academic interests and extracurricular passion​s. The First Year Reading Program is your first shared experience: the first of many similarities you will find among your new peers. Reading this book is not only the start to fostering an accepting, respectful, and open community, but it also marks the beginning of an incredibly wonderful intellectual journey that is not limited to the classroom experience. We hope this book inspires you to continue thought-provoking discussions and to engage in dialogue with your peers as you learn about their differences and are brought closer together by your commonalities.  

One of the most exciting things about your first year here at Wash U is the amazing community that is fostered.  To begin discussing what it means to be a member of our community, we ask that you read Citizen: An American Lyric, which is an examination of race in America, and the power of individual interactions, from blatant racism to microaggressions. As you begin reading this book, we ask that you consider your own experience with race and your identity. While reflecting on who you are as a person and your experiences in interacting with others, we hope you will start to think about how you can contribute to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all of your peers. While your story may not parallel that of Claudia Rankine’s, we hope that her introspection will encourage you to ask important questions of yourself.

Our hope is that you will benefit from the program, both in reflecting while reading, and in discussing with your new peers. While this book might not be the book that changes your life, or the book that inspires you to be the next great poet, our goal is that you will connect to your classmates and revel in the shared experience of engaging in the same text as everyone in the class of 2019.

Enclosed, you will find your very own copy of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Please look inside the book for a letter from Provost Holden Thorp.  In the readers guide, you will find discussion questions to ponder as your explore Citizen.

Happy reading,
Shana Zucker

Student members, First Year Reading Program Book Selection Committee
Class of 2016​​

Links & Resources

Links & Resources

If you have other resources you think should be shared on this page, please feel free to e-mail them to 

  • Watch Claudia Rankine’s appearance on the PBS Newshour where she discusses how she uses poetry to uncover the moments that lead to racism as well as her thoughts on the violent deaths of black men.
  • Listen to Claudia Rankine discuss Citizen in this interview with NPR.
  • In linguistics, "code-switching" means mixing languages or patterns of speech in conversation. Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We're hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction. Code Switch is a blog project run by six NPR journalists who cover topics of race, ethnicity and culture.
  • The Race Card Project explores a different kind of conversation about race. We ask people to think about their experiences, observations, triumphs, laments, theories or anthem about race or cultural identity. Then they take those thoughts and distill them down to one six-word sentence.
  • Listen to interesting short NPR Morning Edition pieces based on The Race Card Project.
  • A Girl Like Me is a short piece explores the way racial stereotypes influence the self-image of African American young women and children. Davis interviews teenage black women about their experience with racialized standards of beauty, and replicates the Kenneth Clark Doll Test, to show how black girls and boys to this day associate whiteness with beauty and virtue and blackness with ugliness and vice.


If you are interested in studying topics related to those discussed in Covering, then look into registering for any of the following courses offered at Wash U on your WEBSTAC account:

  • L98 AMCS 2250 Freshman Seminar: African-American Women's History: Sexuality, Violence, and the Love of Hip-Hop
  • L98 AMCS 248 Latino/a Experiences in the United States
  • L98 AMCS 3034 Race and Ethnicity in American Politics
  • L98 AMCS 3132 Topics in Composition: Exploring Cultural Identity in Writing
  • AMCS 3173 Queer Histories
  • L98 AMCS 3632 Mapping the World of "Black Criminality"
  • L98 AMCS 3671 The Long Civil Rights Movement
  • L14 E Lit 214C Intro to Women's Texts: Queer Modernisms
  • L53 Film 345 Sexual Politics in Film Noir and Hard-boiled Literature
  • L43 GeSt 108 First Year Reading Program Seminar
  • L22 History 3548 Gender, Sexuality & Communism in 20th Century Europe
  • L93 IPH 310 An Intellectual History of Sex and Gender
  • L84 Lw St 120 Social Problems and Social Issues
  • L84 Lw St 131F Present Moral Problems
  • L77 WGSS 100B Introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • L77 WGSS 3255  Black Masculinities
  • L90 AFAS 1002 Foundations in African & African-American Studies
  • L90 AFAS 208B African-American Studies: An Introduction
  • L90 AFAS 4433 Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: The Spectrum & Specter of Blackness in Post-Racial America
  • L90 AFAS 3542 The Quest for Racial Reconciliation
  • 90 AFAS 421A From Mammy to the Welfare Queen: African American Women Theorize Identity
  • W74 LAW 769E Civil Rights, Community Justice and Mediation Clinic

If you have any additional events you'd like to add to the list, please e-mail details to

First Year Reading Program Facilitated Book Discussions

Friday, August 21, 2015

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Various Locations

All first-year and transfer students will participate in dynamic group discussions of this year's book. Discussion leaders and discussion locations will be assigned according to student residential areas.

Assembly Series: Author, Claudia Rankine

Monday, September 28, 2015

7:00 PM

Graham Chapel

Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen: An American Lyric, will deliver her Assembly Series address. The book explores the themes of racism in the present day United States through poetry, prose, and popular culture. Open to the public. 


2015 Contest Details

For this year’s contest, we invite you, the reader, to think of specific ways you have been seen or unseen. Your submission may be created in written format, video, photography, art piece, music or any other creative medium that can be submitted electronically for judging. If you are submitting a written entry, please limit it to a maximum length of 1,500 words.

The contest is open to all members of the Washington University Class of 2019. Please e-mail your submission to no later than 5:00 PM CST on Friday, August 14, 2015.

The top five contest winners will receive lunch with author Claudia Rankine on Monday, September 28, 2015 at the Whittemore House, the private faculty and staff dining club. The grand prize winner will also win a $250 gift certificate from the Washington University Campus Bookstore.

The contest is optional but we hope you’ll consider including a submission!

2013 First Year Reading Program Winners

with Notes from No Man's Land author, Eula Biss

The contest winners: Manasa Subramani, Danny Washelesky, CJ Harrington, Eula Biss, Sherelle Li, Jessica Sun

First Prize Contest Entry

Essence by Danny Wash

For Families

Dear families,

Your student will soon be heading off to Washington University. As a parent or family member, you are likely experiencing many of the same feelings of pride, nervousness, and excitement as your child. While you and your family savor the last few pre-university months, we are busy preparing to welcome your student to the Washington University community with many interesting and thought-provoking programs which will take place during Bear Beginnings: New Student Fall Orientation and beyond. One such activity is the First Year Reading Program.

The First Year Reading Program will serve as your student's entry into the world of academia. Before leaving home, students will read the book Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, and will be challenged to think creatively and submit an entry for the First Year Reading Program contest. In doing so, incoming students will receive a taste of the exciting academic and intellectual adventures yet to come.

On Friday, August 21st, as part of the 13th annual First Year Reading Program, students will participate in dynamic and thought-provoking small-group discussions of the book led by key University faculty and staff. Additional programming events related to the themes explored in the book will continue throughout the academic year.

The First Year Reading Program aims:

  • to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.
  • to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • to provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty in an informal discussion, outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.

During Parent & Family Weekend, you will have the opportunity to participate in a recap of what happened during the First Year Reading Program faculty-led discussions and to share your own thoughts related to Citizen: An American Lyric. Members of the Washington University faculty will provide information on the program, share what transpired in their individual discussion groups and discuss their perspectives on the book. All parents are encouraged to attend and participate in the event. As more information about the event becomes available, it will be posted on the Parent & Family Weekend Website.

Additional information about parent and family events, campus news and resources, ways you can give back to the University community and contact information can be found on the First Year Center Parent and Family Resources Website.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal/purpose of the First Year Reading Program?

The First Year Reading Program aims:

  • to introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.
  • to provide a common intellectual experience for incoming students, as well as participating members of the faculty and staff.
  • to provide an opportunity for students to meet and interact with a member of the Washington University faculty in an informal discussion, outside the boundaries of the classroom and formal academic requirements.

How are the reading program books selected?

Book suggestions are collected from students, faculty, and staff and are then reviewed and narrowed by the First Year Reading Program Steering Committee. Finalists are often offered in the January Reading Program, an opt-in book discussion program open to all student levels and offered in partnership with the Congress of the South 40. Feedback is collected from students and discussion leaders participating in the January Reading Program. After the Steering Committee debates the relative merits and challenges of each of the finalist texts, a winner is ultimately chosen.

Is my participation in the First Year Reading Program mandatory?

All first year students are required to attend the small group book discussions on Friday, August 21st with their residential college floors. All other FYRP-related events are optional, but we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities to attend and experience the myriad of offered programs.

Is the First Year Reading Program an isolated event, or will there be other related activities?

Throughout the year, there will be events and activities related to the First Year Reading Program. A schedule of the events can be found on the Events page.

I lost/forgot my book. What should I do?

The Washington University campus bookstore carries copies of Citizen: An American Lyric.

Who will be facilitating my discussion group? Can I select my Small Group Discussion Leader?

Your Small Group Discussion Leader will be assigned based on your residential college floor. Regrettably, we cannot allow you to change sections or request a specific discussion leader.

How will I know where to go for my First Year Reading Program discussion?

On Friday, August 21st, your Residential Advisor (RA) and Washington University Student Associate (WUSA) will notify you of your small group book discussion location and will accompany you and your floormates to the program. The First Year Reading Program small group book discussions will take place in the morning from 10:00am to 12pm.​

What should I bring to my First Year Reading Program discussion?

Please come prepared with:

  1. Your book
  2. Something to write on
  3. Something to write with
  4. An open mind

What is the history of the First Year Reading Program at Washington University?

This is the thirteenth annual First Year Reading Program at Washington University. Please visit the About page for more FYRP history.

What additional resources can I use to educate myself on the themes covered in the book?

Check out the resources links on the Reader's Guide page.

If I have any other questions, who can I ask?

Please send an e-mail to for answers to any other questions not listed here.
























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