July 15, 2021
Dear Olin community,
Supported by a generous gift from the Class of 2006, the Olin Summer Reading Program engages the community, including our incoming students, in a common intellectual experience over the summer and provides the basis for our first gathering of the academic year, opening Convocation.
At Olin, Convocation has always been about coming together and welcoming the new members of our community. This year, I have been working with Professor of Psychology Jon Adler and Writing Initiatives Specialist Gillian Epstein as well Lauren Taaffe and Anne-Marie Dorning to think about how we can approach this year’s Convocation differently. After so much disruption, I would like Convocation 2021 to set the tone for how we can move forward as one community. We need to tell stories together to knit us back into a shared plot line--to start to make sense of who we are now, both as individuals and as a community.
This year, our selection for the summer reading program will be the attached short story: Systems by Charles Yu. This story is quite literally about what we’re searching for, which is an apt topic for us to explore together at Convocation in the fall. Right now, many of us are searching for community, for a re-found sense of our shared Olin-ness, and for meaning about how the disruptions of the past year impact the way we think about ourselves as individuals. Yu’s story asks us to pay attention to the small things we do and to explore what they might tell us about who we are. It’s a very short piece that’s relatively easy to read but offers a big opportunity for complex thinking.
Charles Yu has written four books and his latest (Interior Chinatown) won the 2020 National Book Award. He has also been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series Westworld. Systems is part of The Decameron Project, sponsored by the New York Times last summer. Please note: Olin community members can access a free subscription to the New York Times by visiting: https://library.olin.edu/news.php.
The project was inspired by The Decameron, a series of short stories written in the 14th century from the point of view of young adults sheltering to escape the plague that was then decimating Europe. In response to our current pandemic, The New York Times commissioned 29 short stories from a diverse group of authors. The Times’ editors’ framing of the project reminds us how storytelling provides a means to imagine ways to come back together in the face of what troubles us: “The young people of The Decameron didn’t leave their city forever. After two weeks away, they decided to return. They returned not because the plague was over — they had no reason to believe it was. They returned because having laughed and cried and imagined new rules for living altogether, they were then able to finally see the present, and think of the future.”
We hope you will read this short story and embrace Convocation as an opportunity to launch our next chapter together at Olin.
Convocation will take place on campus (in person!) on Wednesday, September 15th from 10:00-11:30 am. Additional details about the event will be shared soon. I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am.