Academics Arts and Humanities

One Book, One U selection aims to spark interesting conversations

The 2023-2024 choice of the common read program is Jonathan Escoffery’s “If I Survive You,” a series of eight short stories set in South Florida.
One Book One U
Jonathan Escoffery’s “If I Survive You.” Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

In its seventh year, the “One Book, One U” program was established with the mission of choosing a book that would unite the University of Miami community around a topic of diversity and inclusion and could spark conversations and dialogues around that topic. 

“The goal of One Book, One U was to engage different parts of the UM community in a conversation,” said Chantel Acevedo, professor of Creative Writing in the College of Arts and Sciences, who helped to establish the program in 2017. “The selected books should allow us to think about big issues and ask how we might solve them together.” 

Copies of the books were distributed for free during ’Cane Kickoff fall orientation and are still available at several access desks at the various University Libraries. Faculty members are encouraged to incorporate the book into their curriculum. 

Taking into consideration that the University is in South Florida, it became important to engage readers in issues relevant to the region as well as to select authors that have been underrepresented, Acevedo said. Past selections have included themes such as climate change, the housing crisis, racism in the U.S., and immigration. 

“The books, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, spark important conversations that are important to our region and nationally and globally, as well,” Acevedo said. 

The authors of most of the previous One Book, One U selections have visited campus and presented their work. Some of these include Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat, who wrote “Brother, I am Dying,” and Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” 

Jonathan Escoffery
Jonathan Escoffery

The 2023-2024 selection of One Book, One U is “If I Survive You” by Jonathan Escoffery, a Jamaican American, who is a graduate of Florida International University. The book has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the coveted literary award for fiction. Escoffery, who now lives in California, will visit the Coral Gables Campus in February. 

Donette Francis, director of the Center for Global Black Studies and member of the One Book, One U committee, nominated the book. She will include “If I Survive You” in both her undergraduate and graduate classes next semester. 

“Jonathan’s book is particularly relevant, not only because he is from South Florida, but because he addresses a variety of issues: how young adults make ends meet after college; how hurricanes shape regional migration and create new neighborhood patterns such as Cutler Ridge; the subtleties of how racialized identities shift across different spaces; and how humans build resilience in face of adversity,” she said. 

In his book, Escoffery writes eight interconnected stories that deal with issues such as immigration, identity, father/son relationships, colorism, income disparity, and how to navigate life after college. 

“There is something for everyone,” Francis said. 

Meg Merrill, student success librarian at the Otto G. Richter Library and chair of the One Book, One U Committee, enthusiastically endorsed Escoffery’s book. 

“It is good to have an author who grew up here and is talking very deeply about issues in South Florida such as immigration, race, and the environment,” she said. “All these things are so amazing and he brings it up in such a unique way. It will give students who may not have grown up here a unique perspective on South Florida as the place they have chosen to live and study.” 

Acevedo also noted that the book touches upon questions of masculinity, which has not been part of the discussions before. 

“This book speaks very directly about these issues,” she said. “What does it mean to be a man, a father, a son? These are interesting questions to discuss.”

The Instructor Reading Group discussion is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 12 p.m. Register here.

Learn more about the One Book, One U program.