Undergraduate Academic Affairs

UW Freshmen to Read Dreams from My Father

Written by Crystal Chiechi

Dreams from My Father book

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama has been selected as the fourth UW Common Book by the University of Washington’s Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The UW Common Book project welcomes freshmen to the University’s academic community through a shared reading experience and provides opportunities for students to engage in campus discussions and activities focused on the book.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance is an honest portrayal of Obama as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery as a young man after learning of his father’s death an ocean away in Kenya. Separated from his father at the age of two, Obama knew his father only through the well-rehearsed stories told to him by his grandparents and mother. At the age of twenty-one, Obama decides it is time to finally confront the truths behind his racially-divided identity.

“The story is that of a search for identity, identity as an individual and identity as a citizen,” says selection committee co-chair and professor Eugene Edgar. “As the story unfolds the search also becomes a metaphor for a new definition of America, what it should and can become.”

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama attended Occidental College in Los Angeles then transferred to Columbia University in New York City. After graduating from Columbia, he studied law at Harvard University, where he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, and earned his J.D. in 1992. This book was published in 1995, before Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996. With this week’s inauguration, this book gives readers insight into the experiences shaping President Obama’s ideologies, character, and philosophy of government.

Undergraduate student Deva Wells says Dreams from My Father “complicates the issue [of race relations in the U.S.], which makes for a rich, engaging read that will challenge our conceptions of race long after we put the book down.”

Steve Oliver, co-chair of the selection committee and assistant director in First Year Programs, adds that the book “will provide faculty and staff a rich template to engage students in meaningful dialogue about complex and nuanced issues of race, identity, and purpose.”

Associate professor of drama and selection committee member Andrew Tsao said the book “connects students with history as it is being lived.”

Dreams from My Father was chosen from more than 40 nominated titles by an eighteen-member selection committee of students, faculty, and staff from across campus. Steve Oliver, assistant director of First Year Programs in Undergraduate Academic Affairs and Eugene Edgar, professor in the College of Education co-chaired the committee.

Students will receive the book at their summer advising and orientation session with the expectation that they read it before fall quarter begins September 30, 2009. The exact number of books to be handed out depends on final UW admission numbers. Last year, more than 5,500 freshmen received books.

About the UW Common Book

Undergraduate Academic Affairs initiated the UW Common Book in 2006 to welcome new students to the University’s intellectual community and to be a catalyst for engaging in experiential learning. Centered in the Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the UW Seattle campus, UW Bothell and Tacoma may also choose to incorporate the book into their campus curriculum. The UW Common Book is implemented with the partnership and support of the University Libraries, University Bookstore, and UW Alumni Association.

Selection History

  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder (2006)
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert (2007)
  • The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea (2008)
  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2009)