Academic First Year Experiences

Archived 2017-2018 Common Read: Between the World and Me

To the Entering Freshman Class of Fall 2017

The cover displays the title and the author's name in thick black capital letters against a white background.Welcome to Cal State Northridge! CSUN's Freshman Common Reading for 2017-2018 is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

As a new freshman, you are invited to read this book and to discuss it as part of a campus-wide community of readers. If you are enrolled in UNIV 100, you will have the opportunity to read Between the World and Me as part of the course. But even if you're not taking UNIV 100, reading and talking about the book will remind you that shared intellectual engagement is at the very center of the academic community that you are about to join. The Freshman Common Reading Program invites everyone on campus to think, talk, and learn together across and beyond the boundaries of the classroom by using the book as a starting point.

Read this book; talk about it with other students; discuss it with faculty, with staff, with administrators, with friends, and even--who knows?--with your family. 

About the book

This book is a work of literary non-fiction in which the author writes about his own life in the form of an extended letter to his fifteen year old son, Samori. Coates writes in order to explain to himself, to his readers, and to his son what it means to grow up as a black male in the United States at a time when it still seems necessary to assert that "black lives matter."

CSUN Selection Committee members praised the book as "timely," "pertinent," and "powerfully written." A student member noted that it "brings a very important topic to the table."

Between the World and Me was the 2015 winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction. The book "pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son . . . . Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation's history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of race, a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?" (See

Coates has also written extensively for the Atlantic Monthly (see According to many readers, the book takes up the conversation about race in America where James Baldwin stopped in his 1963 book, The Fire Next Time.

The book raises significant questions about social justice, poverty, race, national mythology, history, crime, and ethics.  Its themes connect to courses taught in many departments at CSUN, including Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, Central American Studies, Chicano/a Studies, Criminology and Justice Studies, English, Gender & Women's Studies, Journalism, Marketing, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Social Justice, Sociology, Stretch Composition, and of course University 100.

Assignment ideas for faculty and staff interested in discussing Between the World and Me

Discussion topics and classroom assignments faculty and staff can use with Between the World and Me are posted on the faculty-staff resource page. If you have a new idea to add to this collection, please email it to Susanna Eng-Ziskin, Oviatt Library.