Kansas University's second-ever "Common Book" will be an account of families who lived through the Dust Bowl by a Pulitzer Prize-winning news reporter.
KU announced Wednesday that its Common Book for 2013-14 will be "The Worst Hard Time," by New York Times reporter Timothy Egan.
The book will be distributed to all incoming freshmen during orientation next summer, and they'll be urged to read it before classes start in August. Programs incorporating the book will take place next fall, including a visit from Egan, a New York Times reporter.
Egan served along with recently retired KU historian Donald Worster as an adviser on the Ken Burns "Dust Bowl" documentary that aired recently on PBS.
KU and Egan have not yet been able to nail down a date for his visit, but it will likely take place in mid-September, said Christina Kerns, who coordinates the Common Book and other programs for KU's new Office of First-Year Experience.
The program is part of KU's efforts to connect and involve freshmen and improve retention rates.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a release that Egan's book was appropriate for several reasons, as Kansas was obviously struck hard by the Dust Bowl, and environmental issues are still prominent here today.
"The Worst Hard Time" was chosen by a committee from a pool of 125 nominations at the same time as KU's first Common Book, "Notes from No Man's Land" by Eula Biss, which was picked for this school year.
That early selection should allow more time for instructors to incorporate next year's book into their courses. Kerns said the book could be applicable to a number of different subjects, including sciences, history, policy and more.
"I think this next book has a lot of different angles," she said.
Kerns, who worked on common-book programs at two other schools previously, said she had been "pleasantly surprised" at the program's success during its first year this fall.
A survey showed that about 42 percent of incoming freshmen and first-year transfer students had used "Notes from No Man's Land" in at least one class. That was a surprise, Kerns said, as the book was not announced until April, giving instructors only a few months to add it into their lesson plans.
But this year's earlier announcement should allow for more integration, she said.
"It helps us grow the program if students can see academic tie-ins," Kerns said.
KU also announced that it's now accepting nominations for the 2014-15 Common Book from students, faculty and staff. They can submit nominations at commonbook.ku.edu.
Nominations will be accepted until the end of January, Kerns said, and the announcement of the 2014-15 book should come at this time next year.