Eula Biss, author of Kansas University’s first common book, “Notes from No Man’s Land,” doesn’t necessarily hope for students to take away broad ideas from her award-winning work of essays. Instead, she hopes that they will ask questions.
“What I hope for most are that the questions opened from these essays are engaged with,” she said. “I would hope that some of these questions about what’s our responsibility to each other as human beings might get engaged with in a serious and substantial way.”
It was fitting, then, that Biss dedicated much of her speaking time at the Kansas Union on Thursday night answering the questions of KU students who had both read and discussed her book.
Students and others filled the Union Ballroom to hear the author read excerpts from her works and to interact with her.
“It’s really a great discussion starter for a lot of students,” said sophomore Drew Harger, of McPherson. “It says we are all different, and that’s a good thing. It really starts to break down barriers between people.”
Breaking down barriers and creating discussion was one of the goals for the KU Common Book Program, in its first year.
The program distributed Biss’ book among KU’s 5,000 incoming freshmen in hopes of fostering both critical thinking and discourse.
“I think it has really been fantastic,” said Sarah Crawford-Parker, director of the Office of First Year Experience at KU. “In the remarks that (students) shared they expressed an appreciation for being able to meet the author and ask questions that allow them to dig more deeply into the book.”
The questions posed to Biss varied from her inspiration for a specific essay to what effect she believed race would have on the upcoming election.
But regardless of their questions, numerous students expressed an ability to relate to the work, as well as the influence the book had on their world view. And the book has given at least one freshman an avenue to connect with her classmates.
“I did start a conversation on the bus where I said, ‘Hey, have you read the common book?’ and now I’m friends with that person,” said Kalen Stockton, of Topeka.“I think it’s really neat that we will have this book that we can converse over.”
Biss will answer additional questions about her work from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. today at The Commons at Spooner Hall, 1340 Jayhawk Blvd.