Oswego's campuswide read to key on Dust Bowl, sustainability

Timothy Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time,” a story set during the environmental catastrophe known as the Dust Bowl, has earned the nod as SUNY Oswego’s 2013 Oswego Reading Initiative selection.

Cover of The Worst Hard Time“The message is so important,” said Associate Provost Rameen Mohammadi, who chairs the ORI selection committee. “As a campus that cares so much about sustainability and what we do to the Earth and how much responsibility we have. What have we done before and what have we learned from it?”

Extreme dust storms in the 1930s, brought on by drought and overuse of the land through naive farming methods, caused devastation in the nation’s Midwestern breadbasket, forcing thousands of families from their homes.

Egan’s book follows several families and their communities trying to survive the suffocating dust storms and persevere in a time of extreme trial.

As a society, “we are very prone to making the same mistakes, and that’s where books like this are important,” Mohammadi said. “This environmental disaster was manmade.”

SUNY Oswego has made the environment central to its mission. For example, the campus offers 35 sustainability-focused courses. President Deborah F. Stanley was an early signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, and the college received a silver rating in the STARS higher education sustainability tracking system in 2011.

Student involvement

A key factor in the success of ORI is that members of the committee meet with students at freshmen summer orientation to discuss the importance and benefits of the reading initiative, Mohammad noted.

Mohammadi hopes to convene students at the beginning of the fall semester and start a type of club where they can discuss Egan’s book, which the associate provost described as a difficult but rewarding read.

Egan is scheduled to visit campus Sept. 25 to speak with students. The Seattle-based writer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist and columnist. In 2006, “The Worst Hard Time” won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

“Game of Thrones” screenwriter David Benioff, author of last summer’s ORI book, “City of Thieves,” is set to appear at 7 p.m. April 24 in a free presentation at the Campus Center arena.

For more information about the Oswego Reading Initiative, visit www.oswego.edu/ori.

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(Posted: Feb 13, 2013)

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