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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Glover

Read This, UAFS’ own multidisciplinary literary program to receive $10,000 grant

Early this weekend it was shared with Lions Chronicle staff that Read This, UAFS’ own group reading program, had submitted a grant request totaling ten thousand dollars for the 2024 school year. This amount was granted thanks to the request put in by Dr. Ann-Gee Lee on the program’s behalf! Read This, a reading group created by Dr. Keith Fudge in 2009, is a campus based literature program that includes both UAFS proper and the greater Fort Smith community.

The Chronicle reached out to Dr. Ann-Gee for an interview to get a better understanding about both the grant itself and the Read This! program at large.

Please Introduce yourself and describe your role within Read This!

I’m Ann-Gee Lee, the Assistant Chair/Professor of the Department of English, Rhetoric & Writing, and Media Communication. (Our nickname is the Department of All Things Fun and Educational)

I have been with Read This since Spring 2015. Since then, I have co-chaired with different faculty/staff. Lynette Thrower of Student Affairs has been my co-chair for the past year in the reading of The Nickel Boys.

The UAFS page for Read This gives a good albeit brief summary of what the program is about and what they’re currently doing. Could you tell our readers a little bit more about what exactly this program is?

Read This is a big-read program, meaning that a huge body of people are reading the same book simultaneously. It starts in Comp II and spreads to different departments and offices on campus and then it extends throughout the community to the high schools, libraries, coffee shops, book clubs, and more.

It’s like an octopus, but with more than 8 legs. :) We are using it as a vehicle or bridge to get people involved in reading with us, coming to campus, attending our events, and ultimately hearing the author (when we can afford them). It’s kind of our secret recruiting tool. We want people to come to campus, feel comfortable coming back again and again, and learn some interesting things.

If you could distill all the ideas and goals of those involved with Read This, what would be the mission statement/vision for the program?

We tackle some heavy issues through various disciplines and perspectives through reading, writing, research, discussion, and social events. To quote our website link:

“The interactions with others help us further understand the diverse populations of our campus and community and make us more informed citizens and more enlightened human beings.”

It is clear to me that this is not your typical college book club, it is something more. What sets apart this reading program from others on different campuses? In what ways will the grant improve this ability to stand out?

It’s kind of like a giant book club. :) Not really, but each classroom that reads it or each book club that reads it becomes a community through the shared experience of reading/discussing the book. We try to hold book discussions in the community at different places, but we should probably have some more on campus so that students in different classes can get together and talk about the book, too.

Could you explain a little bit about the selection process for the books and author visits Read This hosts?

The English department who teaches the book generally in Comp II are the ones who decide what to read. The author visits depend on who is paying for them to come.

We always try to find a way to bring the same author or a supplemental author, who is just as good.

Who chooses what is read? Can any member contribute to this decision?

The committee–who consist of not just faculty, but staff, students, and community–can propose book ideas; again, it is the English instructors teaching the book who make the ultimate decision.

One recent book decision, and a great one I might add, was Colson Whitehead’s The Nickle Boys. I also had the privilege of attending Colson Whitehead’s campus talk back in February. To you, what are you most excited for/appreciative of when it comes to visits from authors, especially critically acclaimed ones such as Whitehead?

I find it so valuable to hear about the authors’ writing processes and their own interpretations of their own stories. They are also really cool people to talk to and interact with. We get to ask them questions to clarify our understanding of the books. Of course, our time with them is fleeting and they will never remember us, but for us, these are indelible moments.

With this grant now under your belt, what is Read This most looking forward to next year? Who’s up next to visit?

Our next speaker is Dr. Erin Kimmerle who wrote We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys. She and her team have been working on the exhuming and identifying the bodies. She said by email that she can come speak (maybe once in the day and once in the evening) on April 19, 2024, but we still need to work out the formalities.

She is an Associate Professor at University of South Florida and is in charge of the Florida Institute of Forensic Anthropology. She has been all around the world excavating mass graves and helping identify bodies. She is also an artist and has her own podcast, Signal 8.

(Note: The grant doesn’t cover her visit, but we are using Day of Giving funds)

This grant, to me, sends a message. It makes clear that UAFS is serious about continuing to invest in literature and the arts. Reading in the form of physical book copies is argued by some to be a dying medium. What do you think draws yourself and others to this program and this medium of storytelling?

What draws me to Read This (though it should be time for me to pass it on to someone else soon) is the way it brings students, faculty, staff, and the community together. We also tackle heavy issues through fiction and non-fiction. It’s these untold stories that unfold that intrigue us and make us want to dig deeper historically and psychologically, hence the writing and research aspects. For Killers of the Flower Moon, we looked at David Grann’s story through a forensics lens; for example, Prof. Don Balch did a talk about everything they did wrong in the murder investigations and also set up a mock murder scene for us to figure out. This interaction is a great way to educate.

In your opinion, how will this grant contribute to the growth of the program in a more general sense?

This is our third year receiving the grant. A couple years ago, we bought 500 copies of Killers of the Flower Moon; last year, we got 502 copies of The Nickel Boys; and this year, we are getting more copies of the Nickel Boys and 100 copies of We Carry Their Bones for Comp II instructors, the Read This committee, and administrators who like to read along.

Finally, for those who may not know of Read This, how can they find more information and get involved beyond what’s on the UAFS page?

We’ve been around since 2010, but every time we have a program, it seems like people don’t know we’re here. Well, we’ve been here, and we’d love for you to join us!

We always need volunteers and help in spreading the word about the program. These events are free and open to the public, and we welcome anyone to come.

As we enter the 2024 spring school year, Read This will continue to be working on campus and in the community, wrapping up their program for The Nickle Boys. In the future, make sure to visit the Read This UAFS page Dr. Lee mentioned for updates about event scheduling to stay updated when the next book program rolls around. Additionally, you can follow their Facebook page to stay more closely connected to what the program has got going on, listed below. Thank you again to Dr. Ann-Gee Lee for her time, and an extra large thank you to the Arkansas Humanities Council Board of Directors for making this grant possible!

Get Connected with Read This!

UAFS Page:



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