On the evening of last Monday, room 3075 of Deerfield Hall was home to the last UTM Reading Together meeting of the semester, hosted by the English and drama department of UTM.
“I started thinking about doing something where faculty and students can come together, you know, from different departments at the university to talk about a common text,” explained professor Melissa Gniadek, an assistant professor in the UTM English and drama department, and the founder of this reading group.
“Basically, after the U.S. elections last year, when people wanted a space to kind of come together as a community and talk about issues that were overrising” says Gniadek. The professor however wanted to keep discussions centered around “a text so that it was grounded,” she continued. Some of Gniadek’s colleagues at American universities had started similar reading groups, which gave her the idea to bring one to UTM.
Some of the books the UTM Reading Together group previously focused on were James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and the English translation of Sinan Antoone’s The Corpse Washer.
The book selected for the last ‘Reading Together’ meeting was Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, an anthology of essays that discussed hope and its necessity.
“I chose [this book] because it […] encapsulates a lot of the rationale, the motivation for this group [like] how do you hope and not despair? How do you work to actively change things in small ways, maybe?” said Gniadek.
“Even if it’s through getting together with smart people three times a semester and talking about a text, that’s a thing. That’s change-making—even in a small way because you’re thinking and talking. That’s the idea of the group, in a nutshell,” summarized the English professor.
The professor and the students then proceeded to pour over the book and discuss what parts they liked, disliked, and what stood out to them. They mentioned Solnit’s writing style and past work, and how the essays in Solnit’s book “didn’t feel like essays.”
Ultimately, two passages in Solnit’s anthology stood out the most to all the readers: One about mushrooms, and the other one about—as expected—hope.
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures, and the grinding down of the poor and marginal,” read Gniadek from Solnit’s book.
“To hope is to give yourself to the future—and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable,” Gniadek continued from book. “Hope just means another world might be possible—not promise, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”