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WSU selects ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ as next common read for students

Partial view of "Braiding Sweetgrass" book cover and braided sweetgrass in the background.

Washington State University has selected as its 2022-23 common read for first-year and other students the book “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Published in 2013 by Milkweed Press, it features essays that convey scientific knowledge as well as indigenous lore and reflections on subjects such as the relationship between humans and the land, sacred traditions, agriculture and land use, environmental threat and regeneration, climate change, and more. The book is divided into five sections: planting, tending, picking, braiding, and burning sweetgrass.

“I am very excited about the possibilities this selection offers in terms of topics, its utility across multiple disciplines, access, and connection with university initiatives and with our local region,” said Karen Weathermon, director of First-Year Programs, which includes the 16-year-old Common Reading Program.

WSU Provost and Executive Vice President and WSU Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton selected the book from four nominations submitted by an evaluation committee.  She said, “I think this book will dovetail superbly with our faculty cluster hire focusing on Native and Indigenous communities.”

About the author

Kimmerer is described as a mother; scientist/botanist; author; enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation; Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York; and founder and director of SUNY ESF’s Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

According to her website, “as a writer and a scientist, her interests in restoration include not only restoration of ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to land.” She earned a B.S. in botany from SUNY ESF, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in botany from the University of Wisconsin.  In 2015, she addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing our Relationship with Nature.”

Her first book is the award-winning “Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.”

Weathermon said that the book is available at no cost to all students, faculty, and staff thanks to WSU Libraries’ license for unlimited ebook access to the publication. Users can simply download the book.

Weathermon said that faculty should contact her if they wish to be on an email distribution list for common reading events and opportunities throughout the year.

Three additional nominations

Every year since 2007, a volunteer committee reviews book nominations submitted by the university community. Its top choices are sent to Chilton for a final selection. The other books sent to Chilton for consideration this year were:

  • “Klara and the Sun: A Novel,” by Kazuo Ishigura, a story about an artificial friend
  • “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” by Adam Grant, which explores intelligence as the ability to think and learn—and rethink and unlearn
  • “Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat,” by Robert Paarlberg, which offers a look at the changing worlds of food and farming

Common Reading Program

Each year, first-year and other students use topics from a shared book in classes across several disciplines, sparking discussions with professors and among students and building a community of learners. In this current year, 2021-22, the book “Tales from Two Americas” has allowed the program to host and partner with 19 other units across the university to host 92 events or exhibits that have carried common-reading credit. Students can typically select from three-to-five events per week to enhance their knowledge relating to book topics.

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