Community Reading Project welcomes author to GVSU

GVL / Courtesy - Brian Jbara
Brian Jbara

GVL / Courtesy – Brian Jbara Brian Jbara

Grand Valley State University students, faculty and staff will join with community members for the 10th annual Community Reading Project, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Sheri Fink.

Published in 2013, Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial” gives readers a narrative of what happened at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. As an investigative reporter, Fink dug into the controversial actions of the nurses and doctors, who euthanized patients.

Fink writes, “But what does the ‘greatest good’ mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best ‘quality’ years of life saved? Or something else?”

The GVSU Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies is the main sponsor for the event. Brian Jbara, director of the Office of Integrative Learning and Advising, is part of the planning committee that coordinates the event and decides which book to use. The committee consists of faculty and staff from university departments, as well as those from the Herrick District Library in Holland.

During the three-month process, the committee keeps in mind book recommendations from students and others before presenting the final decision.

“We are really focused on books that are cross-disciplined and that are also accessible,” Jbara said. “Each year, the goal is to select a common book that both campus and the community can engage in. We focus on bringing people together to discuss it, to create a common dialogue.”

Despite high costs, Jbara said the Community Reading Project will continue at GVSU because of its student focus.

“It creates a year-long learning experience for students to learn more about that issue,” Jbara said. “It builds a sense of community where people are learning together, inside and outside the classroom. It’s a high-impact practice.”

Community partners for the series change every year depending on the book choice, Jbara said. For example, Spectrum Health is one of this year’s partners because of the book’s medical content. Jbara added that this focus can help form connections between groups as well as between individuals and the subjects discussed.

Maureen Wolverton, liberal studies affiliate faculty member, has been on the planning committee since the beginning of the Community Reading Project.

“One of the most exciting aspects of the Community Reading Program is the author visit,” Wolverton said. “For many students, this is the only chance they will have to explore a book in depth and meet the author who wrote the book.”

Wolverton is currently involved through her interdisciplinary studies special topics class, where students read and analyze the book.

“Students find ‘Five Days at Memorial’ fascinating because there are no heroes or villains in this book,” Wolverton said. “Fink gives no easy answers to solving the complex problems presented, but she provides critical context for each of us to consider the ethical and moral dilemmas in our own way.”

There are no prerequisites for GVSU students who want to enroll in this course. Wolverton said this is important because reading is an important part of a liberal education, such as the one GVSU provides its students.

“Martha Nussbaum tells us that reading cultivates the ‘narrative imagination’ and this fosters our ability to empathize with others,” Wolverton said. “When we read a book like ‘Five Days at Memorial,’ we empathize with the doctors making life or death decisions. We empathize with patients and their family members seeking answers. We empathize and we ask ourselves the question, ‘What would we do given these circumstances?'”

Sheri Fink’s lecture will occur at 7 p.m. on March 25 on the Allendale Campus. The event is free and open to the public. Those who are interested can purchase “Five Days at Memorial” at the GVSU Bookstore.

For more information, visit To suggest a book, contact [email protected].