Common Reader

2024-2025 NEHS Common Readers & Scholarship Changes

For the first time in many years, the NEHS Advisory Council has selected two texts as the 2024-2025 Common Readers, Kazuo Ishiguro‘s Klara and the Sun (2021) and Jesmyn Ward‘s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017).

Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing was chosen as one of the Common Reader texts by Chapter Advisors and student members because of its “luminous prose,” “its lyrical and haunting story,” and “its deft address of racism.” The text, which was named one of the New York Times’ top 10 books of 2017 and which won the 2017 National Book Award, charts the life of a family living on Mississippi’s Gulf coast.

The novel skillfully pulls together the themes of life and death; the connection between animals and humans; family life, slavery, and freedom; and the supernatural in a story that follows 13-year-old Jojo, his mother, father, and sister as they travel across Mississippi and learn about troubling secrets of the past.

Sing, Unburied, Sing was released to rave reviews, many of which compared the impact of the text to works by William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Colson Whitehead (a former Common Reader author). The Guardian noted that the book provides a “fierce critique of US history” while the Los Angeles Review of Books suggested that the text allows important “people and stories to be remembered.”

Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun is a dystopian science fiction story that follows Klara, the solar-powered AI friend of a sick girl. Chapter Advisors and student members felt that this text will serve as a “gateway to this talented author’s many other works,” will “challenge readers to reflect on what it means to be human,” and will provide a profound introduction to “many of the hot-button issues of our time: the dangers and effects of AI, dysfunctional families, dependence on technology, and the obsession with kids getting ahead.”

The plot follows Klara on her path from innocence to experience and discusses issues of ethics, faith, humanity, love, and sacrifice. As a non-human, Klara has a unique opportunity to observe and analyze human interactions while caring for Josie, a sick teenager who is looking for companionship.

Klara and the Sun was released in 2021, was immediately nominated for the Book Prize, and formed one of The Washington Post’s 10 best books of 2021. NPR declared the book “a masterpiece that will make you think about life, mortality, the saving grace of love,” while The Atlantic and The Economist compared it favorably with Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, another text about a master-servant relationship. Publisher’s Weekly believes the text “is a delight.”

Please advise your rising seniors of the titles of the 2024-2025 Common Reader texts and check your classroom and school libraries for copies of the text. If you need to purchase texts, we recommend doing so from BetterWorldBooks or independent bookstores, such as Left Bank Books, our 2024 independent bookstore partner.

Important Changes to NEHS Scholarship Applications

Applications for NEHS Scholarships to be awarded to seniors graduating in 2025 will begin earlier than normal. Each of the chosen Common Reader texts will have its own dedicated award cycle, allowing student members to write and submit two essays (optional) to the competition.

Submissions related to Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing will take place during the Fall Awards Cycle (October), while essays on Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun will be submitted during the Winter Awards Cycle (December/January). Submissions in both award cycles must be made through the NEHS AwardSpring platform.

This change reflects the NEHS Advisory Council’s wish to ensure that students have more flexibility in choosing the text they want to write about and when they submit their work. Students who choose to submit two essays (in each of the award cycles) will contend for an NEHS Scholarship with their highest scoring essay.

Essay questions for Sing, Unburied, Sing will be available in mid-August and questions for Klara and the Sun in early November.

If you have any questions about the changes noted above, please email NEHS Director Christopher Lockwood.

More from NEHSXpress: May 15, 2024

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