First Academic Lecture for Class of 2016 Focuses on Sustainability


Though classes do not start until September 10, first-year students are already wrapping up their first college assignment.

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Author Ann Pancake says she was “deeply honored” to have her first novel, Strange as This Weather Has Been, selected as this year’s summer reading assignment.

As part of new student orientation, members of the Class of 2016 were assigned Strange as This Weather Has Been, by Ann Pancake, as summer reading. Each year, a faculty member selects a book for incoming students and delivers a lecture about the reading at orientation.

The 2007 novel, published by Counterpoint, was chosen by Anne Kapuscinski, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Sustainability Science and chair of the Environmental Studies Program. The book follows a contemporary family living in the coal-mining country of West Virginia as they cope with a method of mining—called mountaintop removal—that is destroying the environment and their way of life.

A copy of Strange as This Weather Has Been was sent to each incoming student in early July. Pancake hopes the book, her first novel, will make students more conscious of environmental issues.

“I’m deeply honored that Anne chose my novel,” says Pancake. “What I’d like the book to give the students would be an understanding of a culture that is often maligned, and a look into the invisible costs of electricity, both human and environmental.  I also hope reading it will encourage them to envision a different kind of future for this country, one with sustainable values.”

The book challenges readers to think about how their lives are intertwined with nature, Kapuscinski says. Her lecture will relate the novel to Dartmouth’s liberal arts mission.

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Professor Anne Kapuscinski hopes the novel inspires students to think about how their lives connect with nature. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

“This literary work of fiction is informed by real lives and events and deals with timely issues at the outset of your college experience,” Kapuscinski says. “A liberal arts education offers you different lenses of inquiry through which to engage with the whole and the parts of complex issues, like the story in this book.”

Incoming students have had a summer reading assignment since at least 2002, when Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was the book and religion Professor Ron Green was the lecturer. Last year, they read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, by Pietra Rivoli, chosen by Doug Irwin, the Robert E. Maxwell ’23 Professor of Arts and Sciences, who lectured on economics, globalization, and perspective.

New student orientation begins September 4.

Keith Chapman