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Mary Schmidt Campbell's Book Circle

The President's Reading Circle

How it All Began . . .

Common Reading ExperienceIn the fall of 2015, the Office of the President created a unique opportunity for students to engage in a collective literary program designed to introduce students to an interdisciplinary approach to the arts and liberal studies.

Designed by President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., in collaboration with members of the senior team -- Drs. Myra Burnett, interim provost of Academic Affairs; Darnita Killian, vice president of Student Affairs; and Desiree Pedescleaux, dean of Undergraduate Studies -- the goal of the program is to bring a select group of students together to engage in critical interdisciplinary discussions with the president and select faculty.

In 2016, Spelman's community of learners read "Alexander Hamilton,"  a biography written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow. From January 5-8, 2016, 30 Spelman students experienced a defining moment in their intellectual lives by embarking upon a New York excursion to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The program was received with excitement and enthusiasm, and students and faculty shared how the program significantly impacted their lives and enriched their Spelman learning experience.

The Reading Circle Continues

Alice Walker Comes to SpelmanWith support from co-sponsors Dr. Beverly Guy Sheftall, the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies, the Spelman College Women's Center, the Office of the Provost, and the Division of Student Affairs, Dr. Campbell will continue to inspire students to think critically, examine ideas, and embrace learning across disciplines as she hosts the President's Book Circle again this year.

Twenty-five students will be selected through an application process to read internationally celebrated writer, poet and activist Alice Walker's trilogy of novels —"The Color Purple," "The Temple of My Familiar" and "Possessing the Secret of Joy." From October 3-5, Walker, who attended Spelman from 1961-1963, will return to campus as the Mellon Artist-in-Residence, deliver a public convocation, attend selected classes and pay a visit to the President’s Book Circle. To complete the experience, Book Circle members will travel to New York to the see the Broadway musical, "The Color Purple."

blue-quote-leftThis demonstration project illustrates how the arts in collaboration with the liberal arts can be a catalyst for new knowledge and new ways of thinking and knowing. The arts play a critical role at Spelman, as we live in a world that requires creativity, resilience, a comfort in risk taking and with the rapidity of change in today’s world, the exercise of the imagination. blue-quote-right
-- President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.


About the Trilogy from the Publisher -- Open Road Media

As featured on

Alice Walker's Color Purple
Not only is she poor and despised by the society around her, she’s badly treated by her family. As a teenager she begins writing letters directly to God in an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear.

Her letters span twenty years and record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment through the guiding light of a few strong women and her own implacable will to find harmony with herself and her home. 


Alice Walker Temple of My FamilarIn "The Temple of My Familiar," Celie and Shug from "The Color Purple" follow the lives of a brilliant cast of characters, all dealing in some way with the legacy of the African experience in America.

From recent African immigrants, to a woman who grew up in the mixed-race rainforest communities of South America, to Celie’s own granddaughter living in modern-day San Francisco, all must come to understand the brutal stories of their ancestors to come to terms with their own troubled lives.  

Possessing the Secret of Joy"Possessing the Secret of Joy" portrays Tashi’s tribe, the Olinka, where young girls undergo circumcision as an initiation into the community. Tashi manages to avoid this fate at first, but when pressed by tribal leaders, she submits. Years later, married and living in America as Evelyn Johnson, Tashi’s inner pain emerges. As she questions why such a terrifying, disfiguring sacrifice was required, she sorts through the many levels of subjugation with which she’s been burdened over the years.

Hailed by the Washington Post as “one of the best American writers of today,” Alice Walker is a master storyteller and a major voice in modern literary fiction.

The content featured here are the words of the publisher as featured on


A Special Thank You

The College extends a special thank you to the Andrew Mellon Foundation for its support. Established in 1969, the Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies.  To this end, it supports exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.