Posted in Reading Habits

Reading Habits: Kijua Sanders-McMurtry


The Reading Habits series is back!  This semester we will be talking with FYS instructors about how they developed as a reader and what they read for fun.

To kick us off, we are profiling Kijua Sanders-McMurtry.  In addition to her role as Associate Dean of Students and Special Assistant to the President on Diversity at Agnes Scott College, Kijua is a member of the Agnes Scott Common Read committee.   During the summer she wrote an excellent piece for the Common Read blog that provides great insight to her past and her personality.  To understand specifically what defines her as a reader, we sent her a few questions.

Do you enjoy reading?  How would you describe yourself as a reader?

I have loved reading all of my life. My mother taught me to read at a very young age. My family members have described me as “book obsessed!”

I would say that I am an avid reader. I really love to read magazines as well.

What kind of books do you read for pleasure/entertainment?

I read all types of books. I’ve been wowed by everything from Madeline L’ Engle’s, A Swiftly Tilting Planet to The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Most recently, I have been obsessed with books that inspire me to write.

Have you read anything recently that you would recommend?  Who do you think would like it?

I really love the writer, Pearl Cleage. I recently started reading her latest novel, Just Wanna Testify. It is a great fiction novel based upon a recurring character in her novels, Blue Hamilton. Like many of her books, it is based in the West End of Atlanta which is one of the reasons that I love reading her work. I think that everyone should read Pearl Cleage but her stories often focus on empowered women so I think that they might have particular appeal for individuals interested in reading stories about strong women.

At a book signing, Cleage recommended Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to writers interested in overcoming the dreaded “writer’s block.” I really love this book as well.  Anyone interested in developing as a writer may be interested in this book.

Do you have any memorable stories about reading that you can share?  For instance, was there a book that changed the way you read or did you struggle with reading as a child.

As a very little girl, I picked up a copy of Roots by Alex Haley and I couldn’t put it down. Alex Haley’s depiction of the horrors of slavery was difficult for me to comprehend at such an early age but it had a profound influence on my life. I also remember being transformed by Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Jacob Have I Loved, Anne of Green Gables, and Mommie Dearest. I read everything. Books allowed me to live in different time zones, interact with a diverse group of people and appreciate a variety of viewpoints. As a child, I really loved books about relationships between women either mothers and daughters or best friends.

Where do you get your books from?  Bookstore, public library, Agnes Scott Library, download to an eReader, etc.

I get books everywhere. But, I must admit that I love Barnes and Noble! In every city that I visit, I find a Barnes and Noble and I fall in love. I find great peace when I take the time to peruse a bookstore and identify a new book to add to my collection. It is literally one of my favorite places to visit and I have previously blogged about my love for this store so I won’t belabor the point.

Additional thoughts? Comments on how your reading habits connect to your FYS class?

My love for reading is what led me to develop this course.  I have spent the last several years of my life in archives exploring primary sources, conducting oral histories and reading history books. I stumbled upon Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States and I was hooked. This is the first book that my FYS class began reading this semester and I found that they were truly engaged by Zinn’s work. History can be fascinating and create opportunities for us to explore contemporary ideas about identity in ways that can deepen our understanding of our own experiences. My course was inspired by the life of Coretta Scott King. The story of Coretta Scott King’s journey as an activist is one that remains unexplored and I believed that it was time to expose students to the truth about her legacy. She stood up against apartheid when it was unpopular to do so and fought for women’s rights when very few Black women believed that this struggle was one that they should embrace primarily because of their previous exclusion from women’s movements. King was also an outspoken advocate for the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people and openly challenged homophobia in the Black community. The Legacy of the Kings (both Kings) is one that is rich for examination and I have been truly inspired by student responses to the course that I have been teaching thus far. A recent book that connects to my course and that I found very interesting is Tomiko Nagin-Brown’s, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement. It is my hope that students in this course will develop a deeper appreciation for American history and critically examine the privileges that they now have because of the sacrifices that were made for them during the period that we now know as the Civil Rights movement.

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