5 Ideas for Common Reader Events

Common Reader EventsWhile visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH, recently, I was struck by the amount of times I encountered the word “freedom” followed by a negated auxiliary verb; phrases like “freedom doesn’t exist,” or “freedom never felt so far away” reverberated throughout the museum. And while I admired the faces of those enslaved Americans, my fellow Americans, I contemplated the ideology of freedom today. It was then that I remembered a line from Cristina Henríquez‘s novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, when Mayor confesses his desire to give Maribel “the thing that seemed like everyone else wanted to keep from her: freedom” (231).

Henríquez’s novel, the Common Reader for the Sigma Tau Delta 2018 International Convention in Cincinnati, OH, is the perfect book for the convention’s theme: Seeking Freedom. The story primarily follows two Mexican families, the Riveras and the Toros, and their struggles navigating the American way of life. Despite help from their small Delaware community of immigrants, the Riveras have the hardest time adjusting to life in a new country. Their fifteen-year-old daughter Maribel has suffered a traumatic brain injury, and the United States serves as her only hope of recovery. Not long after their arrival in the states, Maribel meets Mayor Toro, the son of one of the neighbors in their building, and the two kindle a strong bond. Their love, however, must surpass the multiple confines of oppression that surround them, including racism, parental constraints, and believe it or not, the ability to drive a car.Cristina Henriquez-The Book of Unknown Americans

While it may be the perfect book for convention, Henríquez’s text can be admired by almost anyone across ethnic, social, and class lines due to its universality and capacity for real-world application. As your chapter makes plans for the year, consider hosting a Common Reader event. Your chapter can even receive a Regents’ Common Reader Award for an extra $100 toward funding your event. Here are some ways your chapter can engage more thoughtfully with this year’s Common Reader:

1. Start a Book Club

While it might sound like the oldest trick in the book (yes, pun intended), holding open discussions about texts can often reveal their complexity and meaning. This is an especially good book to bring up, because it is likely everyone who reads it can relate on some level—whether they have been ostracized because of race, class, or social status, or even if they’ve ever felt trapped in a situation where their right to be free was violated. Check out the suggestion discussions on Cristina Henríquez’s Book Clubs webpage

2. Host an “Unknown Americans” Themed Party

Does that person even go here? Bust open the creativity closet and host a Book of Unknown Americans themed party! You can have people come dressed up as their favorite characters from the novel, or they can come as a ‘mysterious unknown’ character that others have to guess. Guests can also spend the night adopting the persona of the character of their choosing. Make sure to incorporate prizes for best or most unique costume or portrayal. Don’t forget to include the Clue boardgame!

3. Host a Public Reading

If you plan to get a larger discussion of the book going, consider holding a public reading. You can plan to have the event at a local library or public area on a college campus for students and faculty to attend. You can even reach out to other clubs or organizations to co-sponsor your event in order to promote a better turnout. Pick a few of your favorite passages from the book and have audience members talk about why they think you chose that passage. Other people can come up and speak as well; not everyone in attendance has to have read the book. Try to pick some quotes you think are universally important. You can even incorporate themes for the passages, such as love, bravery, or freedom.Common Reader Events

4. Get the Facts Straight Discussion

While it might be a fictional novel, Henríquez’s book deals with universally prevalent topics, such as racism, discrimination, and sexism. Hold a discussion to address relevant facts relating to the book, like “70% of Mexican lawful permanent residents to the United States plan to stay in the US and not return to their home country later in life” (pewhispanic.org). To promote the event these facts can even be put up on posters with a picture of the Common Reader novel and distributed to students or hung up on buildings in local areas.

5. Hold a Marathon Reading

Host a marathon read-aloud at a common space on campus. Pick someone to start, and have them read as many pages as they want, then keep switching off to the next person and the next one and so forth. Of course, not everyone has to stay for the whole thing. People can walk in and out, go get a bite to eat, and come back just in time to hear their favorite part. For Henríquez’s novel, a read-aloud marathon should only take four hours!

No matter what your goal for this year’s Common Reader, never underestimate the freedom of expression. Happy reading!


Other Common Reader Opportunities

Common Reader Blog

Want to take things a step further? Try reaching a whole world of people over the web! Start a blog specifically for the book, and allow people to leave comments or write their own posts. This way, everyone can finish the book at their own pace, and still feel like they are a part of the discussion! And hey, it’s never a bad idea to try and reach out to Henríquez herself via Facebook or Twitter.

Convention Submissions

Did you know you can submit one additional paper to present at the Sigma Tau Delta 2018 International Convention if you also write on the Common Reader? All paper submissions will be accepted through Monday, October 30, 2017, 5:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time (CDT).


KCapanoKristen Capano
Student Representative, Eastern Region, 2017-2018
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter, President
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ.

Regents’ Common Reader Awards

The Regents’ Common Reader Awards provide an opportunity for individual chapters to organize and host a local event or activity based on the common reader. Chapter members do not need to attend the convention to apply. Contact your Regent and you may receive $100 for your event or activity.

Organize and host a local event or activity based on this text and apply for award money after your event. Submit to your Regent the following three documents, emailed on or before February 15, 2018:

  • A cover letter, signed by the Chapter Sponsor (or sent from the Sponsor’s email address), confirming that the activity or event took place
  • A narrative, not to exceed 500 words, describing the activity or event
  • A list of all participating persons or groups

6 Ways to Fund Your Chapter’s Trip to the 2018 Convention

Diane Vanner Steinberg and Felicia Jean Steele have co-sponsored The College of New Jersey‘s Sigma Tau Delta chapter for 11 years, with Diane co-sponsoring it with another faculty member before then. They became serious about fundraising in 2009, after the Wall Street crash, because state college budgets would no longer simply pay for student travel. Furthermore, in 2009 they suddenly began having 20+ students interested in attending and presenting at convention. It was a perfect storm of increased interest and decreased revenue. Since then, with the exception of one year, they have taken at least twenty and as many as thirty-two students to convention every year.

They typically fund raise about $500 per student attendee, counting $300 that the college simply gives them. They keep records of individual fundraising, allowing some students to travel at no cost at all to themselves, and others to cover only their registration fee. Their fundraising often covers airfare, the shared hotel room, and registration.

Read on for 6 tips from these seasoned fundraisers!

So your chapter wants to attend convention without robbing banks—and no honor student should rob a bank!

1. Attend the General Business Meeting & Regional Caucus

Remember that the Sigma Tau Delta Central Office will fund your chapter $300 ($600 for chapters outside of the continental US) if at least one student member attends the business meeting and the regional caucus on Friday during convention. This $300 may be the easiest fundraising of all! The check will be mailed to you following convention, and can help cover incidentals during your time at convention.Convention Business Meeting

2. On-Campus Resources for Student Travel

With the help of your Chapter Sponsor, your department chair, or any friendly faculty member, explore on-campus resources for student travel. In the past, we have received money from our college’s Provost; our school’s Dean; the Deans in the Schools of Education, of Business, and of Arts and Communications; the Director of the Honors Program; and the Chair of the History Department. All these administrators have not given money each year, but if we have accepted papers in different subject areas, we simply ask. Many administrators have some “flexible spending” funds, and are willing to co-sponsor specific students or the entire group. Every donation helps. Some campuses provide funds for student travel through an office of Student Life or Student Activities. Your sponsor can contact the Dean of Students at your school to ask about processes and procedures.

3. Solicit Donations from Community Service Groups

Apple DayWe have also had some luck soliciting donations from community service groups in our students’ home towns. Kiwanis, Lions and Elks Clubs, and VFW and American Legion posts will sometimes make small donations if you write them a personal letter that describes the paper that will be read by the student from their town, especially a student who graduated from a local high school that you also name in the letter. You can also contact service groups associated with congregations, dioceses, and other faith communities.

4. Chapter Alumni Donations

Another source of donations has been chapter alumni who have gone to the convention in past years. We have only asked alumni once—for the 2015 Convention in Albuquerque—and for a very specific reason: transportation costs to Albuquerque were the highest our chapter has ever had to pay. We created a GoFundMe page to collect the alumni donations, and used the Sigma Tau Delta tax free number so that GoFundMe realized we were a charity and not a collection of individuals—have your Sponsor contact the Central Office for the necessary information. We set a goal of $145 per student attending the convention, and received donations from our alumni, our faculty, and even some of the grandparents of students who were going to attend the convention.

5. Raise Funds through Hard Work

In addition to our donations, we have also raised funds through hard work. A local orchard pays school groups $90 per student volunteer per day to help with their fall apple picking and apple selling events. Additionally we have signed up with Applebee’s Flapjack Fundraiser. Both of these are very successful because of the high rates of return. 100% from the orchard, and 75% from Applebee’s (which charges us $2 for each pancake eater and our pancake tickets are $8 for all-you-can-eat pancakes, sausages, juice, coffee, and tea). Many other restaurant fundraisers earn only 10%-20% of the money members spend on food, and those returns are not a wise investment of student time. Some chapters have also organized tag sales or “leaf-raking corps,” where students donate their time to rake leaves of local residents. These efforts can also reaffirm your institution’s commitment to the local community.

Applebee's Flapjack Fundraiser

Diane with her husband and son in 2011 at Applebee’s in Lawrenceville, NJ, for a Sigma Tau Delta Applebee’s Flapjack Fundraiser. The student waitress is Sarah Reyes who was a Sigma Tau Delta convention goer.

6. Gertrude Hawk Chocolate Sales

Another nationally available fundraising group that has been very lucrative for us is Gertrude Hawk, which sells chocolate bars in $1 and $2 sizes, and which returns 40%-50% depending on how many boxes of chocolates one orders. Most members have very little trouble selling the $1 chocolate bars. Other honor societies on our campus have sold Krispy Kreme donuts. Don’t tell your campus nutritionist!

The key to fundraising success is a student member who takes charge of it. This student member can be a fundraising chair, a chapter treasurer, or a separate student for each fundraiser.


Diane Vanner Steinberg
Felicia Jean Steele
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter, Co-Sponsors
The College of New Jersey, Ewing Township, NJ

Fundraising Resources

Convention Funding
Chapter Life Fundraising
Sweet Fundraising Ideas: Holiday Candy-Grams
A Superhero Fundraiser Idea

Convention Submission Resources

Submissions Overview
Paper Submissions
Roundtable Submissions
Submissions Evaluation Criteria
Hints for Successful Submissions

Convention Submissions due October 30

#Shakespeare400: Celebrating the Bard’s Quadricentennial

As a Sigma Tau Delta member, scholar of literature, theatre-goer, or user-of-the-internet, you may have heard that 2016 was the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. The Bard left us on April 23, 1616, after penning 37 plays and hundreds of sonnets. Fans of the playwright and poet nicknamed 2016 the “quadricentennial”—or #Shakespeare400 on social media.

Quadricentenial Quote BoardShakespeare’s fans have celebrated this very special deathiversary in various ways. Theatre companies around the world showed reverence to the playwright by staging his works—one company even successfully staged all his plays within the year. The First Folio went on tour throughout the United States, thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Crown Publishing Group began releasing famous novelists’ retellings of the Bard’s works in the Hogarth Shakespeare project. At the Sigma Tau Delta 2016 International Convention in Minneapolis, MN, attendees were invited in the registration area to share their favorite lines from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets on an ever-growing whiteboard. And individual Sigma Tau Delta chapters have done their part to celebrate, too.

Celebrating the Quadricentennial

Quadricentenial ColoringThe College of New Jersey‘s Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter worked throughout the year to show Shakespeare some love. In early spring, the chapter supported the English Department’s “Romances and Tragedies” course by providing refreshments and advertising for a staged reading of Macbeth. On April 23 itself, they hosted a Death Day party. Scenes were performed, Shakespeare-themed prizes were bestowed, coloring pages featuring the Bard’s face were adorned, and cake with his portrait was served. Finally, as the quadricentennial neared its close, the chapter planned one final event.

Every December during final’s week, the Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter co-sponsors with TCNJ’s chapter of Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Honor Society a Reader’s Theatre event. This event is a staged reading of a play, advertised to the whole campus as part of Finals Fest, a huge itinerary of events for students in need of a break from studying. Traditionally, the staged reading has featured Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but last year, the two organizations decided they were feeling a different type of festive, and used the event as one last hurrah for the Bard’s 400th deathiversary.

Reader’s Theatre does #Shakespeare400

QuadricentenialBoth honor society chapters presented a cutting of The Tempest, considered by many to be a farewell of Shakespeare’s own. The 1611 romance is believed to be Shakespeare’s final work written under his sole authorship. The character of Prospero is thought to be the aging-Shakespeare’s insertion of himself into the text, as the Duke-turned-exiled-magician makes peace with his life and casts away his book of spells (often read as a metaphor for Shakespeare’s career as a powerhouse playwright). The romantic themes of The Tempest and its late placement in Shakespeare’s canon made it the perfect play to present as a final farewell for the quadricentennial.

The reading featured 16 students from both Sigma Tau Delta and Alpha Psi Omega, some familiar with the play, and others new to it. This meant that, often times, the comedic and more touching moments of the play genuinely were being experienced by the readers, making for a poignant performance. The audience was comprised of members of the honor societies as well as supportive friends, who aided the performance with their generous laughs and animated responses to the text. All attendees left with festive snacks in their bellies, uplifted spirits, and hopefully, a new resolve to face finals.

As we approach another April 23, what special events has your chapter hosted in celebration of the quadricentennial or the Bard’s deathiversary?


JBurkeJenna Burke
Associate Student Representative, Eastern Region, 2016-2017
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter, Membership Officer
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ