A portrait of Elizabeth Rush with the cover of the book \"Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore.\"
Elizabeth Rush's book, "Rising," addresses human and nonhuman lives, race and class, geography and economics, emotion and reason amid a growing climate crisis. (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Rush)

VCU’s next Common Book is ‘Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore’

The 2018 book exploring climate change and sea level rise will be read by first-year VCU students and the university community.

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Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore,” a 2018 book that provides a look at the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on coastal communities, has been selected as Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2021-22 Common Book.

The book by Elizabeth Rush was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction and was the winner of the National Outdoor Book Award. As VCU’s Common Book, it will be read and discussed by incoming first-year students, as well as the wider university community.

From the book’s publisher, Milkweed Editions:

With every passing day, and every record-breaking hurricane, it grows clearer that climate change is neither imagined nor distant — and that rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways. In “Rising,” Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and from New York City to the bay area. For many of the plants, animals and humans in these places, the options are stark: retreat or perish in place. Weaving firsthand testimonials from those facing this choice — a Staten Islander who lost her father during [Hurricane] Sandy, the remaining holdouts of a Native American community on a drowning Isle de Jean Charles, a neighborhood in Pensacola settled by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago — with profiles of wildlife biologists, activists and other members of these vulnerable communities, “Rising” privileges the voices of those too often kept at the margins.

VCU’s Common Book Program, sponsored by University College and the Office of the Provost, is a universitywide initiative that aims to welcome new students into the vibrant intellectual culture of VCU. It aims to provide students with an opportunity to explore complex social issues through an interdisciplinary lens.

This year marks the Common Book Program’s 15th year (it was previously called the Summer Reading Program). University College Dean Constance Relihan, Ph.D., who has written on how common book programs can create a united campus and community culture, said, “‘Rising’ will encourage all of us who are part of the VCU community to engage in a thoughtful, interdisciplinary conversation of the realities of climate change and how we can respond to it. Climate change is a subject relevant to all of our students, regardless of their major or their career goals.”

For 2021-22, the Common Book for the first time will be distributed digitally to students as an e-book.

“Rising” was selected by the Common Book Selection Committee, an interdisciplinary committee with representation from nearly 20 VCU departments and units, along with undergraduate and graduate student input, because it explores a topic that is current and relevant and promotes inquiry and exploration across numerous disciplines.

“The reality, risks, effects and responses to climate change are frequently debated at the global and national levels, with implications at the local level,” said Felecia D. Williams, Ph.D., associate dean of University College and director of the Common Book Program. “Rush’s work explores how humans adapt to changes enacted upon them by forces seemingly out of their reach, from ecological transformation to political revolution.”

Rush is also author of “Still Lifes from a Vanishing City: Essays and Photographs from Yangon.” She is a visiting lecturer in English at Brown University.

In addition to integrating the Common Book into the Focused Inquiry curriculum of UNIV 111 and UNIV 112, faculty in University College foster partnerships across both campuses and within the broader Richmond community. Students are provided opportunities to explore the real-world application and problem-solving each fall.

VCU and the Richmond community will hold a number of public programs and events this fall featuring experts who will discuss climate change and rising sea levels. Rush will deliver a keynote address about the book on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. The event will be free and open to the public.