‘Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic’ picked as VCU’s 2017–18 common book

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Journalist Sam Quinones’s award-winning 2015 book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic” has been selected as Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2017–18 common book. 

“Dreamland” tells the story of the rise of black tar heroin and painkiller addiction in the United States, and how the opioid epidemic is devastating communities and leaving thousands dead. In Virginia last year, there were 1,133 fatal overdoses brought about by heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.

“This year’s common book draws our attention to an important issue that cuts across all sectors of our society,” said Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean of University College and director of the VCU Common Book Program. “The opioid epidemic in America is a national and regional crisis that invites analysis and problem-solving from a broad range of disciplinary fields.”

The book will provide “a unique opportunity to explore the topic from a wide range of areas of study across both VCU campuses,” Fowler added.

“We intend to take a proactive focus on the issues ‘Dreamland’ raises for all of us, and connect the VCU and Richmond communities in exploring collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches that can help address the problem,” she said.

Each year, the Common Book Program chooses a book that explores societal issues without easy answers, thereby encouraging students to move beyond singular solutions to complex problems. Copies of the book will be distributed to all incoming first-year VCU students, who will take part in Welcome Week discussion groups and then engage with the book more deeply as part of the curriculum in their Focused Inquiry classes.

“The Common Book initiative introduces our first-year students to the academic and intellectual culture of the university,” Fowler said. “Because the selection committee chooses a common book that emphasizes the exploration of complex social issues through an interdisciplinary lens, we also have an exciting opportunity to introduce students to the importance of connecting their intellectual work to real-world problems.”

The program in University College works with the faculty of the Department of Focused Inquiry, as well as university and community partners to provide introductory, experiential learning opportunities for first-year students. This year, the program will also work with VCU’s Wellness Resource Center, the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program (I2CRP) in the School of Medicine, and the VCU Graduate School.

The Common Book Program is not just for incoming VCU students. All VCU students, faculty and staff, as well as Richmond community members, are invited to read “Dreamland,” and will be encouraged to attend a variety of public events across the Monroe Park and MCV campuses that will explore the opioid crisis and other themes and issues raised by the book.

Organizers say the selection of “Dreamland” will build on the momentum of last year’s common book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” a 2014 memoir by lawyer and Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson spoke at VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center in April, capping off a year’s worth of events at VCU and in the community focused on the book’s themes of criminal justice reform and pursuing true mercy and justice in society.

“Dreamland” was chosen by a committee of VCU faculty, students and staff, which picked the book in recognition of the fact that the opioid addiction is on the rise across the country and affecting nearly every community.

“This book gives an in-depth perspective on how this epidemic has shaped the current narrative of our nation and what we can do to change it,” said selection committee member Jazmine Allen, a rising senior majoring in criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “It is a great choice for 2017–18 Common Book because it not only is informative, but tells a great story as well. Students can expect to walk away with a deeper understanding of the underlying causes of drug use in this country.”

It will be great for our incoming freshman class to show them a struggle that they may or may not relate to but help them understand other’s points of view and life stories. 

Tammie Goode, also a member of the selection committee and a junior marketing major in the School of Business, said the book will engage incoming VCU students, as well as the VCU and Richmond communities.

“I feel like Dreamland did a great job of bringing together so many different stories and people to show that while our narratives as humans are all different, there are beautiful and equally tragic things that we share,” she said. “I loved this book and it will be great for our incoming freshman class to show them a struggle that they may or may not relate to but help them understand other’s points of view and life stories. It could help our freshmen start the conversation about their lives and struggles, much like Sam Quinones did.”

Katie Logan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry, said the Common Book Program allows Focused Inquiry students to witness real world applications of the research, writing, and critical thinking skills they learn in our classes.

“‘Dreamland’ will introduce students to sorely needed research on the rise of the opiate epidemic in the United States, one of the direst medical and economic crises in the country today,” Logan said. “Sam Quinones’s work addresses a wide range of socioeconomic issues that leave communities vulnerable to the epidemic. His book will model for our students how to develop research and writing projects that can increase their levels of engagement with both their home communities and their new community at VCU.”

“Dreamland” will also be read by incoming students in the School of Dentistry, as part of the school’s summer reading experience that focuses on ethics, ethical decision making and professional responsibility.

“Perhaps there is no ethical issue facing all of health care, including dentistry, which looms larger at this time than our nation’s opioid crisis,” said Carlos S. Smith, D.D.S., assistant professor in the Department of General Practice and director of the school’s ethics curriculum. “There seem to be no better theme and time to unite our School of Dentistry first-year reading experience with the VCU Common Brook program than now. We look forward to the better shaping of our students into consummate dental professionals as a result of this book and initiative.”

Copies of “Dreamland” will be available to be checked out from both the James Branch Cabell Library on the Monroe Park campus and the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences on the MCV campus. Copies also will be available for purchase at the campus Barnes & Noble bookstores and other area book shops.


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