Office of First Year Experience

English Composition Common Read

Ten Letters book coverUT's Common Read Project for Composition I 

A "Common Read" for incoming freshmen is typical at many colleges and universities across this country, and UT beleives that the freshman writing classroom is an ideal platform to promote both reading and writing.  

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President by Eli Saslow (Random House / Anchor Books, 2011) is the common read for Fall 2013

Ten Letters is organized around a series of letters written to President Obama during his first term in office by ordinary citizens on a wide range of pressing social and economic issues. Each day, the President's aides selected 10  of the most representative letters and presented them to the president in a binder; President Obama then chose a few of these to share with advisors and to respond to directly himself--in his own handwriting. Letter topics include unemployment, health care, veterans affairs, immigration, education, the environment and school bullying--in other words, issues that most Americans, including our UT students and their families, have most likely encountered in their daily lives. Each letter is woven into a rich narrative of the writer's life so that readers can examine the forces that shape people's lives and the decisions that they make.

We chose Ten Letters for our incoming freshman composition students for several reasons:

  • It shows that writing wields power and can effect change
  • It demonstrates how writing can connect a writer and the reader (even between citizen and president**)
  • It shows how letter writing gives ordinary citizens a way to participate in a democracy--in fact, writing gives everyone a voice.
  • It provides examples of "real-world" writing
  • It facilitates talking about and practicing effective writing

**As one letter writer put it in the book, "Even during a time of hardship and divisiveness, a man could speak his piece to the president--and the president might even answer back"


Last Updated: 6/26/15