Topic: Student Affairs

February 7, 2007

The Color of Water
"The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother" by award-winning author and composer James McBride has been selected as the 2007-08 Freshman Connections reader.

The book tells the extraordinary success story of McBride's Polish mother, who emigrated to America as a child. As an adult, she left her family and Jewish faith behind and moved to New York, married a black man and raised 12 children while battling racism and poverty.

McBride addresses racial identity and what it's like to be an outsider in a new community.  

The book was selected because it helps individuals ask questions about themselves and look at their core values, said Melinda Messineo, associate professor of sociology and chair of the book selection committee.

"The story was selected because it has a strong narrative thread," Messineo said. "I'm excited because this book follows two strong characters — each of the opposite gender — which will engage and be effective for the entire audience because the readers can relate the book to similar experiences."

Ball State's Freshman Connections program encourages incoming students to read a common book before they arrive on campus to create a shared learning experience, promote a sense of community and ease the transition into college. Faculty members are encouraged to incorporate the book into fall courses.

The 16-member selection committee of Ball State students, faculty and staff as well as a Muncie community member began the process with more than 130 titles submitted for consideration. The team narrowed the field to three finalists. The others included "The Devils Highway: A True Story" by Luis Alberto Urrea and "A Mighty Heart" by Mariane Pearl and Sarah Crichton.

Traditionally, the final selection comes down to a book that motivates discussion among students, faculty and staff, is accessible to first-year students and is applicable to many disciplines, Messineo said.

In 1997, "The Color of Water" won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for literary excellence and was listed as an American Library Association's Notable Book of the Year. It has sold more than 1.7 million copies in the United States and was on the New York Times best-seller list for more than two years.

"The Color of Water" was featured as the inaugural choice for New York City Reads Together, a program designed to create a citywide discussion based on the reading of one book. The program is part of the New York Women's Agenda to create a stronger city through intergenerational and multicultural dialogue.

McBride will speak at Ball State early in the fall 2007 semester. He is a distinguished writer-in-residence at New York University and has a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He has been a staff writer for and been published in several magazines and newspapers.

In addition, he studied composition at The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Ohio, and has won awards for his work in musical theater that include:

  • The Stephen Sondheim Award at the American Music Festival in 1993
  • The Richard Rodgers Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1996
  • The Richard Rodgers Horizons Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1996

For more information on the Freshman Connections program or to offer feedback on future Common Reader selections, contact Paul Ranieri, associate professor of English, at (765) 285-8406 or or visit

By Jody Kress