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Common Read: 2024-2025 Heartland: Home

Text that says Kindness Begins with Understanding

2024 Common Read Book

Heartland cover imageOverview

Sarah Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland.

During Sarah’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, she enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country.

Beautifully written, in a distinctive voice, Heartland combines personal narrative with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, challenging the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less.


Viterbo Reading Guide

This fall, you will find yourself in a classroom exploring questions about identity, values, and the purpose of a college education. One of the primary texts all first-year students will use to consider these questions is Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. This reading guide reflects the types of questions you will be asked to ponder, discuss, and write on in your first weeks as a Viterbo student. During this summer of transition, we hope this book and guide will help you understand the way the stories of our past can help us heal the wounds of our present. Pax et Bonum!

Download the Heartland Reading Guide Below

First Year Experience

Viterbo First-Year Experience - Take Flight

Each year, our common read selection introduces new V-Hawks to intellectual life at Viterbo University.  As part of your first-year seminar, you will engage with one common book in which an author shares their personal story of struggle, turmoil, and success as they grapple with broader social issues of their time.  You also attend one common read event, which allows you to participate in a whole-campus conversation.

Visit the First-Year Experience Web Page

Creating Common Ground: Common Reading and the First Year of College

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Association of American Colleges & Universities


The practice of assigning incoming students “common reading”—asking them to read the same book before they arrive on campus—has gained popularity in recent years as colleges and universities have sought new ways to improve the first-year experience. Like similar public reading initiatives sponsored by cities, libraries, and television and radio shows, campus common reading programs rest on a simple idea: that reading the same book brings people closer together as a community by creating common ground for discussion.