“What’s the wackiest thing you’ve done at Kenan?”

A few days ago, at my Kenan farewell lunch, one of my co-workers asked, as I was part-way through chewing a french fry, “What’s the wackiest thing you’ve done at Kenan?” Caught off-guard, I tried to steel myself when my mind was actually pirouetting in ten different directions—mostly around the word “wacky.” I became hyper-attuned to context: things I might describe about my job as “wacky” to my friends would likely differ from things I would share with my coworkers, and vice versa. And events that may have felt wacky to me at the time were likely not wacky to others involved—after all, perceptions naturally bend across a spectrum of personal experience.

For example: I helped lead a group of Duke undergraduates around Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for a week, despite my lack of intimate knowledge re. the immigration and citizenship dynamics affecting Dominicans and Dominican-born Haitians as well as my several years’-untested Spanish. The students seemed to have a blast, but I was tense the whole time—tense in my confusion of how to comport myself while there, and tense in helping to ensure the students’ safety. (In the end, it was taking a risk to use my modicum of Spanish that helped me feel more connected.) I accumulated just enough knowledge about something totally unfamiliar—genocide studies—to write a successful proposal for a multi-tier humanities working group. My second week of work at Kenan, back in 2013, happened to be the same week as Project Change, for which I was to assume a leadership position for a high-intensity and immersive student-centered program. I had no first-hand knowledge or experience with PChange. One of my first Kenan Insider posts tried to grapple with the surreality of that week: “How is leadership possible when you have no idea what you’re doing? The answer comes through a trust in improvisation. As a dancer, I find contact improvisation thrilling because spontaneity is the operating principle. There is no other way to proceed but to make choices in the present moment: how my body could fill the negative space created by yours; how my movement could connect with yours if I initiate with, say, my hip—instead of the more typical choices: an arm, a leg.

Working in the capacity of postgraduate fellow at Kenan for nearly two years has been similarly thrilling, and sometimes terrifying, and ultimately clarifying. Not only have I been exposed to and been forced to reckon with that which I do not understand or know inherently; I have also studied and presented, through various events, work and ideas that I love; these events in turn have allowed me to determine why I love them (and want to defend them) in the first place. A film series on the American South. A nonfiction-centered visiting writers series engaging two women writers whose words, and practices, I deeply admire. These programs helped me continue my long engagement with bolstering the visibility of the arts—and particularly the underrepresented arts—on this campus. Seeing 150 people—including a handful of my friends and colleagues—fill the Nelson Music Room for Leslie Jamison‘s reading felt like a love-letter back to myself, a freshly-graduated Dukie, passionately demanding that other students—and everyone, really—take more seriously the things they love so as to open up the possibility of connecting with others over them.

On that note, perhaps one of the “wackiest” things I’ve done at Kenan is buy more than 100 new books for the Kenan library. (Yes, we have a library.) I bought one half through Amazon and one half through The Regulator, which is and will continue to be one of Durham’s finest gems even as the downtown landscape changes. I walked in on a slow afternoon earlier this week and two booksellers very graciously curated piles of their own that they thought Duke students, staff, and faculty would enjoy reading. My self-created dictum: relatively contemporary titles; a good balance between fiction, dynamic nonfiction, poetry, and graphic [novel, memoir, etc.]; special attention to writers of color and women writers. Those books, which represent their selections combined with my own, are now stocked at Kenan and available for your perusal. They are perhaps the best thing I can leave behind. And I’d be remiss not to share a list of those books because those books are for you.


Adler, Renata After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction
Agee, James and Evans, Walker Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Alexander, Michelle The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Antopol, Molly The UnAmericans
Baldwin, James Notes of a Native Son
Bechdel, Allison Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Behar, Ruth The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart
Bergman, Megan Mayhew Birds of a Lesser Paradise
Bishop, Elizabeth Poems
Biss, Eula Notes from No Man’s Land
Biss, Eula On Immunity
Boggs, Belle Mattaponi Queen: Stories
Bolaño, Roberto The Savage Detectives
Bourgeois, Philippe Righteous Dopefiend
Bulawayo, NoViolet We Need New Names
Butler, Octavia Kindred
Cain, Susan Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Camus, Albert The Stranger
Catton, Eleanor The Luminaries
Chandra, Vikram Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty
Chast, Roz Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Clark, Chris The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914
Cohan, William The Price of Silence
Cole, Teju Every Day is for the Thief
Danticat, Edwidge Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
Daum, Meghan The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
Davis, Lydia The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
De Beauvoir, Simone The Second Sex
Deraniyagala, Sonali Wave
Díaz, Junot This is How You Lose Her
Díaz, Junot The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Dickinson, Emily Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Doerr, Anthony All the Light We Cannot See
Doughty, Caitlin Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk
Duneier, Mitchell Sidewalk
Enright, Anne The Green Road
Erdrich, Louise The Round House
Fadiman, Anne The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
Ferris, Bill The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists
Finney, Nikky Rice: Poems
Fowler, Karen Joy We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Freedman, Estelle The Essential Feminist Reader
Gawande, Atul Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Gay, Roxane Bad Feminist: Essays
Gingher, Marianne Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers
Gornick, Vivian The Odd Woman and the City
Grealy, Lucy Autobiography of a Face
Green, Karen Bough Down
Greenwald, Glenn No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
Grimsley, Jim How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood
Gurganus, Allan The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
Harmon, Katharine You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination
Henríquez, Cristina The Book of Unknown Americans
Heti, Sheila How Should a Person Be?
Hobbs, Jeff The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League
Howley, Kerry Thrown
Jacobs, Jane The Death and Life of Great American Cities
James, Tania The Tusk that Did the Damage
Jamison, Leslie The Empathy Exams
Jamison, Leslie The Gin Closet
John Hope Franklin Young Scholars Running for Hope: A novel by the John Hope Franklin Young Scholars with illustrations from the autobiography of John Hope Franklin
Jones, Saeed Prelude to Bruise
July, Miranda No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories
Kenan, Randall A Visitation of Spirits
King, Lily Euphoria
Klay, Phil Redeployment
Knausgaard, Karl Ove My Struggle: Book One
Kolbert, Elizabeth The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Krakauer, Jon Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Kramer, Mark Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation
Kushner, Rachel The Flamethrowers
Kushner, Tony Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Leblanc, Adrian Nicole Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx
Lee, Chang-rae On Such a Full Sea
Lee, Rebecca Bobcat & Other Stories
Lewis, John March: Books 1 and 2
Love, Reggie Power Forward: My Presidential Education
Mackey, Nathaniel Splay Anthem
Mandel, Emily St. John Station Eleven
Manguso, Sara Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Manguso, Sara The Two Kinds of Decay: A Memoir
Mann, Sally Hold Still
Matejka, Adrian The Big Smoke
McBride, Eimear A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
McClelland, Mac Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story
Morrison, Toni God Help the Child
Morrison, Toni Song of Solomon
Munro, Alice Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Marriage
Murakami, Haruki The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Murray, Paul Skippy Dies
Nafisi, Azar The Republic of Imagination
Nelson, Maggie The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
Obreht, Téa The Tiger’s Wife
Offill, Jenny Dept. of Speculation
Orwell, George Homage to Catalonia
Oyeyemi, Helen Boy, Snow, Bird
Patchett, Ann Truth and Beauty: A Friendship
Percy, Jennifer Demon Camp
Piketty, Charles Capital in the 21st Century
Price, Reynolds Ardent Spirits
Rankine, Claudia Citizen: An American Lyric
Rankine, Claudia Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Saunders, George Tenth of December: Stories
Sebald, W.G. The Emigrants
Shapton, Leanne Swimming Studies
Shields, David Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
Solnit, Rebecca Men Explain Things to Me
Strayed, Cheryl Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Sullivan, John Jeremiah Pulphead: Essays
Tartt, Donna The Goldfinch
Thompson, Tracy The New Mind of the South
Tyson, Tim Blood Done Sign My Name
Waldman, Adelle The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
Wallace, David Foster A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
Wallace, David Foster Both Flesh and Not
Wallace, David Foster Infinite Jest
Ward, Jesmyn Men We Reaped
Ward, Jesmyn Salvage the Bones
Wilkerson, Isabel The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Woodson, Jacqueline Brown Girl Dreaming
Wooten, Kelly Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist and Queer Activism in the 21st Century
Wright, C.D. One Big Self
Yousafzai, Malala I Am Malala