This year’s freshman common reading, Guantánamo Diary, is Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s harrowing account of his imprisonment and torture in the infamous jail where he remains, despite having never been formally charged. Writer and activist Larry Siems edited Guantánamo Diary, and will deliver this year’s William Starr Lecture, which is traditionally given by the author of the common reading selection.
The talk, "Finding Mohamedou, Finding Ourselves: Uncensoring the Guantánamo Diary" will be held on Thursday, September 24, 5:30pm, in the Villard Room of Main Building. This event is free and open to the public.
Siems, whose career has balanced writing and activism, edited Slahi’s first-person account of the brutal interrogations inflicted upon him by his U.S. captors. “It's extremely humane,” Siems says of the book and Slahi’s writing. “It's a dehumanized, dehumanizing world that Slahi lives in, but he stubbornly holds to his own humanity and insists on observing and recognizing and preserving the humanity of all those he's dealing with, too. And so as a result of that, the book isn't completely a journey to the heart of darkness at all. There's a lot of light and redemptive moments in it.”
Addressing how this book was selected for the common reading, Susan Zlotnick, dean of freshmen and professor of English, says that “the incoming freshmen have grown up in a world defined by the events of 9/11, and the conflicts, including the war on terror, that followed,” Zlotnick explains. “This book, which recounts Slahi’s extralegal rendition, imprisonment and torture in the name of national security, fills in some of that recent history for our students. Moreover, Guantánamo Diary asks its readers to ponder ‘big’ questions about guilt, innocence, and justice as well as to reflect upon the consequences of a never-ending war.”
Siems has served as the director of Freedom to Write Programs for PEN America, the U.S. branch of the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization. He is also the author of The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post 9/11 Torture Program (2012) and editor of Between the Lines: Letters Between Undocumented Mexican and Central American Immigrants and Their Families and Friends (1992).
This event is sponsored by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Freshman Writing Seminar Program, and the Vassar First-Year Program.
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