One Community, One Book initiative celebrates 20 years

One Community, One Book has made a landmark of 20 years of serving the University of Iowa community and educating Iowa City on human rights issues.


Contributed photo of Brian Farrell.

Simone Garza, News Reporter

One Community, One Book, an initiative established to spread awareness of social justice in the University of Iowa and Iowa City communities, is celebrating its 20th year.

Since 2001, One Community, One Book has brought award winning authors to Iowa City and the UI campus. The initiative, housed in the UI Center for Human Rights, has advocated for social justice through various local events, from film screenings to book groups.

Brian Farrell, associate director for the Center of Human Rights, said the primary idea of the initiative is to educate everyone on human rights issues.

“The idea is to engage students, community members, and faculty in a common text on a human-rights theme,” he said.

Farrell said, through the initiative, people have opportunities to learn and create dialogue around human rights issues they may be unfamiliar with.

“The One Community, One Book initiative promotes conversations between students and community members, between faculty and students,” he said. “It has allowed engagement and education around human rights.”

Farrell said the initiative aligns with Iowa City’s UNESCO City of Literature values, through its advancement in literature.

“Our author visits present an opportunity to really talk about the writing process, the creative process, the author’s motivation, and their methodology,” he said. “And I think that’s something that is of particular interest in our community.”

John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said its partnership with One Community, One Book has been a meaningful one.

He said one of the most remarkable events held at One Community, One Book was in 2015, when author Bryan Stevenson talked about his book Just Mercy, at the UI.

“We connected with Stevenson pretty early, the book had just come out when we reached out to him to have him come, and it very much took off and he became much more widely known after that fact,” Kenyon said

Reuben Miller, associate professor at the University of Chicago, also has discussed his work through the initiative. He talked about his publication, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, at an author keynote through One Community, One Book, on Oct. 21.

Miller’s book was written from 15 years of research that focused on present and former incarcerated people, as well as their families, spouses, and friends, he said.

“The book is about how people experience punishment in the United States after they serve,” Miller said. “I want people to walk away with a sense of what that’s like.”

Miller said he researched about 250 people across cities, such as Detroit, New York City, and Chicago.

“The idea is the experiment to cage millions of people a year, and to hold them accountable for crimes they committed years ago,” he said.

Miller added that there are a few ways the community can help raise awareness of this issue.

“One thing we can do is we can pay attention to it,” he said. “The other thing to do is to advocate and to think carefully about the kinds of people we vote for.”

Farrell said the Center for Human Rights chooses authors through a nomination process to see if their visit would be interesting to the community.

“We want it to be a community process and an engaged process with the partners who are involved in the program as well,” he said.