By Gianluca D’Elia
Before comedian Trevor Noah had his own late night show on television, he grew up in post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa, with a white father and black mother in an apartment building where it was still illegal for black people to reside.
His 2016 autobiography, “Born a Crime,” was chosen this year for Rider’s Shared Read Program. In past years, Shared Read books included “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, and “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.
Although the Shared Read Program typically culminates with a visit from the author, Provost DonnaJean Fredeen said booking Noah is difficult. He spends four days a week filming his show and the other three performing comedy routines. However, she said Noah may come next semester.
Despite the challenge of booking an appearance by Noah, Fredeen found that the novel was too relevant and timely not to choose.
“I was hesitant at first about going with ‘Born a Crime,’” she said. “My rule is that the author has to be able to come visit campus, and I knew it was going to be tough. But as I started reading the book, I thought, ‘There are so many social issues in here that make it the perfect book for us to discuss on campus.’”
The purpose of the Shared Read Program, according to Fredeen, is to start conversations about “something we’ve all read.” She recalled that Ira Mayo, associate dean of freshmen, once told her, “the hallmark of an educated person is someone who can sit down, read a book, digest what they’ve read, and then talk to others about it.”
Fredeen found that the themes and topics that come up in Noah’s autobiography are accessible to a wide audience of readers and can generate conversations about current events.
“You have the issue of racism and discrimination, you have the issue of disparity in public schools depending on your race, you have the issue of petty theft and piracy of copyright material,” she said. “But you also have the joy of dance and music, and the way it can bring groups together.”
Every year, the Shared Read book is distributed to new students at summer orientation and it is commonly used in freshman seminar discussions. Emmanuel Rivera, a senior philosophy major who served as a freshman orientation leader over the summer, said “Born a Crime” was a “wonderful selection for the Shared Read.”
“Trevor Noah really does a great job presenting the challenge of being born a mixed child during apartheid, and he has both a sense of dread and humor,” Rivera said. Noah’s biological father is Swiss, and his mother is of South African Xhosa decent. Fredeen said one of the biggest takeaways students will get from the book is a sense of inspiration to “overcome odds.”
“[Noah] lived in poverty and figured out how to overcome that and have a life he’s happy with,” she said. “The tenacity and resilience he had to help him overcome those odds are something we should all take into consideration when we’re facing those days where we’re thinking, ‘How am I going to get through this?’”