‘How Beautiful We Were: A Novel’ Announced As 2022 Community Reads Selection

Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jeff Bary, who serves as the director of the First-Year Seminars (FSEM) program as well as the chair of the Community Reads Selection Committee, announced on April 14 this year’s Community Reads book, “How Beautiful We Were: A Novel” by Imbolo Mbue. 

Bary announced the selection via email to the Colgate Community, writing,  “’How Beautiful We Were’ is Mbue’s second novel. It has received considerable praise from all corners of the literary world and was named one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of the Year in 2021. The book and its themes will serve as the foundation of a shared intellectual experience for the incoming class of 2026 and the Colgate community.”

Although the Community Reads novel serves primarily as the summer reading assignment for incoming first-years, the wider campus community is encouraged to read along and engage in the program. The selected novel focuses on a village in Cameroon where an American oil enterprise has arrived, polluting the local ecosystem, including the water supply. It centers around a young girl named Thula, but also integrates the perspectives of her classmates and family as they advocate for the oil company to clean up their waste. 

The book was chosen from a selection of over 200 initial nominations by the Community Reads Selection Committee and the campus community. Jasmine Kellogg, the assistant director of internal communications and a selection committee member, explained the process of selection.

“I’ve been on the summer reading committee, now called the Community Reads Committee, for the last three years. We gather text nominations in the fall from the entire Colgate community — faculty, staff and students. We receive between 200 and 300 nominations each year,” Kellogg said. “We then meet prior to the winter break to review the nominations and narrow them down to a long list, which typically consists of 10 to 15 texts centered on five or six different topics [and] themes we feel are important for this year’s community reading to address.”

Then, each committee member reads two of the books, usually over the winter break. Afterward, the committee gathers and discusses the books to narrow them down to a shortlist, which is then submitted to the community for ranking, according to Kellogg. “How Beautiful We Were” won out through the input of the committee and the greater community through multiple rounds of selection. 

According to Jennifer Brice, an associate professor of English and a selection committee member, the English department and the selection committee is delighted with the text chosen, and Colgate will be welcoming Mbue in the fall as part of the Living Writers series. 

“As director of the Living Writers program … I can tell you I’m very excited about hosting Imbolo Mbue on campus this fall. She’ll be here Wednesday to Thursday, Sept. 21-22,” Brice said. “One of my daughters studied in Cameroon for a semester in college, and I got to visit her while she was there. I fell in love with the country and culture and was excited to discover Imbolo Mbue’s work soon after I returned. ‘Behold the Dreamers’ and ‘How Beautiful We Were’ are both stunning novels, and her critique of oil industry abuses seems pointed right now.”

It is highly suggested that members of the campus community read the book, and actively engage with the novel and the community discussions. Events for the Colgate Community Reads Program will be posted shortly on the Colgate website.