Jennifer Young had only held her position as an English teacher for one semester when the opportunity to coordinate the UAB BookTalk series arose.

The UAB BookTalk series has enjoyed a long, successful run because of the participation of the English department faculty and a loyal group of readers, says Jennifer Young, the series’ coordinator. The spring session will begin Feb. 2.
To understand her excitement about the possibility of leading the long-standing English department program, you have to understand a little of Young’s background; she had a small but significant history with BookTalk despite never attending a program.

A Hurricane Katrina evacuee, Young saw an advertisement for the BookTalk series in a local newspaper shortly after relocating to Birmingham with husband Ed Higginbotham in 2005. Young, an avid literature reader, immediately felt a connection with the idea of the BookTalk series and what it could provide for her.

“When I was trying to find a place in Birmingham, trying to find home when home was ripped away from me, BookTalk was one of the things I contemplated participating in,” she says. “I thought that might be a way of beginning to find my place. I wasn’t able to do it, but knowledge that it was there as an option was valuable.”

Young spent a year at the University of Montevallo before being hired at UAB. When the BookTalk offer came soon after, she was more than happy to embrace it.

“I absolutely jumped at the chance when the previous coordinators were ready to pass the torch,” Young says. “I feel really strongly about BookTalk. It’s a fabulous outreach by the English department to the larger Birmingham community.”

Faculty participation key
BookTalk has enjoyed a long, successful run because of the participation of the English department faculty and a loyal group of readers, Young says.

Eight English faculty volunteer to lead one session each per academic year.

“This couldn’t happen without volunteers from the faculty who choose to do this when I put the call out each summer,” Young says. “There are several faculty who really love this format and have been repeat leaders.”

William Hutchings, Ph.D., professor of English, has led one session each of past 10 years. He says BookTalk offers a unique opportunity to bring serious discussions about quality literature to the UAB campus community and the greater Birmingham area.

Faculty hosts select the book they want to feature, and Hutchings says the fact that a different faculty member leads the conversation each month guarantees a diverse selection of topics.

“The only criteria are that the book we select should provoke the interest of the entire campus community — faculty, staff and students — and it should generate lively discussion,” Hutchings says. “By that standard, BookTalk has been a remarkable success. It also encourages us to look outside our own areas of interest, which is always a good thing.”

For example, Hutchings specializes in modern British fiction and drama, but contemporary American authors have written many of the books he has chosen to feature.

“They have interested me because of their unusual narrative perspectives or because the characters are somehow problematic,” Hutchings says. “For an English professor, of course, there is no greater joy than sharing really fascinating books with interested readers.”

Young brings ‘enthusiasm’
Because Hutchings has been a part of BookTalk almost since its inception, he has a unique perspective on its evolution.

He says the series has been fortunate to have talented coordinators who have helped the program grow, and Young is very much in that tradition.

“She brings a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to any and every opportunity to share the joy of reading and the fun of literary conversation — especially when there’s much about which readers can disagree,” Hutchings says. “She’s especially adept at steering conversation, at eliciting reactions and at provoking insights and discussion. And she’s especially generous and welcoming to anyone who wishes to attend. She knows each person brings a perspective worth contributing and has a voice worth being heard.”

In fact, after her first year of coordinating BookTalk, Young considered “cleaning up” the mailing list. She said some of the people on the list did not attend an event during her first year, and she wondered if they wanted to be taken off the list.

One person on the mailing list who had not attended a session the previous year came to a special 10-year BookTalk reception this past September. While talking to her, Young recognized her name and asked if she didn’t want to be included on the list any longer.

“She told me she had read every book on the list, but never had the opportunity to get here,” Young says. “She used it as a start to her own personal reading list and wanted me to know she enjoyed getting the book lineup. That suggested to me the same thing I felt when I saw that advertisement for the class the first time. The fact that the opportunity was there was in and of itself important. That had been profound for me — and to hear it echoed from an Internet follower was really gratifying.”

UAB BookTalk is in the middle of its 11th year. The spring semester sessions begin Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Sterne Library Henley Room. For more information on the series, or to sign up to be on the BookTalk mailing list, contact Young at

Spring UAB BookTalk schedule

  • Feb. 2, Grass Widow: Making My Way in Depression Alabama, hosted by Instructor Becky Duncan
  • March 2, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, hosted by Assistant Professor Cassandra Ellis
  • April 6, The Rape of Shavi, hosted by Instructor Rabi’a Hakima
  • May 4, Unaccustomed Earth, hosted by Professor William Hutchings

UAB BookTalk meets from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Sterne Library Henley Room.