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‘Picking Cotton’ is ECU’s 2011 Summer Pirate Read

By Jeannine M. Hutson

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Apr. 26, 2011)   —   A non-fiction work chronicling how two people’s lives became intertwined through a case of misidentification and a prison sentence that followed has been selected as the 2011 Pirate Summer Read selection.
“Picking Cotton” by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton and Erin Torneo will be read by incoming first-year students at East Carolina University and then discussed during the first weeks of class.
The book’s website describes “Picking Cotton” as “A shocking crime. A devastating miscarriage of justice. One man’s fight for truth. One woman’s struggle to recover. Two lives forever connected. A true story of forgiveness and hope.”
Jennifer Thompson was acollege student living in Burlington in 1984 when a black man broke into her apartment and raped her. She identified her attacker in a lineup as Ronald Cotton, who insisted that she was mistaken, but he was found guilty and sentenced to life plus 50 years. After 11 years, Cotton was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released, after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed.
Two years later, Thompson and Cotton met face-to-face and forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives, according to the book’s cover.
Thompson-Cannino and Cotton are slated to come to campus Oct. 4 for events, including speaking in Wright Auditorium at 7 p.m.
Mary Beth Corbin, who co-chaired the ECU Pirate Summer Read committee, said the group took a different approach this year to selecting the campus’ read.
“In the past the committee has come to the table and someone would say, I’ve read this book and it’s good. This year, faculty staff and students nominated books,” Corbin said.
The criteria for nominations included a book that an 18-year-old could read and understand without guidance, would promote good discussions, is around 300 pages, is relevant to currentissues, and was written by an author who would be available to come to campus.
Five books made it to the final round, Corbin said. For the first time, students were invited to be on the committee, whose members read the final nominees and discuss their fit as a campus selection.
“All five of the nominated books were interesting books, but this one was the favorite,” she said. “We had students who came back and said, I don’t like to read but I couldn’t put this book down. So that’s how we decided this was the book for this year’s selection.” 

“Picking Cotton” will be used in many classes, including introductory English 1100 courses and Counselor and Adult Education 1000. Faculty and staff are also planning other activities to complement the book, Corbin said.  
This year, the committee picked out five themes for the book’s discussion and relation to coursework – evidence, sexual assault and gender power issues, racism within the criminal justice system, memory, and forgiveness and recovery, Corbin said.
Also, the committee is generating ideas for campus-activities, including tying it to Take Back theNight, which will be held the week of Sept. 19. 

This is the fourth year of ECU’s summer reading initiative for first-year students. Last year, students read “Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009,” which was edited by Dave Eggers.
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