The Big Read is an award-winning shared reading initiative which creates a sense of community for Kingston University by posting students a free copy of the chosen title, providing a common talking point. Now in its sixth year, the project has an even bigger role to play while staff and students work remotely due to the coronavirus lockdown.
During her career, the Newsnight presenter has interviewed some of the most influential and fascinating individuals of our age, including naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the Dalai Lama, US President Donald Trump and, in the latest edition, HRH Prince Andrew, Duke of York. In Airhead, students will be taken behind the scenes to catch a rare glimpse of the before, during and after of these interviews, through Maitlis’s eyes.
Maitlis – who was Network Presenter of the Year at the RTA Television Journalism Awards for two years running – said it is was a huge honour to be chosen for the Big Read and that she wanted to share the reality of being a broadcast news journalist with students. “I wrote the book partly because I wanted to share my mistakes,” Maitlis said. “I wanted to share the things that go wrong as well as the things that go right and that seems, to me, particularly important when you’re starting out – to know that we’ve all done it wrong so many times before it goes right.”
Through the initiative, Maitlis also hopes to learn from Kingston University students in this next chapter of her book’s success. “I think I have got so much to learn from all of you now, embarking on your courses, your studying – and your careers,” she added.
Named Widening Participation Initiative of the Year by Times Higher Education in 2017, the Big Read launches each year with the selection of a book, chosen by a panel from a shortlist of six. Copies are then sent to new students before they even arrive at University, while staff and current students can pick up their own free copies on campus. Events, including an author talk and book signing, are held throughout the year to invite the University community and local residents to engage with the book.
A special edition of Airhead – published by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House – will be posted to all new students. This year, as students and staff are working remotely during the coronavirus lockdown, copies of an eBook version will be available to existing students and staff to download, with the option of a printed copy once they return to the University.
Professor of publishing at Kingston University and founder and director of the Big Read, Alison Baverstock, said shared reading is even more important now than ever before. “Books connect us – finding out that someone has read the same title as you provides common ground. But how much more important this seems right now, when we are all separated,” she said. “Our sixth Big Read, from Emily Maitlis, offers us the chance of really interesting conversations across time, space – and both mental and digital channels. And because it is grounded in her international connectivity, it feels like the most significant book we have chosen,” she added.
MA Publishing student, Klara Armstrong, 25, was one of the publishing and creative writing students to welcome having something in common with staff and students when she started at Kingston University last September. “I felt relief at having an instant conversation starter with both students and lecturers alike,” she said, recalling how comforting it was to have a copy of the latest Big Read book in her bag. “I was touched that the University had sent copies to all new students to welcome them into its diverse and creative community – a kind gesture to kick start our Kingston journey.”
Kingston University is working with Edge Hill University, Lancashire, to bring the Kingston University Big Read to their students. Edge Hill University is also committed to widening participation in higher education.
Previous Kingston University Big Read choices were The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, The Humans by Matt Haig and About a Boy by Nick Hornby.