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Letter from the Chancellor


Photo by Wayne Armstrong

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”


I love books. I always have. As I grew up in rural Kansas, books let me travel the world and meet people different from myself. My entire life, books have been a vital source of knowledge, and they have largely made me who I am. I wasn’t on the college track in high school, but the town library was where I built my own “AP classes.” There, I began my path toward theology by studying Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism. I developed my love of nature by diving into astronomy, geology and botany. I learned about great lives, lives like those of Florence Nightingale, Frank Lloyd Wright, Nikki Giovanni and Aristotle. And there, I fed my soul through poetry and fiction. To this day, I love to roam a library or bookstore. My early education was self-directed, and this made me fearless and created my lifelong respect for the power of books. Throughout my years in graduate school and through my career as a professor and administrator, I have read to learn, to rejoice, and to understand people, politics and places.

After my transition this summer, I will have more time to read. This is a gift. I plan on returning to the books that have shaped me while taking some new adventures, too. Indeed, I look forward to a summer of friends, nature, and reading — what a rare pleasure and privilege!

Chancellor Chopp’s Summer Reading List


Confessions by Saint Augustine of Hippo

If I could read only one book for the rest of my life, this would be it. “Confessions” is an autobiography about the search for connection with God through nature, friends and family.

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich (1952)

Though written in 1952, “The Courage to Be” is highly relevant today. The book examines human anxiety and serves as an important ethical and spiritual guide to courage and transcendence.

Call It Grace: Finding Meaning in a Fractured World by Serene Jones (2019)

Serene is one of my closest friends, and she is an incredibly honest and beautiful storyteller.


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955)

I love Dickinson’s economy and strength. I love her ability to speak of great things through a perfect image. Years ago, friends at Emory University gave me a first edition of her collected works. It is among my most treasured possessions.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo (2015)

This is a relatively new book by a poet I love. A leader in the second wave of the Native American Renaissance, Harjo opens windows into history, people, politics, love and humor.

The Gift by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Landinsky (1999)

I was recently given this volume by a friend. Hafiz is a Persian poet, and it is said that his poems are love songs from God to God’s beloved world.


Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight (2018)

I have heard heaps of praise for this biography about this prophetic man, a slave until 1864, who had a tremendous impact on our country.

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera (2002)

Kahlo — a woman who broke through barriers and treated the living of life as art itself — is one of my favorite artists.

Solid Seasons: The Friendship of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson by Jeffrey S. Cramer (2019)

I love books on friendship, and I can’t wait to read about the friendship between two extraordinary people who reinvented spirituality and philosophy in a distinctly American way.


The Shetland Island series by Ann Cleeves (2006–18)

Inspiration for a BBC TV show, this series of detective novels set in Northumberland, Scotland, is haunting and challenging.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (2017)

I have been a fan of Erdrich since her first novel, “Love Medicine,” published in 1984. I eagerly anticipate each new novel and book of poems from her.

Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer (2017)

Every summer, I read the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The New York Times calls this book hilarious and “full of arresting lyricism and beauty.” Sounds fun!

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