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Summer reading selection focuses
on the power of forgiveness

“Picking Cotton,” the true story of an unlikely friendship between a woman and the innocent man she sent to prison, will be the 2010 summer reading book at Carolina.

As part of its Summer Reading Program, the University asks all first-year and incoming transfer students to read a book the summer before they enroll and participate in small group discussions about it, led by faculty and staff, the day before classes begin.

A nine-member selection committee of students, faculty and staff began meeting last fall to consider books for the program, now in its 12th year. They chose “Picking Cotton” on Jan. 25 in a unanimous vote.

The book was written by the reconciled pair, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton – both of North Carolina – with help from writer Erin Torneo.

Jennifer Thompson was 22 and a college student in 1984, when an African-American man broke into her North Carolina apartment and raped her at knifepoint. Thompson, who is white, subsequently picked Cotton, then 22, out of a line-up. He went to prison on a life sentence, proclaiming his innocence.

Eleven years later, Cotton was allowed to make use of a new technology and take a DNA test; it proved that he did not commit the crime. UNC law professor Richard Rosen was one of two lawyers who represented Cotton pro bono during this time.

Two years after his release, Cotton and Thompson-Cannino met, and Cotton unreservedly forgave her.

Selection committee chair Bill Balthrop, a professor of communication studies, said the book accurately depicts the inside workings of the legal system, but its theme is far more encompassing. 

“It is a powerful story about sexual assault, the criminal justice system, and how two people’s lives were changed forever,” he said. “But it is also about faith, friendship and the power and virtue of forgiveness.”

The committee chose “Picking Cotton” from 282 different books cited in 428 nominations, submitted by students, alumni, faculty and community members.

For more information about the Summer Reading Program, refer to www.unc.edu/srp.

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INSIDE THE PRINT EDITION: February 10, 2010

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