on the power
“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
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
For more information about the Summer Reading Program, refer