SMU Reads: Common Reading


Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond

Evicted-BookCoverWelcome to the SMU Reads Common Reading Program!  The Common Reading Program is an established start-of-school tradition at SMU.  As the incoming class you will receive the book during the summer at AARO and should read it before you arrive for the start of the fall semester.

Faculty, staff, and returning SMU students have already begun reading and discussing the book in preparation for small-group conversations you will participate in before Rotunda Passage and Opening Convocation.  Your first-year writing courses will use the book as part of your curriculum for the fall semester.  

The Story 

This landmark work of scholarship and reportage takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.

Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers.

In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. As Jacob Blumgart of Slate writes, “Desmond’s book manages to be a deeply moral work, a successful nonfiction narrative, and a sweeping academic survey—all while bringing new research to his academic field and to the public’s attention.”

MacArthur Genius Matthew Desmond’s New York Times bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City draws on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data. Evicted won the National Books Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction, and the Barnes & Noble’s Discover New Writers Award, and is a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest. It was named one of the Top Books of 2016 by nearly three dozen outlets, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostPublishersWeekly, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus,The BostonGlobe, and The Wall Street Journal. Including it on her personal best-of-the-year list, Jennifer Senior of the New York Times also called it 2016’s most “unignorable” book: “Nothing else this year came close.”


The Author 

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winner Dr. Matthew Desmond is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project at Harvard University. His primary teaching and research interests include urban sociology, poverty, race and ethnicity, organizations and work, social theory, and ethnography. In 2015, Desmond was awarded his MacArthur genius grant for “revealing the impact of eviction on the lives of the urban poor and its role in perpetuating racial and economic inequality.

A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, Desmond is also the author of the award-winning book On the Fireline, the coauthor of two books on race, and the editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. He has written essays on educational inequality, dangerous work, political ideology, race and social theory, and the inner-city housing market. The principal investigator of the Milwaukee Area Renters Study, an original survey of tenants in Milwaukee’s low-income private housing sector, Desmond has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations. His writing has appeared in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

For more information on Matthew Desmond, please visit



Evicted wins the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction

"After reading Evicted, you’ll realize you cannot have a serious conversation about poverty without talking about housing. You will also have the mad urge to press it into the hands of every elected official you meet. The book is that good, and it’s that unignorable. Nothing else this year came close."  — The New York Times

"Evicted…[is a] wrenching and revelatory investigation of urban poverty in the United States."  — The Nation

"Desmond…delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative…This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience."  — Kirkus (starred review)

"Matthew Desmond tells stories of people at their most vulnerable."  — Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones

"Thank you, Matthew Desmond. Thank you for writing about destitution in America with astonishing specificity yet without voyeurism or judgment. Thank you for showing it is possible to compose spare, beautiful prose about a complicated policy problem. Thank you for giving flesh and life to our squabbles over inequality, so easily consigned to quintiles and zero-sum percentages."  — Washington Post 


The New York Times

The Guardian

The Atlantic

The Evicted book website


MacArthur Foundation, Urban Sociologist Matthew Desmond, 2015




Monday, May 8, 2017 at 12:00 p.m.: Common Reading Experience launch at the Starbucks Coffee Shop in Fondren Library.  Come by and learn more about the book.

Sunday, August 20, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.: Common Reading discussions at the Residential Commons (locations TBD).

Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 6:00 p.m.: Common Reading Event with Matthew Desmond at McFarlin Auditorium.  The author will deliver a lecture on the book and its issues, a Q&A session, and a book signing afterward.

Selection Process

Each year the Common Reading book is selected by the Common Reading Selection Committee. Chaired by David Doyle, Director of SMU's University Honors Program, the Committee solicits books suggestions from the entire SMU Community. 

Putlizer Prize 

Pulitzer Prize Announcement

Author Matthew Desmond has recieved the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City for a deeply researched exposé that showed how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty. Click here for more information on the Pulitzer Prize. 

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“Evicted is astonishing—a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty. Taking us into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, Desmond illustrates how eviction leads to a cascade of events, often triggered by something as simple as a child throwing a snowball at a car, that can trap families in a cycle of poverty for years. Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, Evicted is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country. I loved it.” —Rebecca Skloot