The Summer Reading Program is an opportunity for incoming students to participate in a shared intellectual conversation with the IWU community; to express ideas about a common text that many IWU students, faculty, staff, and alumni are reading; and to respond respectfully to ideas others bring to the discussion.  IWU is committed to the Summer Reading Program because reading, as well as reflecting, discussing, and writing critically are central to the mission of our liberal arts college.

The Advising and Summer Reading Committee, in coordination with the University's Speakers Committee, has selected Madonnas of Echo Park (2010) by Brando Skyhorse for the 2014 Summer Reading Program.   The University's mission encompasses a comprehensive worldview toward citizenship and life in a global society, as well as a commitment toward social justice and the value of diversity. Skyhorse’s book is a series of interconnected fictional stories of working class men and women living in Echo Park, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, and offers a window into the lives of Mexican Americans as they struggle to define their identities in the context of pursuing the American dream. 

Students are expected to purchase and read The Madonnas of Echo Park over the summer of 2014, as well as complete the guided reading questions.  Written responses should be brought to the small group discussions during Turning Titan: New Student Orientation on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Mr. Skyhorse is scheduled as the speaker for the President's Convocation on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 11am.

About the book:

Each chapter in The Madonnas of Echo Park uses a different voice to portray the lives of Mexican Americans who live and work in Echo Park—migrant farm worker, gardener, dishwasher, bus driver, house cleaner, gang member—weaving the characters in and out of the stories and using different time frames. Skyhorse’s stories paint a vivid portrait of the lives of Mexican Americans by offering a variety of perspectives, while at the same time drawing together the threads of their lives and struggles through their common connection with a random shooting of a young girl.

About the author:


Born and raised in Echo Park, CA, Brando Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at the University of California, Irvine. For the past ten years he has worked in New York publishing. His next book, also forthcoming from Free Press, is a memoir about growing up with five stepfathers. (Biography retrieved from



Madonnas Website

Guided Reading Questions

Discussion Questions

Facilitation Tips

Ames Library Guide

Past IWU Selections

2013 -- Outcasts United:  An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to
Make a Difference

by Warren St. John

2012 -- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

2011 -- Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri

2010 -- No Impact Man: The adventures of a guilty liberal who attempts to save the planet and discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process
by Colin Beavan

2009 -- Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time
by Greg Mortenson and
David Oliver Relin

2008 -- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

2007 -- Mountains Beyond Mountains
by Tracy Kidder

2006 -- Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America
by Barbara Ehrenreich

2005 -- Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley