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Before starting freshman year at Morehouse College, Chris Sumlin looked for how-to books that would help make college life less daunting. When he couldn’t find one, he decided to write his own.
In his new self-help memoir, Dealing with This Thing Called College: Stories to Help You Succeed in Undergrad, Sumlin (COM’19) shares candid (sometimes embarrassing) autobiographical anecdotes, like the time he almost failed a class because he assumed (incorrectly) it would be easy, or when he went on an ill-fated spending spree with his new credit card. Among other useful tips: how to save money by purchasing e-textbooks, office etiquette for your first job, how to find a mentor, and how to set goals and follow through.
Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Sumlin is a first-generation college student and his book reflects that perspective.
“The first person that goes to college gets hit, and I went first and I got hit,” says Sumlin, who is now 25 and working on a master’s degree in television at the College of Communication. “I want my book to be: here’s how you do not get hit, here’s what I learned and how to learn from that.” Published in February 2018 by Boyle & Dalton (a hybrid publisher that shares with the author the cost of producing and marketing a book), the book is available in hard copy and as an Amazon Kindle e-reader.
“We in America think that everyone just goes to college, but some people don’t know how,” Sumlin says. “So it’s important that there is literature out there in the world that shows people how you do it and how you do it right.”
Sumlin is gregarious, funny, and celebrity-obsessed. In fall 2017, he wrote a case study for a COM class on Kim Kardashian West and her self-titled video game. When he tweeted the paper’s cover to the star, she responded by retweeting his post to her 57 million Twitter followers. He has interned on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as for BET Networks, Fox, and the Turner Broadcasting System, and has met Rihanna, Chance the Rapper, Ashanti, Tyler Perry, and Denzel Washington. Sumlin says his dream is to one day work with Oprah Winfrey (he is a huge fan). “She’s tweeted at me probably four times,” he estimates.
Wow this is so cool!!! https://t.co/h307ikztd2
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) November 9, 2017
He’s also a veteran author. In 2016, he wrote and published his first book, Dealing with This Thing Called Life: The Self-Help Book for All Ages, which he says has a similar self-help vibe, but is less focused. His maiden effort got positive reviews and sold between 600 and 700 copies, encouraging him to write a second book.
That first experience taught him not to write and take classes at the same time, a mistake he made with the earlier book to the detriment of his grades. He wrote the first draft of Dealing with This Thing Called College over the summer and made edits during winter recess, incorporating editors’ suggestions on ideas, characters, and themes. Although sales figures aren’t yet available, he’s encouraged by the book’s positive word of mouth. “A lot of people talk about its relatability, with a lot of great ideas, simple stories, things they never knew about me,” he says. “I haven’t heard anything negative.”
Sumlin quotes automaker Henry Ford, who famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” meaning they didn’t have the foresight to imagine that a motorized vehicle could exist. “For me, I didn’t know that a place like Morehouse existed, and when I was at Morehouse I didn’t know BU existed,” Sumlin says. “Seek these opportunities out. If you want to go to grad school, find people who go to grad school. Find and connect with people, and find out how they became successful.”
A big believer in envisioning what you want your future to look like (a topic he covers in the new book’s first chapter), Sumlin says that what he wants more than anything is to be a best-selling author. That’s why his phone screensaver is a photo of his book cover with a New York Times Best Sellers sticker on it. “I’m visualizing it for myself,” he says.
“I get, ‘You’re too young’ all the time,” he says. “I’m trying to write books to inspire my generation. I’m not selling drugs, causing anyone harm—I’m trying to do something positive, so who am I not to do it? I plan to keep writing until I’m in the grave.”