Friday, December 21, 2007

Seasons Greetings

Happy Holidays from

Kick off the new year with a great book. D.C. is reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY in 2008. Get a head start. Download The Big Read "The Great Gatsby" discussion guide at, and learn about the national initiative.
Stay tuned to this blog site for more information and announcements about The Big Read - D.C. (April 24 - May 24, 2008).
The Big Read addresses the national decline in literary reading as documented in the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) 2004 landmark survey Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. The Big Read, is presented by the NEA in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, to encourage literary reading by asking communities to come together to read and discuss one book.
photo: F. Scott, Zelda, and Frances "Scottie" Fitzgerald. Source - Princeton University Library.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Washington, D.C. selected to host a 2nd Big Read in 2008

November 13, 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Washington, D.C. was selected to host The Big Read in the first half of 2008. Read press release.

Washington, D.C. will be reading, discussing, and entertaining themes from F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY from April 24 - May 24, 2008.

D.C.'s Big Read 2008 is presented by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

This will be the 2nd D.C.'s Big Read for the co-presenters. In 2007, the city book was Zora Neale Hurston's THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD.

SAVE THE DATES! Read the book!

For more information, contact the Humanities Council of Washington, DC at 202-387-8391.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Through the Storm...The Winning Student Essays

PEN/Faulkner Writers and Schools and Hurston/Wright Foundation have selected the winning essays for D.C.'s Big Read. Local high school students were asked to describe a life-changing event evocative of the literal storm featured in the novel or to write about how they connected with one of Hurston’s characters.

The following students will read an excerpt from their essays at D.C.'s Big Read's LAST CHAPTER closing event Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. at Busboys and Poets (2021 14th Street, NW). Call 202-387-8391 or email for information. The essays will also be read on WPFW's 2K NATION May 27.

First Prize: The Storms in My Life by Francisco Garcia of Bell Multicultural High School.

Finalists: My Dream by Ana Maria Alverez of Bell Multicultural; Lessons for a Lifetime by Ivory Sarceño of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Listen, Read, Watch

A couple of links and highlights about D.C.'s Big Read from the past 10 days.

D.C.'s Big Read "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Download the WAMU podcast featuring Clyde McElvene (Hurston/Wright Foundation), Joy Ford Austin (Humanities Council of Washington, DC), and Michon Boston (Project Manager, D.C.'s Big Read)

The Afro American Newspaper via New America Media (posted May 9, 2007)

This week's issue of The Northwest Current has a feature on page 17. No web version available.

Submitted - View a slide show of the Petworth Friends of the Library D.C.'s Big Read event (Sunday, May 8, 2007) on You Tube:
D.C.'s Big Read/Petworth

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

That's What Friends Are For...

The Literary Friends of the Library had a big weekend at branch libraries where friends and more friends gathered. Robin Diener shared some highlights:

Saturday at Cleveland Park, the Smithsonian's Deborah Machanic presented a wonderful slide show of related artworks and period photographs to accompany her brilliant commentary on Zora's works, themes, and "lives." A darling counterpoint was provided afterwards by one of the librarians (Bill last name sorry?) who gave a witty rundown of informative tips for forming book groups. This event was arranged by Librarian Beth Meyer who did an outstanding job. About 30 attended.

The Petworth event was "A Sunday Go To Meeting" sort of thing -- three hours and two sheet cakes! -- beginning with Howard University professor Lorraine Henry whose scholarly insights were also heartfelt and moving. The middle section consisted of spellbinding readings by part time librarian Nubia Kai and professional actress Denise Hart (Miss Anna of "The Wire"). Nubia wrote a series of "transitional pieces" that tied together the readings really superbly. Finally, Mrs Henderson's book club, based at the library for more than a decade, actually led us in what could best be described as a reading group workshop. Altogether it was perfectly spectacular. Friends President Elsa Johnston acknowledged loads of help from others especially librarian Anthony Porter, but must be congratulated for such a great show as a newly elected President. The food alone was worth the trip. About 45-50 attended.

Wednesday evening the Friends of the Georgetown Library will meet at Tudor Place with an encore presentation of "Why I Love Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Saturday, May 5, 2007

My Vaulting Ambition!

Was Janie ambitious?

Certainly her creator, Zora Neale Hurston, staked a claim on her ambitions. "Oh, if you knew my dreams! my vaulting ambition!" she wrote to her patron, Annie Nathan Meyer.

Barnes & Noble Georgetown hosted a discussion of THEIR EYES... with WPFW radio personality Keanna Faircloth. A small group of 5 met by the photography books -- all readers of the book including a visitor from Connecticut passing time before a younger relative escorted him to make a wedding date (don't worry, it wasn't the groom).

Janie was the topic of much of the dialogue.
What were her four loves? What made her special in her community? Was it just about the hair, skin tone, and a pleasant disposition? Was finding true love her lofty ambition? Or was living by her own rules her life's dream despite the judgements of her grandmother, her spouses, her neighbors?

Her creator, Zora Neale Hurston continues in her letter to her patron:
Prometheus on his rock with his liver being continually consumed as fast as he grows another, is nothing to my dreams. I dream such wonderfully complete ones, so radiant in astral beauty. I have not the power yet to make them come true. They always die. But even as they fade, I have others.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Chapter 9

Chapters: A Literary Bookstore is presenting a marathon reading of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Today Colbert King , columnist for The Washington Post , read Chapter 9 to the group of listeners. A few people have become regulars of the reading series. NEA Chair Dana Gioia is scheduled to read the final chapter May 18th. In the meantime, the saga continues.

Marathon Reading - 1 pm, Mon. - Fri. @ Chapters: A Literary Bookstore, 445 11th Street, NW (nearest Metro - Metro Center). Call 202-737-5553.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Continuing Talk On Race (May 6)

One of Zora Neale Hurston's stand out moments and entrances was her 1925 announcement of the 2nd place prize for her play at the Opportunity magazine awards party. She flung a colored scarf around her neck and with great drama bellowed "Colooooooor Struuckkk!"

Hurston's work reveals a deep awareness of colorism within the African American community. In the play "Color Struck" Hurston's main character, Emma, a dark-skinned woman "so despises her own skin that she can't believe any one else could love it," according to one of the characters.

Each month, Busboys and Poets is the setting for a continuing talk on race or A.C.T.O.R. Pamela Pinnock has been organizing these dialogues and this Sunday, May 6th from 4 pm until 6 pm (Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW) A.C.T.O.R. is exploring colorism.

The A.C.T.O.R. discussion will use Their Eyes Were Watching God as the framework for a series of small group discussions around the following questions:
1. What is the experience of Hurston's pivitol character -- Janie -- as it relates to her skin-color?
2. What is your own experience as it relates to skin color?
3. How do issues of race an skin color play out in today's society?

Ah just couldn't see mahself married to no black man. It's too many black folks already. We ought to lighten up the race.
—From "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Colorism within the African American community makes use of the degree of blackness or whiteness to assign privileges says David Krasner in Migration, Fragmentation, and Identity: Zora Neale Hurston's Color Struck and the Geography of the Harlem Renaissance published in S&F Online, a publication of the Barnard Center for Reserach on Women (Zora's NY alma mater).

Filmmaker Kathe Sandler explores "color consciousness" in her documentary A Question of Color which will be shown at Busboys and Poets May 5th at 11 pm, the night before the A.C.T.O.R. discussion as part of the In Focus! films for D.C.'s Big Read.

Hurston/Wright Foundation founder and author Marita Golden explores it in her book
Don't Play In the Sun:
There are so many words to describe African-Americans' pernicious, persistent dirty little secret— colorism, color-conscious, color-struck, color complex. And then there are the more specific descriptive terms that separate Blacks and create castes, and cliques, and that are ultimately definitions not of color but of culturally defined beauty and ugliness and that can end up distributing everything from power, to wealth, to love. High yellow, high yalla, saffron, octoroon, quadroon, redbone, light brown, black as tar, coal, blue-veined, café au lait, pinkie, blue-black.

How does colorism translate or play in non-African American communities?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

D.C.'s Big Read and the Georgetown Library

They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

Yesterday we all watched the news with disbelief as two DC neighborhood landmarks -- Eastern Market and the Georgetown Public Library -- were engulfed by flames. Georgetown Public Library was scheduled to host a D.C.'s Big Read discussion yesterday evening.

But in times of trouble, communities pull together. At the request of the Humanities Council, Tudor Place, one of Georgetown's historic homes, will host the Literary Friends of the DC Library's program of dramatic readings and discussion of THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD:

Zora Neale Hurston Out Loud
Wednesday, May 9 at 6:30 pm
Tudor Place (Visitor Center), 1644 31st St. NW between Q and R Streets
Readings from the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God performed by George Washington University Professors Jennifer James and Gayle Wald.

And Featuring Discussion of the Zora Neale Hurston’s masterpiece novel of the Harlem Renaissance Their Eyes Were Watching God

• Discussion of the Novel
• How to Form a Book Group
• Borrow a “Book Box” for your reading group
• Refreshments provided by the Friends of the Georgetown Neighborhood Library

Monday, April 30, 2007

Tea Cake: A Hip Hop Character (?)

Monday, April 23rd, we videotaped DC WritersCorps' presentation of poetry and spoken word inspired by Their Eyes Were Watching God. In an informal follow up discussion one of the young poets remarked that he saw Tea Cake as a "hip hop character."

What makes Tea Cake a hip hop character? A man who played blues guitar? Why do young women identify with Janie and why is she an important character for them to explore? Janie didn't live by the rules set for her. What were her rules? What and whose rules do the characters (and we) live under just to get by?

These are some of the questions inspired by the young writers of DC WritersCorps.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Zora Neale Hurston's Washington

Nearly 30 people showed up today to take the guided tour of Zora Neale Hurston's Washington. Kim Roberts, who wrote the tour for D.C.'s Big Read and neighborhood historian Judith Bauer split the group into two tours at the steps of Howard University's Founders Library. D.C.'s Big Read is so lucky to have a book whose author considered Washington, D.C. her stepping stone into society.

As Zora wrote to her friend Langston Hughes,
"What do you think I was doing in Washington at that time if not getting cultured."

What cultural treasures do Washington, D.C. natives take for granted? What are newcomers discovering? What are we all missing? What do we bring to this city?

Download the complete self-guided tour from