First in Fiction

Craven County Celebrates The Great Gatsby


Young readers from the Western Carteret Public Library in front of a replica 1922 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce

Young readers from the Western Carteret Public Library assisted the youth services librarian in creating a replica 1922 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce while the community read The Great Gatsby as part of the Big Read. Photo by Pat Deshinsky

North Carolina license plates read "First in Flight" but with five Big Read programs in the state -- perhaps they should read "First in Fiction." In eastern North Carolina, Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library -- a nine-library consortium serving three counties -- celebrated F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Librarian Joanne Straight, Craven County's Big Read coordinator, said that the nine libraries participated in the project in order to bring programming to the region that each library wouldn't have been able to facilitate individually. "We had been talking for awhile about the possibility of trying to do a regional community-read, but it had not actually gotten any farther than the discussion stages. So this was a good impetus for us to do that and know that we'd be able to do more than we would have been able to do on our own," she explained.

Including 76 diverse events and involving 29 book clubs, the regional read was programmed to appeal to multiple segments of community residents, including nonreaders. Featured events included a keynote by humorist and national Fitzgerald expert Dr. Elliot Engel and a kickoff performance by the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, the state's premier jazz ensemble. High school students participated in an "It's the 1920s Old Sport" program in which they responded to the book by creating visual art and musical and theater performances. Straight said, "We found that people who wouldn't have picked up this book on their own read it because of being involved and participating in the activities, like some of the kids who performed in the high school jazz band."

Troops and families stationed at nearby Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point also participated in the area's Big Read. (Communities are encouraged to partner with local military installations for the Big Read, an activity that's supported by The Boeing Company.) According to Straight, the base was eager to be involved. "[The base librarian] did a variety of things such as screening silent movies and holding book discussions. She had a tea party for the children with some of the stories from the 1920s and really [presented] a wide variety of programming, reaching out to the military base and dependents." The military community also was invited to join in Big Read events hosted by the county.

Straight said that the libraries now plan to collaborate on future events, including another community read. "We have made people more aware of the library, the kinds of services that we offer, and hopefully, more willing to seek us out and take advantage of us. . . . One reading group has told me that they've already penciled us in for next year; whatever we do, they'll take part in it."