The Big Read Blog (Archive)

FROM THE DESK OF ARTS MIDWEST

March 25, 2009
Ohio & Kentucky

One of the most rewarding aspects of being part of The Big Read team is having the opportunity to perform site visits with communities during their programming. It reminds us of why this program is so powerful in reaching out to whole communities. The Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association?s Big Read of To Kill a Mockingbird provided us with a wealth of activities to experience.

First stop on our whirlwind visit was the Tecumseh High School, which operates behind the fences of the Ohio River Valley Correctional Center -- a maximum security youth prison that houses some of the state's most violent youth offenders. Sitting in on the class?s book discussion was an eye-opening and moving experience. It was brilliantly rewarding to hear how these young men appreciated the multiple copies of the book that the Big Read grant had been able to purchase for their use, because typically they did not have access to so many new copies.

main room of lbrary decorated with quilts and other items related to To Kill A mockingbird. Two Big Read banners are at the side

Here?s the Portsmouth Library all decked out to celebrate The Big Read.

During the discussion of the novel, a couple of the inmates explained how they assumed they would not like the book as it dealt with racism and justice. Some anticipated being offended by potential racial slurs and negative stereotypes. However, after early conversations on those topics, the inmates clearly found a great deal of value in reading this American classic together. As Tecumseh?s principal, Pat Buchanan explained while we toured the rest of the facility, many of the inmates have no experience outside the boundary of one street, let alone the state of Ohio. Most of them squarely fit the definition of reluctant readers. Reading this book allows these inmates the opportunity to follow Atticus? advice and, ?climb inside of [someone?s] skin and walk around in it.? We Big Read teamsters talk a lot about the transformative power of reading but speaking to these inmates brought that tenet vividly to life.

In a complete gear change, we spent the rest of the day on or around campus at Shawnee State University, listening to a lecture by Harper Lee's biographer, Charles Shields and visiting Portsmouth Public Library, an original Carnegie library with its stunning stain glass ceiling still intact.

The Southern Ohio Museum, which we managed to squeeze into our wonderful day are featuring a Big Read program called Altered Books, Altered Minds, A Mockingbird Odyssey, honoring students from South Webster High School for the altered books they have created as part of the Big Read Project. For those who have not come across an altered book before, this process involves recycling a book by creative means into a work of art. Books can be rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled, or otherwise adorned.

Next, we hit the road to reach Olive Hill, Kentucky by Friday?s mid-morning. Olive Hill Adult Learning Center (OHALC) also received a grant to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and our attendance at a meeting of partner organizers demonstrated their Big Read has surely gained the attention of the local movers and shakers. One of the smallest Big Read communities in the nation with a population of 2,100, Olive Hill is currently taking great strides in the realm of reading and public services. The city of Olive Hill very recently gained funding for its local volunteer-run library to become the first public library in Carter County after years of campaigning. OHALC?s upcoming programming includes a theatrical performance of Mockingbird, which will take place at the Olive Hill Historical Society. Housed in what was the Olive Hill High School, the building is currently under huge renovations since a massive snowfall caused the gymnasium roof to collapse.

For more information about both Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association and Olive Hill Adult Learning Center, Inc.'s programming visit the online Community Calendar of Events.

Guest post by Christine Taylor/Angharad Guy.

Photos courtesy of South Central Ohio Educational Service Center, and Angharad Guy.