The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Read Between the Lines: A Q&A with Park University (Parkville, Missouri)

Parkville, Missouri


Michael Dirda kicks off Park University's Big Read with his tips on reading and appreciating Marilynne Robinson?s Housekeeping. Photo courtesy of Park University, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Central Exchange.

When I speak with Big Read organizers I like to ask them to describe their Big Read in three words. Inspiring, fun, and gratifying are words I?ve heard before, but I was struck by the answer given by Jane Wood, Park University's Big Read coordinator and the university's Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Wood described her city?s Big Read as ?Impassioned, creative, impactful.?  The university's Big Read certainly lives up to these strong words with programming that brings new insights into Marilynne Robinson?s Housekeeping both as a novel and as a jumping off point for an exploration of important issues in their society.

NEA: Why did you choose Housekeeping for your community?s Big Read book?

JANE WOOD: Because we looked at images of war and masculinity, among other important themes, in the Hemingway Big Read (in 2007), we (Park University, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Central Exchange) wanted to look at the other side of the coin, and that was Housekeeping.

NEA: What were some of the unique activities that your organization planned for The Big Read?

WOOD: The kick-off event with Michael Dirda, one of the first reviewers of Housekeeping when it was originally published, was a phenomenal success. Titled "Housekeeping Tips from Michael Dirda" we had almost 400 people attend the event (on a stormy April 6th evening) and receive a free copy of the book, our itinerary for events, and a Reader?s Guide to the novel.

Our second creative event took place on April 29 at the Central Exchange, which is the ?premier organization in the Kansas  City area supporting women leaders? and was titled "Housekeeping: A Case for Corporate Gender Diversity." I began the evening?s program with a discussion of the novel and how it explores the need for gender diversity in society. We then segued into a panel event featuring Doranne Hudson, executive in residence at the UMKC Bloch School; Denise Kruse, president of Addams-Gabbert and Associates; and Mary McClure, management director for McClure Management Consulting and board member of Quik Trip. More than 40 women and men attended this discussion on the importance of women in the home and in the boardroom.

We also offered the community an academic discussion at Park University at which Park University English majors, who wrote academic papers on the novel, presented them at an event titled "Postmodern Paradox: Literary Criticism and Housekeeping." We will close our Big Read on Wednesday, May 12 with "A Conversation with Marilynne Robinson" where the author will join us for her own personal story and her thoughts about the novel with Anglea Elam from New Letters on the Air.

NEA: What has been your favorite Big Read moment, either from this year?s program or your past Big Read?

WOOD: There have been so many! Certainly one of the highlights from the Hemingway Big Read was the kick-off event that featured Steve Paul, an independent scholar and Senior Writer and Arts Editor at the Kansas City Star, sharing his article "Reading the Young Hemingway's Kansas City Star, 1917-18."

The Housekeeping event at the Central Exchange was also a fascinating and creative discussion by community women and a few good men about the importance of gender diversity in all realms of society.

NEA: In what ways has your community benefitted from The Big Read?

WOOD: Community members have learned the integral role that Kansas City played in Hemingway?s life and literature, as well as reaffirming the importance of the Midwest landscape and its people to the settling of the American west. I believe that people also have reconnected with the library as a place of creative and stimulating community conversations.

NEA: Why should other cities participate in The Big Read?

WOOD: To read amazing literature! Also, participating in the Big Read allows people to meet members of their respective communities in environments that encourage education, activism, and civic engagement around relevant literature.

NEA: What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

WOOD: That by and large community members undertake the reading and exploration of the novel with serious intent and deliberation. People were, and are, genuinely concerned and invigorated by the reading and discussion process.


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