The Big Read Blog (Archive)


Venetian Mask photo by ralev_com via stock.xchng

The folks at Illinois' Quincy Public Library are reading The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe for their Big Read program, and they've planned out a calendar full of events, including film screenings, lectures, theatrical performances---even a blood drive! But the ones that got me really excited were their Make your own Mask: a Teen Venetian Mask Workshop and The Masque of the Red Death: a Teen Macabre Masquerade Party.

On Wednesday, October 19th, teens were invited to participate in a mask-making workshop, creating Venetian-style masks to be worn at the masquerade party on October 28th. On that evening, teens will be greeted by Prince Prospero for a night of costumed revelry, complete with food, drink, a local rock band---even their community theater is involved! Death will be making an appearance, and revelers will have a chance to give him their calling card. But to add to the awesomeness, there will be decoy Deaths as well. Only those who gift the correct Death with their calling card will be entered into a contest for the Grand Prize!

I thought this was a great idea, and recently had the opportunity to talk with Deborah Riddell from the Quincy Public Library about this event and the rest of their Big Read plans.

NEA: This is your third time as a Big Read grantee. What made you choose The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe as your book this year?

DEBORAH RIDDELL: The reason really had to do with how we could incorporate programs with his work and draw from multiple community resources to partner with us. The idea of a Victorian funeral procession came to us in a brainstorming meeting and we went on from there.

Quincy is a very old city, rich in history. The idea of hosting Poe?s funeral at the John Wood Mansion, a lovely museum and home of the Quincy and Adams County Historical Society, fit very well. We just hosted the Kick-Off with close to 1,000 seniors, adults, and students joining us for a lovely luncheon on the lawn of the mansion, with the artistic director of the Quincy Community Theatre portraying the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. Immediately following his performance, he was put to rest in a coffin in the parlor as over 460 students and adults passed through and viewed the coffin. It was an appropriate and delightful kick-off to our Big Read.

We also have a university in town where we were able to draw on professors from the English department to do a lecture series for us. And we also worked very closely with the schools to sponsor a writing contest and an art contest for students as well. In addition, we couldn?t pass up the idea of a Masque of the Red Death Halloween Party for teens. So as you can see, the programming was really the driving force behind our choice.

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

RIDDELL: The community has been behind The Big Read 100 percent. The Big Read Kick-off event was highly anticipated and well-received. We had folks asking for the books weeks in advance, and after having received the grant for the past couple of years, the community has really come to expect and anticipate the program. We have even had organizations coming to us to ask if they can partner with us on The Big Read because they want to be involved with such a successful program. The Quincy Art Center is a new partner this year, and it was their idea to sponsor a POEster Art Contest. We let them run with it and they are holding a reception for the winner at the Art Center. We have even included our Illinois Veterans Home in the book discussions with over 15 book groups discussing this book across the city. So, to answer your question, the city has overwhelming embraced this project.

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

RIDDELL: I guess the biggest surprise is the sheer number of folks who have come out to support our efforts. From Illinois veterans to 6th graders, we have had such a tremendous city-wide response.

NEA: In reading about Big Read events, I was struck by these two events---the mask-making and masquerade sound like so much fun! Can you tell us a little more about them? How did you come up with the idea?

RIDDELL: Well, I went searching on the internet for party ideas using the Masque of the Red Death as a theme. I came across a group in Akron, Ohio that had sponsored a Masque of the Red Death Party as a fundraiser for their Civic Center. It was a totally adult party with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, but I thought, how can we change this up and make it a teen-friendly event? So basically, we borrowed the idea from them and brainstormed the rest with my Teen Advisory Board kids. They really were a big help in planning the party. They thought it would be really cool to have Death arrive at the party like he does at the end of the story. And we have this lovely bridge that is the entrance to our library, so the kids came up with the idea of torches lighting the way as the revelers promenade in. The rest then just fell into place. They did their research on 18th-century masquerade parties and loved the way the masks were worn, so we decided to ask everyone to wear a mask to the party, and then they thought, why don?t we make our own mask? So there is the history on the mask-making workshop.

NEA: What other events in particular are you looking forward to?

RIDDELL: I think the ending party is going to be spectacular! The Quincy University Players are going to be acting out some of the works of Poe, along with local musicians and dance troupes. The ending event is proving to be a rival to last year?s event, which had an attendance of around 2,000 people. We are even bringing this performance to a local area parochial high school for an additional performance, and we are so excited.

NEA: Any last words?

RIDDELL: This year has been the most exciting creatively. The programming was so much fun to plan, and the marketing and events team worked very hard to bring it about. We have a very creative and diverse group of programmers and what one didn?t think of, the other one did. So we sparked each other?s imagination, which was lovely. I just hope we get to continue doing this program. Our community loves it!

For those of you interested in learning more about Quincy Public Library?s Big Read events (including the upcoming masquerade), go to For more information on Edgar Allan Poe?s work, please visit The Big Read website.


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