The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: Friends of the Library, Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, VA

Friends of the Library, Virginia Beach, created a giant-sized book of Edgar Allan Poe's stories and poems to promote The Big Read. Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Public Library

Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his life in Virginia---he was raised up in Richmond, attended the University of Virginia, and worked on the Southern Literary Messenger, again in Richmond. This local connection is perhaps why three of this year?s Big Read grantees from Virginia chose to read his stories and poems. We spoke with Neva White, co-chair of Friends of the Library, Virginia Beach?s Big Read about the organization?s efforts to share Poe?s haunting works with her community.

NEA: This is the first time Friends of the Library, Virginia Beach, has participated in The Big Read. What drew you to the program?

NEVA WHITE: We wanted to choose a program that we thought would pull together the whole community together around the library and around reading. Gathering the community partners around reading one book, while being able to help fund the program through The Big Read grant, seemed like a perfect idea. We had previously done a small scale program around To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, but wanted to use The Big Read to be able to reach a larger portion of the community.

NEA: Can you describe your efforts to involve different parts of your community in The Big Read?

WHITE: We are thrilled to say that we have involved public schools, the local community college, and multiple businesses in planning for our events throughout the city. We wanted to make sure that the program was reaching out to a wide variety of customers, young and old, from diverse backgrounds and experiences. So, we planned a major program surrounding Poe?s poetry to be in middle schools around the city, we encouraged the high schools to have displays in their own school libraries, and we planned after school discussions to get the elementary school children engaged as well. We?re thrilled to say that involving the Tidewater Community College by inviting them to host our keynote speaker led to a packed house this weekend! We felt it so important to get the college students, faculty, and staff involved in the month, because they are such a vital part of our community here.

Business partners jumped right on board with us as well, and a local movie theater is providing us some free space to host a Poe movie at the end of the month. We also have been very fortunate to have a partnership with the Poe Museum in Richmond, who gave us displays for our city libraries and the library at the college. We?ve created a ?passport? for kids, so that they can travel from location to location to see each of the wonderful items on display. We have everything from first edition books and a brick from Poe?s residence to posters from the classic Vincent Price films.

NEA: Why did you choose to read the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe?

WHITE: Poe has a local connection to our area since he spent much of his life in Richmond, Virginia. But more than that, Poe?s stories and poems speak to multiple generations. Young children love the rhythm of his poems, teens love the horror stories, and adults love the story of Poe?s life. He?s a fascinating person, and the story of his life and mysterious death is interesting to all ages. We?re already seeing record numbers of attendance at the events we?ve hosted so far, and we?ve only just begun!

NEA: What Big Read event are you most looking forward to this year?

WHITE: On Saturday, we had Hal Poe, professor at Union University and a relative of Edgar Allan Poe, speak on the campus of the local community college. He gave a talk earlier in the week to city leaders on the importance of creativity and imagination in leadership using Poe?s life as an example. On Saturday he discussed Poe?s importance to the mystery story. We had been looking forward to hearing him speak because he was so engaging on the phone. It was an even larger success than we could have imagined, and has really helped forge a stronger bond with the community college. We hired an American Sign Language interpreter for the evening, and I am thrilled to say that it brought in members of the audience who simply wouldn?t have been able to participate without her.

This week we?re hosting the group Poetry Alive in middle schools around the city. This group performs poems, and they?ll be using ?The Raven,? ?Annabel Lee,? and other Poe poems to center their show. It?s incredible when you can reach out to an entire school in one day, and over the next three days we?ll be reaching seven schools and providing a workshop for teachers on how to incorporate the poetry of Poe into their classrooms.

NEA: Any last words?

Our library is thrilled to be able to participate in The Big Read, and I hope we?ll be able to do another one in the future. The grant funds have allowed us to create a much larger scale program than ever would have been possible on our own, and I know the relationships we?ve forged with the partners in the community will last for years to come. It?s exciting to see new titles being added to the list of books, particularly those that appeal to wide audiences.

Click here for more information on Virginia Beach?s Big Read. And for more about the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe, visit The Big Read website.


Add new comment