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Pitkin County Library invites community to ‘Read Wider’

New program launches with Black History Month books, movies, music and online discussions

The Pitkin County Library launched its new Read Wider program this month, aiming to build empathy through curated books, movies and music that might help local readers walk some miles in other peoples’ shoes.

Building from the “own voices” movement, the monthly program will focus on stories told about the experiences of diverse communities by their members. February’s Read Wider is inspired by Black History Month. The library recently released voluminous resource lists online for reading, listening and viewing as well as interactive tools and virtual discussions on Zoom.

The library has Read Wider programs planned through November, which will honor Native American Heritage Month. In between, the series will highlight women’s history, Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, LGBTQ stories, immigrants and refugees, Hispanic heritage and people with disabilities.



The wide scope, considerable depth of the programming and curation of Read Wider marks a new approach for the library.

“Quite often, what we have done is just say, ‘It’s Black History Month, look at our display,’” said program coordinator Martha Durgy, referring to the prominent bookshelf displays inside building.


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Both the pandemic’s closure of the library building and the political imperatives of our moment meant Durgy and her team needed to do it differently.

Along with lists of books, movies, music and online resources, each month’s Read Wider program will include virtual presentations by authors and book club-style discussions with library staff and local readers. The first is this week, a free online talk on wrongful convictions with the exonerated prisoner Ndume Olatushani and Anne-Marie Moyes, director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado-Boulder School of Law.

Read Wider is part of a growing ecosystem of Aspen-area initiatives using books to broaden perspectives, an education movement that’s gained steam here since the Roaring Fork Valley’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations of summer 2020.

IF YOU PARTICIPATE …

What: ‘Wrongful Convictions: Presentation & Personal Story’

Who: Ndume Olatushani and Anne-Marie Moyes

Where: Zoom via pitcolib.org

When: Thursday, Feb. 18, 5:30 p.m.

How Much: Free

* * *

What: Virtual Discussion

Where: Zoom via pitcolib.org

When: Tuesday, Feb. 23, noon; Friday, Feb. 26, 5 p.m.

How much: Free

More info: Participants will be entered to win a gift card from Mawa’s Kitchen.

* * *

* Download the monthly series of curated resource lists for adults, teens, and children. Or stop by the library’s Mill Street foyer to pick up one.

* Download or pick up a resource tracker to record what you read, watch, listen to and explore.

Colorado Mountain College recently launched its annual Common Reader program, encouraging valley residents to read the exonerated death row inmate Anthony Ray Hunton’s memoir of “The Sun Does Shine.” Collaborating with Roaring Fork Show Up and the Aspen Skiing Co., they’re stocking it in the Little Free Libraries at four locations. That book is the first recommended by Moyes in her list of recommended reading for the Pitkin County Library program.

And the Garfield County Library recently announced a Feb. 26 virtual program titled “What’s Race Have to Do with It” on systemic racism with Rosemarie Allen, head of the nonprofit Institute for Racial Equity & Excellence and professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

The Read Wider initiative was the brainchild of Pitkin County Library assistant Sierra Fransen, who suggested building community engagement through an ongoing curated “own voices” program. Momentum built for the idea as the institution sought ways to assist with awareness-building following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations here and around the United States.

Collection managers at the library have since set out to craft enlightening and eclectic resource lists following the precepts of “own voices,” which itself has grown in prominence since the fierce national debate over Jeanine Cummins’ 2020 novel “American Dirt,” a Mexican immigration story that drew acclaim but also allegations of cultural appropriation against its white author, and who can or should tell whose stories.

“I was sort of averse to this initially,” Durgy said, “because I thought, ‘Hey, great literature can be written by anyone about anything.’”

But raising awareness of storytelling from a community’s own is a valuable service, she concluded.

Read Wider provides easy-to-navigate resource guides that cover an immense amount of titles and creators, as well as downloadable PDFs with expanded lists.

It’s like a syllabus from the best professor on campus for a course that can run for the month or for the rest of your life of continued discovery. The fiction resource list, for instance, for February includes more than 60 titles — classics like Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” to recent works like the Marlon James fantasy title “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel “The Water Dancer.”

Nonfiction titles go from classics like W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” to recent studies like Jabari Asim’s “We Can’t Breathe” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

The lists include entry-points for adults as well as teens and kids, encompassing movies, music and art alongside books of fiction and nonfiction. The online lists include links to check out any of the items from the library or in online holdings.

Children’s titles and picture books range from “A is for Activist” and the kids’ biography “Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X,” to chapter books like Kwame Alexander’s “Crossover” and Jerry Craft’s “New Kid,” up to young adult books like Nic Stone’s “Dear Martin.”

The library also is providing downloadable resource trackers, so participants can track what they read, watch and listen to, sharing their impressions with the Read Wider community online.

“We want to invite people to share and talk about what they feel enthusiastic about or what disturbs them, what they loved, what they learned,” Durgy said.

atravers@aspentimes.com


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