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Commentary: One Book One Community Festival

Rich Egger
Janice Welsch

Around the year 2000, then-Macomb Mayor Tom Carper organized a One Book One Community event. He was prompted to do so during a conference of mayors in Chicago. Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine was chosen and community members were invited to read and discuss it. People who participated still remember it.

[Nancy Pearl, a librarian, and the author of “Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason (2003), initiated the "One Book" movement in 1998. TSPR listeners may recognize her as a regular commentator on NPR’s ‘Morning Edition.” Her One Book idea caught on, and in 2003 The American Library Association began providing guidelines for librarians wanting support for their own One Book events. Goals may vary from city to city and town to town, though promoting literacy within the community is foundational.]

Lisa Torrance, a member of the Shared Community Action Group, or SCA, suggested SCA organize another One Book One Community event. Because the SCA is committed to strengthening dialogue and cooperation among the diverse members of the Macomb community, the planning committee chose friendship as the theme of its program and selected, not one, but three books to encourage everyone--small children to middle schoolers, teens, and adults--to get together to explore friendship, what it is, how to initiate and maintain it, how it might strengthen community.

The three books selected for this deep dive into friendship and community are Adrienne Graham’s The Color of Friendship, Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda’s I Will Always Write Back, and William Blinn’s Brian’s Song which is a screenplay drawn from Gale Sayers’ autobiography I am Third.

Adrienne Graham, a teacher at Lincoln School in Macomb, has shared The Color of Friendship with the community during several readings and discussions since she published the book in 2020. Brightly illustrated and cleverly written, it follows Violet Plum, a perfectly happy little girl in her small town where everyone “is a beautiful shade of purple” to a new home where “everyone [is] a lovely shade of orange.” It is by becoming friends with Ginger that Violet learns to enjoy her new home and broaden her appreciation of diverse colors—and people.

 I Will Always Write Back tells how the authors, one in the US, one in Zimbabwe, became best friends. A pen pal assignment brought them together, and while 7th-grade Caitlin was not an exemplary student, the assignment piqued her curiosity and sense of adventure, and once she wrote that first letter, she was hooked. That Martin wrote back was critical, of course. The friendship they forged as teens has lasted as they have become adults, established careers, and deepened their connection with each other and their families.

Brian’s Song, documents the friendship between Chicago Bears running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo. It vividly shows what friendship is and how important it can be in one’s life. Competitive on the field, Sayers and Piccolo prove to be supportive and generous as they get to know and admire each other—and share a camaraderie that pulls them through personal crises.

These three books eloquently illustrate what friendship is and demonstrate its importance in our lives. The protagonists of each book model friendship across ethnic differences, across cultures, and in the case of I Will Always Write Back, across continents.

Word about Macomb’s One Book One Community is beginning to circulate and responses have been enthusiastic. Besides a community-wide discussion and multiple small-group discussions, organizers want to include an array of other activities—visual and performance art, games, concerts, panels, perhaps a collage of favorite quotes about friendship. In other words, they want to make this a Festival.

This celebration of connection and community will begin Friday, January 27, 2023, followed by programs scattered through the month of February. Listeners who want to help ensure its success can do so by helping with the planning or by attending Festival events and joining in the discussions. For more information send a note to the Shared Community Action Group at Event details will be posted on the TSPR calendar and shared with other local media.

With your help, we can make this a memorable celebration.

Janice Welsch is a Western Illinois University faculty emerita.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.