Share Your Story in Monroe County

One Amazing Thing

One Amazing Thing, by New York Times bestselling author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This year, the Monroe County “One Book, One Community” wowed visiting author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni with their organization, planning, and community support. We asked Cheryl Johnston, one of the event’s co-chairs, to share some of the skills and tricks to pulling off a successful common read program. (For more on Chitra, see her interview below).

Would you tell us a bit about your program?  For instance how long has the Monroe County Community College been hosting a Community Reads event, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

Monroe County Community Reads have been ongoing for the past 7 years.  We began with a National Endowment for Humanities grant and participated in the  Big Read for the first 4 years. This program provided teaching guides, books, and  other materials, but  limited our book choices to Classic American novels and defined the programming; however, it did provide adequate funding.  When the number of grants was reduced by the NEH, Monroe County was not awarded a grant.

After 4 years, our community had become invested in the idea of a community read and we were not ready to abandon the idea, so the organizers decided to explore other options. Because the Monroe County Library System had been our partner in the Big Read program, we turned to  the American Library Association model of One Book One Community. This program provided structure, but required a much greater investment from our community. We were able to choose more contemporary titles and this lead to our hosting an “Author Event”… As we continued, we have found more community involvement through our partnership with our newspaper and financial support from local organizations as well as corporate donations.

We just completed our 7th year and we have seen commitment grow dramatically in the number of sponsors and participants for our month long program of events.  In the last 2 years, we developed a OBOC web page that provides information, teaching aids and a very detailed description of our events as well as detailed information on our book choice and author. We promoted our events through the local media, social media, and through the MCCC newspaper.  Our success has come from the continued commitment of our Founding partners and the dedication of a committee members who believe in this project.  Our committee membership includes college faculty, administrators, support staff, media specialists, marketing personnel and fundraisers from MCCC and greater Monroe County. It is a totally collaborative project and has gained widespread community support.

What did you learn from last year’s program that will help with your next event?  What are you changing, what worked well?

We know that we absolutely have to host an Author Event. Our publicity and programming really rely on the promotion of a great book choice, but with the added bonus of bringing a contemporary author to our county.  Our second year of One Book One Community we were unable to bring in the author and it made programming a bit more difficult.  Because we chose March, a Civil War novel, we were able to generate quite a bit of interest in the Monroe community and offered events that had broad appeal to Monroe residents who truly value the history of our city and its connections to the Civil War.

This year, we were able to bring Chitra [Banerjee Divakaruni] here and it was a huge incentive for students and community members to read the book and meet the author. We also learned that we need to start planning early.  It is very important to choose a title well in advance and announce the choice early which allowed time to plan events as well as to solicit financial support.

What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a community reads program?

I think the recipe for success is to find community funding for your program.  When individual groups and organization make a financial commitment, they will become more involved and will then attend events and promote the events to others.  The other secret is to choose an accessible book that invites conversation.  Find a book that will stimulate a wide variety of readers from young adults to senior citizens.  Consider choosing a companion read for younger audiences.

How has your relationship with Books In Common (formerly Terra Communications) been beneficial?

Terra Communications made the author contact and basically handled all of the contract issues.  We really appreciated their assistance with publicity photos and information for our promotion as well as providing postcards and bumper stickers which we circulated around the county and distributed at our kick-off event.

Any suggestions for what you’d like to see from the website and newsletter that would be helpful to other event organizers?

I just recently took a look at your new “Books in Common” site and it is not only attractive but seems easy to navigate with great information on authors and their books.

What titles have worked best for your community, and why?

Titles by contemporary authors have really worked the best.  In the past three years, we have chosen a memoir, historical fiction novel, and a contemporary novel.  I think all have been successful, but we had our most popular program this year with over 1400 participants at our events. Finding a book that has broad appeal and will lend itself to diverse programs is really key.  In addition to our author visit, we had a Kick-off event, book discussions, films, art museum trips, panel discussion, lecture, storytelling performance and workshops. Our County Library included special events for young readers and promoted companion reads. One Amazing Thing was the catalyst for a “Share Your Story” feature in the local paper, The Monroe Evening News. Through this book choice we definitely promoted “community.”

Do you have any examples of bridging diversity in a community by coming together around a book?

We just completed our 2013 One Book, One Community program that featured Chitra Divakaruni’s novel, One Amazing Thing. While most of our programming focused on the themes of storytelling and  community, we used the diversity of characters to bring some cultural events to our community.  We began with a Kick-off event that we called “One Amazing Night” and highlighted the rich culture of India with a variety of events that included an Indian dance performance, Henna painting, Yoga and meditation practice, and Indian food.  Our closing event featured an Indian Asian buffet prepared by our [local college’s] Culinary Arts students. We enjoyed great attendance at both events.

What are some of your fondest or most notable memories from past events?

The highlight of the past few years has undoubtedly been the author events. Our visiting authors have attracted large audiences, and they have all been gracious in meeting with students in a smaller setting which really provides great access for our aspiring writers.

In addition, one of this year’s highlights was the public response to the “Share Your Story” invitation put out to the public by our local newspaper.  The paper received over 50 responses.  Many were featured in front page articles and all of them were posted to the Monroe Evening News website. Our community reading project really invited active participation by our community of writers and it increased interest in reading our local paper. Really Amazing!

This entry was posted in All Campus Reads Programs, Authors, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Issue #2 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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