Southern slice of life

Big Read program to focus on Harper Lee book

Big Read program to focus on Harper Lee book

June 29, 2007|by MARLO BARNHART

Come September, residents of Washington County will have a unique opportunity to come together to read and appreciate and discuss the impact Harper Lee's best-seller, "To Kill A Mockingbird" had on their lives.

A series of events focusing on this literary epic has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, according to Kristy L. Smith, program assistant at the Community Foundation of Washington County.

"We are one of 117 communities in the country to get a grant for this NEA program called Big Read," Smith said.

The NEA grant is $10,000, which is being matched by the Community Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation, bringing the total to $30,000, Smith said.


"There were 12 classic American literature books to choose from in this program to promote literary reading," Smith said.

The Harper Lee book about the South in the 1930s was the overwhelming choice by the local selection committee.

Smith said the kickoff will be Sept. 23, when the film based on the book will be shown at The Maryland Theatre. "We are trying to get some downtown restaurants to serve Southern specialty dishes that night," Smith said.

For the next 30 days, there will a round of activities including memory circles at the Washington County Free Library. One will feature one of the first students to attend South Hagerstown High School when it was first desegregated, Smith said.

There will be themed art shows - students' works at Benjamin Art Gallery, 1303 Pennsylvania Ave., and an adult art show at the Washington County Arts Council at 14 W. Washington St., Smith said.

"We are also hoping for a monthlong program on black history at the Discovery Station," Smith said.

A devoted reader, Smith said she is very excited about the possibilities and hopes it will attract young and old. Already Sisters in Spirit - a new book club organized by Ladetra Robinson - has expressed an interest in profiling the Harper Lee book.

Well-known local individuals will be hosting a radio show commenting on how the book changed their lives, Smith said.

Author Charles Shields who wrote a book about Harper Lee, is expected to participate in the Big Read program in Washington County as well as local musicians who are "fluent" in the music of the 1930s.

A native of New York and later a Pennsylvania resident, Smith and her husband, Tom, live in Boonsboro with their daughter, Laurin, 14. Tom Smith is a machinist with Fairchild Controls in Frederick.

Associated with the Community Foundation for four years, Smith said she loves the work that's done there and her part in it.

"There is nothing sad about this job," Smith said. And her enthusiasm for the Big Read project is only growing with time.

Her boss, Bradley Sell, executive director of the Community Foundation, said he shares Smith's excitement about this new kind of hands-on activity.

"We're known for raising money, not running programs," Sell said.

For more information, contact Smith at 301-745-5210.

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