Big plan is to read 'Great' book together

March 25, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- In their mind's eye, Washington County readers will visit F. Scott Fitzgerald's East Egg and West Egg during a communitywide reading project.

Students, teachers, parents and just about everyone else have been invited to read "The Great Gatsby" at the same time.

The Big Read -- a National Endowment for the Arts initiative -- kicked off locally Wednesday at Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church, Antietam Academy high school's temporary home.

Students got a taste of the Roaring Twenties, the time frame of Fitzgerald's classic tale. They learned about flappers, Prohibition and the country's rebound from the depths of World War I.

"It was a time to just grab onto life with two hands," English teacher Jeff Farr said during a multimedia tour of the decade.


By coincidence, U.S. history teacher Frank Boboige recently led students into the 1920s in class.

Each Antietam Academy high school student received a copy of "The Great Gatsby" on Wednesday and a guide for reading it.

The Community Foundation of Washington County MD, a local sponsor, received a $15,000 NEA grant, which it had to match with $15,000 of its own, said Kristy Smith, the foundation's program manager.

The money will pay for 650 copies of the book, as well as related programs and events -- book clubs, an exhibit and a historical re-enactor, Smith said.

The foundation is working with Washington County Public Schools and the Washington County Free Library. Branch libraries will get money to buy additional copies of the book.

Through The Big Read, a community reads and lives through a book together for about a month.

"It is to encourage reluctant readers to move away from the mouse, to move away from the remote control, and pick up a book again," Smith said.

Washington County also participated in The Big Read in September 2007, when the book was "To Kill a Mockingbird."

At the church, where Antietam Academy's high school is being held because a school building burned, Farr focused on music.

Using a laptop computer and a crank-powered phonograph, Farr introduced students to jazz and the blues.

He played Louis Armstrong for them and told them about Benny Goodman.

Students chuckled at what Farr described as an "incredibly politically incorrect" song called "I Dig Chicks."

Yesterday's music, he said, was the anchor for rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues and hip-hop.

A short film about the 1920s played as students broke for lunch.

"Immediately, some of the kids started reading," English teacher Mary Fortson said.

During an interview, Farr said the exposure to sights and sounds of Gatsby's era will help students absorb the book.

"Kids these days are visual learners," he said.

Fortson told the group about a student who opened a book, but stopped reading after just a few pages.

"He had no images to grab onto," she said.

Other events scheduled
to coincide with The Big Read

As Washington County reads "The Great Gatsby" together, other activities are planned. They include:

o March 7-April 26: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has an exhibit called "The Jazz Age."

o April 2: The 1974 film version of "The Great Gatsby" will be shown at The Maryland Theatre at 6:30 p.m.

o April 15-May 15: The Discovery Station is tying "The Great Gatsby" into a monthlong exhibit on the Titanic.

o April 15 and 16: A living history re-enactor will portray Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, at high schools and in an evening performance.

o April 17: A "Read Out" will be held at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Copies of the book will be available, along with music of the era and dance demonstrations.

o April 18: A Gatsby garden party will be held at the Boonsboro library at 11 a.m.

o April 23: A Gatsby reception will be held at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts at 6:30 p.m.

o Local library branches will use grant money to start book clubs and hold their own events.

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