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Arts & Life

One Book Steamboat Takes Page From Antiracist Movement

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Author Ibram X. Kendi’s “How To Be An Antiracist” was a pretty obvious choice for this year’s One Book Steamboat selection, said Jennie Lay, adult programs coordinator at Steamboat’s Bud Werner Memorial Library. One look at the library’s checkout list and it was clear that racism, and particularly antiracism, was a big topic on peoples’ minds.

“This was clearly the book for the year,” Lay said.

The annual community reading program is designed to give the community not just a book, but a subject that people can dive into a little deeper, she said.

“For us, it’s not just a book,” Lay said. “One Book Steamboat has always been about the ability to read the book, talk about it, hear from academics, see documentaries, analyze it and take the whole package deal … We didn’t design our community read to be (an) escape. We designed it to be immersion and enrichment and engagement. I mean, it’s a ‘community read;’ we should do it together.”

Selecting Kendi also gave the library the opportunity to make One Book Steamboat actually more like “Three Books Steamboat.” The event allows readers of all ages to take part, choosing one of three of Kendi’s works: “How To Be An Antiracist” for adults, “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You” for young adults, and for toddlers reading with their caregivers, the illustrated board book “Antiracist Baby.”

Being able to do a multi-generational event this year made the event extra special, said Michelle Dover, the library’s circulation services manager.

“Being intergenerational is what we need,” Dover said. “And in a time of COVID, when people are around more, you can imagine people being able to read these books as a family, and model to their children that ‘this is how we have hard conversations.’”

Previous One Book Steamboat selections have looked at issues of identity (“Inheritance”), poverty (“The Grapes of Wrath”) and the human casualties of the Vietnam War (“The Things They Carried”).

In many cases, the books have brought out unique conversations and interactions between groups that might not otherwise have occurred, Lay said.

“When we did ‘The Things They Carried,’ we had Vietnam vets in our community who had not connected before who were suddenly in the library kitchen sharing recipes that they had learned when they were in combat,” she said. “And they were pulling these recipes out and sharing them over a book.”

While “How To Be An Antiracist” might seem a controversial choice for a community read, Dover said they knew the Steamboat community would be receptive to this book and these conversations.

“I think they want the reality. They want to pull back the screen and see what America is really like, what is going on,” she said. “Because we get so stuck in our own worlds. You drive down the same road, past the same institutions and gas stations everyday, and you need that stop-and-reflect time. I think that’s what COVID has given us.”

While the pandemic has made physically gathering to talk about the book difficult, the library offers virtual meetups and events. They are also facilitating learning pods where smaller groups can discuss the book together.

“This is different this year,” Lay said. “People have to gather in different ways to have these conversations, and everybody has a different way that they’re comfortable with it. Whether they want to stay with just their family, whether they want to do it (on) Zoom. Whether they want to do it on a back porch, a backyard, on hikes. Everybody’s got to find their comfort level.”

One Book Steamboat events are currently ongoing through Sept. 14, 2020.

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