WestportREADS About Racism

Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.

A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.

We do things differently here.

For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.

In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run. 

Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.

Not even COVID can slow it down.

The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.

This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).

Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.


Layla F. Saad

Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.

In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.

The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.

“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”

WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.

4 responses to “WestportREADS About Racism

  1. Mara Gottlieb

    Caste is brilliant and painful. It’s a great choice for adults. And Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” is fantastic for graphic novel fans of any age. Nice work, Westport Library.

  2. Mary Schmerker

    I saw this first thing this morning and did not have time to respond. I am currently reading Caste. Yes, it is brilliant and gut wrenching and eye opening. It is not a book you rush through. I stop and make notes in the margins. For instance in the 1950’s there was most definitely discrimination in Westport towards, I am sorry to say for many who read this blog, Italians, Saugatuck and People of the Jewish faith. People also talked of “the Irish”, vs. “lace curtain Irish”. But hey, they were in Fairfield! Westport, I am so pleased to see this issue brought forward. I wonder if there is a way I can participate from afar. Thank you Westport for all you did to educate me and regardless of the above comment Westport was more open minded and forward thinking than so many places then and now. Each day I appreciate my “roots” and all those who contributed. Betty Roberts, Gertrude Heyn, Ruth Stein Krause, Teachers at Staples so many more……I could write a book.