Three years ago, at the end of a Westport Library “Booked for the Evening” event, Sue Davis thanked director Maxine Bleiweis for a lovely evening. Sue said she’d enjoyed the broad cross-section of the community that had come together, and casually offered to get more involved with the library.
Within days, she was the new chair of WestportREADS.
For a few years, Sue had read the book selected for the annual project (the entire town is encouraged to read the same work; over the course of a month the library sponsors lectures, films and other special programs based on that book’s theme, encouraging a “community dialogue”).
But she’d never gone to any of the events. “I was busy raising my kids,” she says. “I didn’t go out at night.”
Quickly, Sue grew enamored with WestportREADS.
“It was so exciting to watch it all unfold,” she explains. “The entire staff — especially Joan (Hume) and Marta (Campbell) — take one book. They brainstorm companion books that are appropriate for all different age groups. They think about all the aspects of the book, and find an amazing group of speakers.”
This year’s book — the 9th annual — is I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn’s novel that continues the story from the day the pioneering aviator and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific. Here, Earhart returns to life to tell about her childhood, marriage, public life and eventual fate.
“Joan and Marta look at Amelia Earhart as one of the first true feminists,” Sue says. “So they’re bringing in Susan Ware, a leading feminist biographer, to talk about that idea. If I’d read the book on my own, I don’t think I’d have made that connection.”
As director of WestportREADS, one of Sue’s jobs is to help encourage the entire community to participate, in whatever programs appeal to them. Her reward comes at random moments — standing in a supermarket line, say, overhearing a young woman and an older man talk about that year’s book.
She’s also looking forward to a tropical island-themed party. (In the novel, Earhart and her navigator land on a tiny island called Nikumaroro).
There will be music, a variety of rums, and plenty of fun. “It’s a fun-raiser, not a fund-raiser,” Sue says. The event builds on the success of last year’s first-ever party — New Orleans-themed, because the novel was Zeitoun, a riveting tale set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
I Was Amelia Earhart is “a quick, easy read,” Sue says.
She adds, “I might not have chosen it myself. And when I read it, I didn’t really get it. But at our first meeting with Marta, talking about all the different points of human interest — and all the ways WestportREADS could go with it — I understood how important it will be in creating the sense of community we want.
“And now that we’ve got all these great events planned, I realize how great this choice really is.”
This year’s WestportREADS includes a talk by the author, films, book discussions, talks about Amelia Earhart, displays of aviator photographs and paper airplanes, a flight simulation game for teens, and the tropical island party. All events are free and open to the public, except for the party which requires tickets. For a full schedule of events, click here.
The program begins Tuesday, January 3 (2 p.m.) with the movie “Amelia.” A poetry contest for all Westport students is open now through January 13. For details and submission guidelines, watch the YouTube video below.