After a two-year hiatus, the local program, which is part of a nationwide effort by the Library of Congress to promote reading, authors and literacy, is now affiliated with Middletown-based Connecticut Humanities.
Briefly housed at the Connecticut State Library and then at the Hartford Public Library from 1997 to 2011, the Center will celebrate its new partnership at the State Capitol on Friday, April 19, from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
The free event in the Old Judiciary Room will include remarks by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson; a panel discussion with former State Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson, Mark Twain scholar Kerry Driscoll of the University of St. Joseph, and Connecticut State Librarian Kendall Wiggin; and poetry readings by members of the First Congressional District Youth Cabinet.
It will be followed by Gatsby's Green Light Gala, a benefit for the Center. The party, for patrons 21 and older, will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, April 19, at the Dirt Salon, 50 Bartholomew Ave., Hartford, with live jazz, actors from Sea Tea Improv portraying characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic 1925 novel, "The Great Gatsby," and food and drink, including beer from Back East Brewing Co. of Bloomfield and "moonshine" cocktails.
Roaring Twenties-era outfits are "encouraged, but not required," says Amanda Roy, program officer for Public Humanities Programs for Connecticut Humanities. "You can just show up!"
Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door.
The 2:30 p.m. panel discussion, moderated by Stuart L. Parnes, executive director of Connecticut Humanities, will explore topics such as whether books are dying out, why books still matter in the age of Twitter and Wikipedia, why we still need libraries and ways to support authors.
Parnes says Connecticut Humanities is already involved in sponsoring book and literacy programs, so the affiliation with the Connecticut Center for the Book is a natural next step.
"We are part of this world already," he says. "Connecticut is a tiny little state with so many fiercely independent groups. What's needed is coordination, promotion and a support role — not to duplicate what is already being done."
Among the programs the Center will take part in this year is World Book Night, on April 23. This international program aims to introduce infrequent or non-readers to good books.
Volunteers apply to be "bookgivers," says Roy. Those who are accepted choose a book from a list of 30 and are given 20 copies to distribute at no cost in Hartford, partnering with Syllable, a local reading group. A celebration will follow at 7 p.m. at La Paloma Sabanera, a Hartford coffeehouse at 405 Capitol Ave., during which participants will read excerpts from the books they chose and tell stories about their distribution experience and books that changed their lives.
The Center also will support "One Book" community reading programs; book discussions, films and author appearances; and Banned Book Week events that examine censorship efforts and challenges to books in libraries and schools.
While Banned Books events are not new, Roy says such "controversies are really exciting to us. We'll do some innovative programming around it."
Still in the planning stage is a website for writers and readers, Parnes says. It may offer original work by Connecticut authors, information on reading and writing programs and other educational resources, interviews with local authors, book reviews, a Connecticut Authors Map and other features.
"We have a great network ready to go and a great ally in Fairfield University's MFA program in creative writing. They have a network of writers," says Parnes.
Kat Lyons, who retired as coordinator of the state Center for the Book in 2011, says, "I hope the third iteration of the CCB will be able to create innovative and catalytic programs to promote the physical book in its myriad aspects. It's about more than just reading — or writing — them."
Under Lyons' direction, the Center presented annual Connecticut Book Awards beginning in 2001, and she counts that as one of its most important achievements. "We certainly have the raw material" in work by state authors," Lyons says.
But the book awards will not be presented this year, and the whole concept is being re-thought, says Parnes.
"Book awards are fraught with challenges," he says. "We need to recognize great work going on in Connecticut, but no matter how careful [the process], picking a winner is tough.
"We want to shine a light in the best way and make it as meaningful to authors seeking recognition as singling out just one.
Parnes says there is a wealth of activity relating to books and authors in Connecticut.
"We could help make things more visible that already exist and provide a real service for Connecticut citizens," Parnes says.
"We'll be using our mike to amplify what's going on around the state."
For information on all Connecticut Center for the Book events and reservations for Gatsby's Green Light Gala, call 860-685-2260 or go to http://cthumanities.org/programs/ct-center-for-the-book .
Carole Goldberg is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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