Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and The YWCA of Central Massachusetts will launch their Big Read program in celebration of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God with a lecture by MIT Associate Professor of English Sandy Alexandre titled, "Janie Mae Crawford Killicks Starks Woods: A Work in Progress." This kick-off lecture will be given on at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6 in Lower Perreault Hall in WPI's Fuller Laboratories building. The event is free and open to the public.
The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture, since literary reading strongly correlates to other forms of active civic participation. Unfortunately, while elementary school students have made progress in reading in recent years, reading among teenagers and adults is in decline, with "demonstrable social, economic, cultural, civic, and economic implications."
"WPI is proud to be partnering with the YWCA in bringing The Big Read to Worcester," says Tracey Leger-Hornby, dean of library sciences at WPI. "Both of our organizations are dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and building communities through education. Reading is an important part of these efforts. We are excited to host book discussions about this powerful novel, in the hope that we can build enthusiasm for literary reading in Worcester."
Worcester is one of 78 communities participating nationwide, and from Feb. 6 to March 31 the community will celebrate Their Eyes Were Watching God with a full calendar of events, including book discussions and a panel discussion on domestic violence. On March 19 The Big Read will feature "An Evening of Jazz and Storytelling: Music and Readings from Their Eyes Were Watching God." That event will take place at Mechanics Hall at 4 p.m. and will feature dramatic readings of the novel by Worcester singer-songwriter Lydia Fortune, vocals by Fortune, and blues and jazz tunes from the 1920s and 1930s by legendary jazz pianist Lewis Porter, accompanied by Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) and John Lockwood (bass). It will be recorded for broadcast on WICN Radio.
The Big Read in Worcester is presented in partnership with the Worcester Public Library, Mechanics Hall, WICN Radio, the Worcester Public Schools, and Friendly House. The Big Read is managed by Arts Midwest.
The alliance among WPI, YWCA, and Mechanics Hall brings together three institutions that have served Worcester since the 19th Century. Bob Kennedy, executive director of Mechanics Hall, points out that the hall, which is eight years older than WPI, was built by an institution dedicated to educating the city's industrial workers. "Mechanics Hall embodies nineteenth-century optimism that working-class people's lives could be enriched and improved by music, readings, and discussions," Kennedy said. "We are pleased to be involved in The Big Read Worcester, because its aspirations are the same as ours. We have been a proud partner of WPI for many years."
About YWCA of Central Massachusetts
For more than 125 years, the YWCA of Central Massachusetts has served as a lifelong positive force for women and girls, their families and communities. The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.