The Gloucester County Library System (GCLS) is bringing the community together through a shared love of reading.
The inaugural GCLS Community Read will take place in April, when a month’s worth of special virtual events will be held surrounding Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Library staff aimed to have something for everyone on the schedule.
“We felt like most everyone in our community was struggling in some way or another due to the pandemic,” explained librarian Judith Pissano, a GCLS branch manager. “We needed to engage, unite and bring our community together, and of course what better way than a shared experience of reading a literary classic?”
“Their Eyes Were Watching God,” arguably Hurston’s most well known work, was written in 1937 and is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance.
“It has many universal themes that are still prevalent today,” Pissano said. “There’s a lot going on right now in our society, so we thought this was a perfect book to choose.”
While GCLS has five branches – Mullica Hill, Swedesboro, Glassboro, Logan and Greenwich – a virtual Community Read means anyone can take part.
“That’s the beauty of it: You do not have to be a (library) member,” Pissano said. “It’s open up to anybody who wants to attend. The only requirement is we ask them to preregister, and then you’ll get a link to the virtual meeting.”
The events kick off at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 5, with “Family Cooking Class: Cuisine of the Deep South.” There will be a number of book discussions throughout the month, and also events related to some of the novel’s more difficult themes, such as domestic violence. “Unlearning Partner Violence” is at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7. For music lovers, “Hip Hop Jazz Musicology” is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 12, and a history book club focused on “All Blood Runs Red: The Legendary Life of Eugene Bullard – Boxer, Pilot, Soldier, Spy” is at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 12. There are several other programs scheduled, including a virtual discussion with a keynote speaker.
“We’re really excited and thrilled to have Dr. Keisha Blain,” Pissano said. “She’s considered one of the most influential and innovative historians of her time, and she’s only 36.”
Blain, an acclaimed African American history scholar, is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She contributed to “Four Hundred Souls,” a recent publication with Dr. Ibram Kendi compiling 90 different community voices that tell the story of the African American experience from 1619 to the present. Blain’s discussion on African American history and culture, set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 21, is sponsored by the Friends of the Gloucester County Library System.
Pissano is looking forward to seeing how the first GCLS Community Read pans out and believes the event shows promise for the future.
“If this goes over well, we’re hoping to make it an annual experience for our community and choose different books along the way,” Pissano said.
To see the full schedule of Community Read events and to register, please visit www.gcls.org.