The “community read movement” started in 1998 in Seattle and has gained popularity across the United States. I’ve been intrigued by them for many years. And while I hear about them all the time, I’ve never heard of one taking place inside a prison. So, last summer, I decided to organize one for Coyote Ridge. And it wasn’t easy, but I did it.
The book I decided to use was Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It has been translated into over 30 different languages. The setting is Seattle, and the book was recently selected for a community read in Pierce County, Washington, which is where I managed to get 45 used copies of the book.
Now, for those who don’t know, a community read is different from a regular book group in three ways, 1) it is open to an entire community, 2) it includes supplementary social events related to themes in the book of choice, and 3) it usually includes a guest appearance by the author. At first, I was unsure about how I would achieve that third piece. Without any programming funds available, I wasn’t sure how to entice this successful author, who lives in Montana, to come all the way to Connell, which is miles from any major airport and not exactly a late-night excitement kind of town. Upon contacting his agent, however, I found that they were eager to work with me if we could figure out a way to cover Mr. Ford’s travel expenses. In the end, I was only able to bring Jamie Ford in as a guest speaker by teaming up with a Humanities group at Washington State University’s Tri-City campus, and by a donation from the Friends of the Washington State Library. Finally, after months of planning and negotiating, Mr. Ford spent the evening of Wednesday, March 22, talking to inmates, reading from his book, and answering an endless stream of questions.
In addition to the guest author event, the library at Coyote Ridge hosted a jazz music appreciation event and a historical slide show about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, featuring images from Densho and Library of Congress digital archives.