MEMPHIS — Christian Brothers University and the Memphis Public Library and Information Center, in cooperation with the Memphis Mayor’s Office, are partnering to present Memphis Reads, a city-wide initiative to promote literacy that will officially kick off on October 1.
The Memphis Reads program will select one book annually to be read by the Memphis community at large. This month-long community read will consist of discussions, interviews with the author and sponsors, and related arts events, all of which will be free and open to the public. Memphis Reads will culminate in a series of live presentations by the author of the book, which for 2014 is The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Ethiopian immigrant Dinaw Mengestu.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, first published in 2007, blends fiction with fact and Mengestu’s own history, detailing the experiences of an Ethiopian immigrant living in Washington, DC after fleeing his country’s revolution seventeen years earlier. Told in a haunting and powerful first-person narration, the novel is a deeply affecting and unforgettable examination of what it means to lose a family and a country—and what it takes to create a new home. It deals with themes that are increasingly prevalent in our national and international conversations such as immigration, race, the concept of family, and the increasing divide between poverty and wealth. It won the Guardian Unlimited’s First Book Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book.
Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States as a small child with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled Ethiopia during the Red Terror. Mengestu is a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction. He has been the recipient of a fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation, The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. In 2012, he was a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient and was one of 23 to be awarded a genius grant from the foundation.He is currently serving as Lannan Foundation Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University.
Memphis Reads is affiliated with the “Fresh Reads” program at CBU, part of the First Year Experience, wherein all incoming freshmen participate in the read and hold discussions and other events throughout the school year. The Memphis Public Library will be publishing the top ten essays on The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by CBU freshmen on its Memphis Reads blog site at memphisreads.blogspot.com. The Memphis Reads blog will also post other news regarding the October community read and additional events that may be scheduled as the month progresses.
Mayor A C Wharton remarked, “For many years, I have been a strong supporter of literacy. This is why I am tremendously delighted about Memphis Reads. When watching events on television and computer screens has become such a mainstay in the life of the average American, calling attention back to books and words in print is a fantastic activity to bring a city together.“
Wharton emphasized, “In addition to the beauty of the narrative in the selected book, one of the more powerful things this program accomplishes is to create a universal model of literacy. We can never underestimate the impact of young people seeing a certain behavior modeled and showing youth a city reading as one is a truly powerful image.”
Memphis Reads will host author Dinaw Mengestu at the conclusion of the community read with appearances and presentations at both the Memphis Public Library and CBU on November 4-5.
On November 4, Mengestu will make an appearance at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center at 5:30 pm. The “Fresh Reads” event at Christian Brothers University will follow with a reception at 7:00 pm and Mengestu’s address in CBU’s University Theater at 8:00 pm. A booksigning will follow this presentation.
On November 5, Mengestu will participate in a morning interview at the Memphis Public Library for broadcast on WYPL FM 89.3’s “Book Talk” program.
For more information on Memphis Reads, please contact Karen B. Golightly at (901) 321-4483 firstname.lastname@example.org.