The Big Read Features Wilder Work

October 14, 2011

Written by
Jackie DiMarzo
For The Poughkeepsie Journal

BigReadLogo.jpgIt's become a tradition each fall for many local residents to participate in the Poughkeepsie Public Library District's annual community-wide reading program, the Big Read.

This year, the library district has selected the two Pulitzer Prize-winning works by Thornton Wilder, the novel "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" and the play "Our Town." From Sunday through Nov. 13, these works will be read, studied and used as the theme for many programs and activities throughout the Poughkeepsie area.

"Throughout the following month, the Poughkeepsie Big Read will offer lectures, book clubs, ballet, walking tours, theatrical performances, slide-shows, comedy (improvisation), cooking demonstration, movies, creative writing opportunities, hands-on creative programs for teens and more," said Jewel Ratzlaff, coordinator of the Big Read program.

Ratzlaff said the Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest and local organizations and is designed to encourage literacy and restore reading to the center of American culture.

"I have always loved the literature of Thornton Wilder," said Tom Lawrence, executive director of the district. "When we consider the books for each year, we need to select from a list made available to us from the NEA. Happily, Wilder appears on the list."

One of the titles, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," focuses on themes of fate and coincidence.

" 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' is a wonderful little book that seeks to find meaning for the simplest of events. A bridge collapses in 1700s Peru and the narrative explores what brought the people on the bridge to that spot at that moment," Lawrence said. "It's a timeless question, and ... Wilder ... transcends the unfamiliar (setting) with a situation we can all relate to."

The Big Read kicks off with an opening reception at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 16 at the Mid-Hudson Library System Auditorium at 105 Market St. in the City of Poughkeepsie.

"Dr. Lincoln Konkle, executive director of the Thornton Wilder Society, will share his expertise and insights on (the) 'Social and Spiritual Progress in Thornton Wilder's Writing,' " according to a written release.

"Our Town" will be the focus of upcoming programs in October and November, such as walking tours of the Freedom Plains Presbyterian Cemetery and the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery.

"In the third act, the scene is a cemetery in Grover's Corners, the mythical New Hampshire town that serves as the setting for the play," Lawrence said.

The author will also be discussed at the Nov. 6 event, "An Insider's Perspective on Thornton Wilder." Tappan Wilder, Thornton Wilder's nephew, will present an illustrated talk drawn in part from the Wilder family records. The event will take place at 2:30 p.m. in the Mid-Hudson Library System auditorium.

Ratzlaff said they are also planning on building a virtual time capsule. Inspired by "Our Town," local residents are encouraged to consider what they would place in a time capsule that would tell people 1,000 years from now what their lives were like.

A flier announcing the Poughkeepsie Public Library's 2011 Big Read Virtual Time Capsule project reads, "What are the most important factors of your daily routine, your surroundings, your history, your culture that would speak to future generations?"

Participants are asked to choose their items, take a digital photograph of them -- or create a video of under three minutes in length -- and submit it to the project. Items are limited to three per entry and submissions should be emailed to by Nov. 6 along with a name -- class or organization -- town and a short description.

Submissions will be chosen at the Big Read closing reception on Nov. 13 at the Mid-Hudson Library System auditorium.

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