The Evanston Public Library hopes that one book can bring the community closer together. The library, along with the Family Action Network, and Y.O.U., will welcome author and social entrepreneur Wes Moore to Evanston to kick off the library’s community-wide reading program, Evanston Reads: “The Other Wes Moore.”
Evanston Reads will take place throughout February and March and includes multiple book discussions, lectures by Northwestern professors, storytelling opportunities, and integrated arts programs across Evanston. Mr. Moore will speak at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7 in the Evanston Township High School auditorium, 1600 Dodge Ave.
“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” tells the story of two African American boys, both named Wes Moore, who grow up a few blocks from each other in Baltimore.
Both boys lose their fathers at a young age and have close family members or friends who sell drugs. However, one of the boys becomes a Rhodes Scholar, and the other ends up in prison.
The book, written by Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore, follows the author as he reaches out to his counterpart in prison in order to untangle the differences in their family relationships and educational opportunities that contributed to these distinct paths.
In February and March, there will be discussion of the book at several locations, including the Levy Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Evanston History Center, Ridgeville Park District, Evanston Vet Center, Evanston Art Center, and the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, as well as the Library.
“We chose this book because the library is committed to working with our partners toward racial equity in Evanston,” said Heather Norborg, EPL librarian.
The book has an edition, “Discovering Wes Moore,” which is adapted for young adult audiences so that the program can extend to younger readers.
Young Adult Services Librarian Renee Neumeier said that she hopes this book choice inspires “more safe spaces for discussions of race and equality in Evanston.”
Classes and book groups at ETHS and several middle schools in Evanston will be incorporating the book into their curriculum, and Y.O.U will use it in after-school programming.
“I’m hoping these programs will bring people together who have never talked with each other about how race, poverty and diminished opportunities affect them, and affect Evanston,” said Lesley Williams, head of Adult Services.
“African Americans and other marginalized people often feel frustrated at constantly having to explain their experience to others. With a book discussion, the author does the explaining and then gives the readers a chance to react. People feel less exposed,” Ms. Williams said.
Ms. Neumeier added, “Middle-school and high school students are very insightful about issues surrounding race, equity and social justice. I hope the community listens to them with open ears. They can be wonderfully blunt and honest and sometimes can say things that adults are afraid to say.”
The book will be widely available – most copies will not require checking out with a library card – at each of the three library locations, as well as on library bookshelves around town and at the Evanston Reads partner organizations.
Inspired by the autobiographical style of the text, the Evanston Art Center will host self-portrait, zine-making, and mural workshops.
Some of the events Ms. Williams is most looking forward to include the film screening of “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.,” about a pregnant teenager in Brooklyn, and lectures by scholars from Northwestern’s Alice Kaplan Humanities program.
Ms. Norborg says she looks forward to a screening of Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” a film about race and the American criminal justice system.
The conversations the library hopes to encourage in the community are far-reaching. Evanston Reads will collaborate with StoryCorps, an organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
On Feb. 4, StoryCorps members will be at the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., to record interviews between pairs of people who know each other well. These stories, with permission, may be archived in the Smithsonian Museum, on EPL’s website, or edited to be played on National Public Radio.
Ms. Norborg says she plans to encourage the participation of African American residents in Evanston. She asks that people interested in having their stories recorded contact her. Library staff members and members of partner organizations will be trained with recording kits so that they can record more stories at Evanston Reads events, partner organizations sites, and the homes of people who are not mobile.
Ms. Williams said, “This program is for all of Evanston, and we want to give everyone as many places and spaces and ways to get involved as possible. The question of how to include young people from all backgrounds in the American Dream is of critical importance to all citizens.”