Library launches 2020 One Book Steamboat featuring Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s ‘How to Be an Antiracist’
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — This summer’s One Book Steamboat selection includes three books that take a deep look at racism in America and how to fight against it.
Each year, the Bud Werner Memorial Library organizes the community-wide book club as a way to discuss and engage in acclaimed literature. The 2020 selections come from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a National Book Award-winning author and founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. The titles include “How to Be an Antiracist,” “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” (co-authored by Jason Reynolds) and “Antiracist Baby.”
This year’s One Book Steamboat marks a collaboration between the library and Steamboat Pilot & Today, which is developing a six-week series focusing on issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity in Routt County. The series, called “Indivisible,” explores a broad range of divides that exist in the community, from race to wealth to gender, and highlights local efforts to bridge those divides.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s One Book Steamboat looks a bit different than usual. Each week, the library will host a virtual event meant to enhance readers’ engagement with the books. The first event Sunday was a watch party of Kendi’s interview with Jemele Hill, a staff writer with The Atlantic, in which the author discusses “How to Be an Antiracist” and how people can apply the book to their everyday lives.
The talk, which was recorded at the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival, can be viewed through Sunday, Aug. 15 at https://steamboatlibrary.org/events/one-book-steamboat/one-book-watch-party-author-historian-ibram-x-kendi/2020-08-09.
The didactic element of Kendi’s writing is exactly what makes the books so important to read, particularly as the country takes a critical look at its racist history and the ways in which racism continues today, said Michelle Dover, circulation manager at the library and facilitator of One Book Steamboat.
“It’s a learning opportunity for everybody,” she said of the community reading.
Dover and Jennie Lay, adult programs coordinator for the library, chose three books this year because the selections allow readers of all ages to get involved. “Antiracist Baby” is a picture book meant to help parents facilitate talks about race with their children. “Stamped” is geared toward young adults and families, exploring the history of racist ideas and imagining an antiracist future. “How to Be an Antiracist” is a New York Times bestseller described as “a 21st-century manual of racial ethics” ideal for older readers.
While talking about such topics can get awkward or confusing at times, those are exactly the type of discussions that can inspire progress, Dover said. She took a similar approach when raising her son. At a young age, she started reading books to him that examine prejudice as a way of facilitating frank conversations and learning moments.
More than any other medium, Dover said books offer a way to dive deeply into a topic and understand various viewpoints, nuances and complexities.
“A book is what really makes me pause, reflect and understand something at a deeper level,” she said
It remains her belief that rather than avoid hot-button issues, people should face them head on. Such is the mindset she hopes readers take with Kendi’s books.
“Things are going to be uncomfortable. Experience that discomfort,” Dover said.
What she likes about Kendi’s writing is that it takes a thoughtful, curious approach to how racism has been perpetuated over generations and continues to seep, in subversive ways, into American society. His intent is not so much to place blame as evaluating pervading inequalities and showing how to take an active role in stamping out racism.
“He is never pointing a finger at white people. He is pointing a finger at examining society and institutions,” Dover said.
In addition to participating in the weekly virtual events, the library encourages people to form their own learning pods or book groups. The library’s website has discussion tools to help guide conversations.
Readers can learn more about the topics covered in the books using a list of resources on the discussion page. They also can recommend additional resources to library staff by emailing Lay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are hoping people find their crew to dive in and not just read but really discuss and maybe take some action,” Lay said.
The books are a useful precursor to Steamboat Pilot & Today’s “Indivisible” series, scheduled to launch in mid-September. As Editor Lisa Schlichtman explained, the newspaper has been planning the series since January, but the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests over racial inequality and police brutality have made the focus of the series even more timely.
“We believe the timing is pretty perfect for this series,” Schlichtman said. “When I look at the newspaper’s role, it is to educate and inform the community and to spark community conversations. To me, these books in particular are a great place to begin that community conversation.”
Like Kendi’s books, the “Indivisible” series will cover controversial topics and shed light on deeply rooted divisions in Routt County, sometimes in contentious ways.
“We know it is going to be uncomfortable for people,” Schlichtman said of the series. “But stick with it and continue on.”
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