By Marcus Olah
Albion’s Big Read program kicked-off this year’s activities on Saturday, Oct. 1. The Big Read is a series of community events designed to inspire and encourage reading. This year the Big Read will be tackling Ray Bradbury’s, once controversial, Fahrenheit 451.
It began with a parade, which included the Albion Commission Drumline Brotherhood and dancers marching from downtown Albion to the site of The Big Read tents at Holland Park.
Large tents were set up and crowded by people of every age. Kids ran from table to table, some in costumes and facepaint. The Skinny Dippers played live music throughout the event. They are a band comprised of Nick Harp, Emily Hillard and Associate Professor Nels Christensen. Performers from the Detroit Circus stole much of the attention as they juggled on stilts and spit fire. Food vendors sold hot dogs, tamales and ribs.
With all the excitement it was easy to forget that the event was about reading. It is not uncommon for reading to be regarded as a boring activity and as something far separate from an afternoon of mimes, music and children running around a park. According to The Big Read website, The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment of the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. If one of the sole purposes of The Big Read is to promote and encourage literacy, how does this event do that?
There was little talk of Fahrenheit 451 at the event. Though the books themselves were scattered around, the main focus was on the action.In one memorable moment a circus performer juggled fire while The Skinny Dippers played a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”Associate Professor Jess Roberts, director of Albion’s Big Read, was able to explain. She said that even though the book and its contents aren’t the subject of every activity, it remains the centerpiece of the kickoff. The book has brought fans, young and old, as well as those who have never read it or any other book, out of their houses and into a park to have a shared experience.
There is an important history at Holland Park, where the festivities were held. It is the site of where a segregated school once stood. Within a year of the infamous banning of Fahrenheit 451, parents and students, in Albion, fought the segregation by withdrawing their students from the school in protest, successfully closing the school in 1953. Later the school was torn down and replaced by the park that stands today. Roberts notes the significance of a diverse community coming together in a place that was once divided, over a book that was once prohibited.
The Big Read will run through October, until its final event Nov. 1.
Photo via Albion’s Big Read