In this annual event, all students, parents, faculty, and alumni are invited to gather together and read a book collectively, and then share in the experience through discussion and a talk by the author. Today, this communal reading of a book by a state or city is fairly common, but it was rarer in 2005, when we launched it; for example, the great "One Maryland, One Book" program is "only" in its 8th year. But when "One City, One Book" was started -- spearheaded by Charles Ellenbogen, our department head at the time, and Amy Sampson, who has been running it ever since, with assistance by students and other department members at times -- it was still a fairly new idea nationally.
Over the last ten years, City has hosted National Book Award winners, a Pulitzer Prize award winner, a Guggenheim fellow, and a Maryland Poet Laureate, plus several other nationally or locally known writers. Each year, Ms. Sampson raises funds (through Donors Choose or The Children's Bookstore Foundation, for example) to subsidize the event and speakers fees, and the event is attended by around 100 students, parents, alumni, and staff.
This year is an especially exciting "One City, One Book," as Ms. Sampson and the student leaders have invited a City College grad, Sheri Booker (City '99), who wrote the acclaimed Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home, which won the NAACP Image for "Outstanding Literary Work by a Debut Author." The darkly comic memoir has received national attention details Booker's experience working in Wylie Funeral Home in West Baltimore, and has been praised humor, wisdom, and poignancy. Shortly after the book was released, many in our department went to hear Ms. Booker read at Enoch Pratt Library, and her dynamic and charismatic presentation made us especially excited to hear her present to our students.
This is also an exciting year, because it's the 10th "One City, One Book": a whole decade of bringing in authors to talk to our students, parents, and staff around the reading of a book.
Below is a history of the event at City:
Some History of One City, One Book:
2005: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
Ms. Packer taught at City College in the late 1990s, so she was a natural fit for our inaugural One City, One Book event when she became an internationally known and praised author as a result of this wonderful collection of short stories. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere won Ms. Packer a Guggenheim fellowship and was John Updike's pick on the Today show's Book-of-the-Month club, and our students loved reading her tales, many of which are set in Baltimore. (Writing this has made me want to pick that book up again! Plus ZZ was an incredibly warm and resonant presence with our students.)
2006: The Book of Fred by Abby Bardi
The 2nd pick was a debut novel by Maryland author Abby Bardi, whose book is about a 15-year old protagonist raised in a cult.
2007: Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones
The Known World is one of my favorite novels of all time, so it was a thrill to meet Edward P. Jones, who had won a National Book Critics Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a MacArthur grant by the time he had come to our high school to talk about Lost in the City, his debut short story collection. Mr. Jones was a reserved man, belying his literary rockstar persona, but was awesome with our kids.
2008: From the Book of Giants by Joshua Weiner
The first poetry collection for "One City, One Book."
2009: Remembering Eden by Michael Glaser
Mr. Glaser, the Poet Laureate of Maryand, came to our school for an event called "The Paradox of Paradise", looking at both the beauty and danger of the environment. This was a really cool event organized by Ms. Tashjian that also included performances by Caleb Stine and Saleem, a folk singer and hip-hop artist who collaborated on a CD about Baltimore.
2010: The Beautiful Struggle by Ta'Nehisi Coates
What a treat it was to hear Mr. Coates, one of my favorite contemporary writers and bloggers, speak about his terrific memoir about his dad and growing up in Baltimore. I think Coates has one of the sharpest minds in America, and hearing him speak to our students about his incredible book was a treat.
2011: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We almost got Ms. Adichie right as she was on the brink of literary stardom, but she had to cancel due to a family emergency in Nigeria. The One City, One Book group still held the event and discussed the book, with several of our Nigerian students leading discussions and presentations about cultural aspects of the novel.
2013: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
Baltimore County Librarian Paula Gallagher suggested McBride's PEN-nominated debut novel about a little girl growing up in the Cambodian Killing fields. Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, now lives in DC, and led a riveting discussion of her book with our students and their parents.
2014: Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson
Our student who has Cerebral Palsy recommended Accidents of Nature by the late Ms. Johnson for our "One City, One Book" text. In the funny and moving novel, the protagonist has CP and ends up attending a camp for others with disabilities, and it opens up her world. Because Ms. Johnson has passed away, the guest speaker was Dan Keplinger, the artist with CP who is the subject of the 2000 Oscar-winning documentary short King Gimp. Like the film, his speech was powerful and inspirational, and the discussions the school community had about the book were dynamic.
Photos from 2014's event surrounding Accidents of Nature:
|Dan Keplinger, the subject of King Gimp|
|Students listen intently|
|Watching King Gimp short documentary, which won Oscar in 2000.|
|Small group discussion|