One Book, One Chicago


One Book, One Chicago started off as a one-week celebration through the Chicago Public Library system in October, 2001, in association with Chicago Book Week.  The book selected was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  The initial idea was a truly basic concept: to get an entire city to read a single book.  There were book clubs and meetings scheduled at several of the library branches, as well as community Starbucks.  Libraries carried little information packets, containing discussion questions, meeting times, and a short statement from the mayor, saying “Reading great literature provokes us to think about ourselves, our environment and our relationships. Talking about great literature with friends, family and neighbors often adds richness and depth to the experience of reading. The idea behind One Book, One Chicago is to have all Chicagoans read the same book at the same time to create a kind of citywide book club.” (ChiPubLib)  There were also quotes from the author, as well as Gregory Peck, known in part for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie.

The following April, the mayor and CPL came together for another installment of One Book, One Chicago, this time during National Library week.  The book selected was Night by Elie Wiesel.  Again, the same discussion questions and book clubs met, but already the event had expanded.  One night, they brought in the author, to be interviewed about his experiences with the Holocaust and his book.  Also, the official Holocaust Days of Remembrance took place that year April 7-14, with National Library Week starting immediately after, and Chicago’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 30th.  Because all of these events so acutely matched the theme of Night, they expanded their program, holding meetings as early as April 1st, and holding the Remembrance Day Memorial at one of the branches of CPL.

Since that month, One Book, One Chicago has consistently been held twice a year, in April and October.  A book with a strong cultural and thematic background has been selected to be discussed by an entire city, ranging from children and young adult books (The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros) to a collection of short stories (The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek) to plays (A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry).  All of the books selected take place in Chicago, for the added benefit of the citizenry and the connection that it gives them.  In addition, the community of the event started to expand.  Steppenwolf Theatre started holding selected readings and performances of the texts.  Surrounding museums created exhibits that pertained to the theme, as well as various heritage centers, if the theme had a strong cultural aspect.  DePaul University has also gotten involved, hosting some events and participating with their Masters of Liberal Arts programs.

This year, the event expanded once more, for the first time taking on a full year of conversation.  Starting back in April, they focused on a theme of migration, with the book supporting the theme, rather than the thematic elements supporting the book.  Every month, several events take place.  There is always at least one “main stage” event at the Harold Washington Library Center, several discussions, lectures, and panels at surrounding libraries, and exhibits and events at other various community locations.  One Book, One Chicago has gotten so widespread and far-reaching that DePaul University is offering a course in the upcoming semester devoted solely to “exploring the literary achievement of the One Book, One Chicago selection, drawing on the expertise of DePaul’s English faculty.” (DePaul)  This is the pilot year of the expanded program, but six months in, it still seems to be going strong.  Just recently, for Chicago Book Week, they brought in Isabel Wilkerson to discuss her book The Warmth of Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.  This book was selected to be the literary focus of the year-long event.

One Book, One Chicago is by no means the only program of its kind in America.  The idea began in 1998 in Seattle.  Their program was exclusively through their library system called “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book.”  Since then, the idea of the community-wide book club has rapidly spread throughout the country.  In 2007, the Library of Congress reported 404 similar events. (Wikipedia)  Local Michigan areas that have organized such events include the Detroit Public Library System and East Lansing.  To acquire information about events happening in certain areas, inquire at a local library.

~Additional information from OBOC 1 and 2 packets PDF

~Photo credit


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