Stillwater swings back to the 20s in the library's new reading series

(STILLWATER, OKLA. / Feb. 17, 2016) – Stillwater area readers are traveling back to the time of bathtub gin, flapper girls, red hot jazz and speakeasies with the Stillwater Public Library’s newest reading series, “Two Books, One Community: The Great Gatsby and Fire in Beulah.” The series includes nearly forty events and books discussions March 8-April 29. Program partners include the library, Sheerar Museum, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, OSU Library and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Last year, the Stillwater Public Library was awarded a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to hold a reading program to engage our entire community,” said Lynda Reynolds, library director. “We knew we had a rich history to work with on a 1920s era book like “The Great Gatsby,” but we wanted to add an Oklahoma element as well, so we chose to also read “Fire in Beulah” by Rilla Askew.”

Askew’s novel tells the intertwining stories of Oklahoma women in the early 1920s: Althea, the wife of an oil wildcatter; Graceful, her black housemaid; and Iola, a Creek freedwoman. Their stories culminate in a depiction of the worst race riot in American history- the fiery destruction of Tulsa’s Greenwood district, also known as “Black Wall Street.”

“We knew that comparing two such different books that take place at virtually the same time would result in wonderful discussions,” said Reynolds. “It also seemed like a perfect way to introduce the subject of race in our own community.”

Participants in the series will be given free copies of both books when they sign up for one of these book discussions. This year, the library is introducing new types of discussions that add a “twist” for participants, such as sharing a soul food pot luck dinner or working on art project.

“We are hoping that by participating in a shared activity while discussing the book, participants can dig deeper into some of the themes,” said Reynolds. “We will also have a few discussions where the twist is having a subject expert present to help explain certain aspects of the books to the readers.”

While the book discussions lie at the heart of the library’s series, Reynolds promises a stimulating schedule of other programs to help readers get a feel for the Gatsby and Beulah era.

“Keeping a good balance between the serious nature underlying the two novels and the dizzying joy of the 1920s was a challenge,” said Reynolds. “We want community readers to understand the turmoil people were experiencing as the nation progressed and changed in the early twenties,” said Reynolds. “At the same time, we want to offer experiences that portray the unrestrained freedom that people were feeling after the war, but before the stock market crashed.”

The resulting schedule is a mix of artistic workshops, thought provoking lectures and discussions, and entertaining activities, including programs on the Tulsa Race Riot, ballroom dancing, fashion, architecture, Negro League Baseball Leagues, the KKK, mob, and prohibition. Highlights of the series are a visit by Askew, the finale jazz dance and the Town and Gown production of “The Great Gatsby” taking place April 7-10 and April 14-17.

“At most of the events, we will be giving attendees a chance to win a pair of the Town & Gown tickets,” said Reynolds. “This production is a “must see” part of the series.”

“Two Books, One Community” begins Tuesday, March 8, with a double event kick-off.

At 12 p.m., singer Tiara Young and a jazz quartet will provide live music while participants enjoy speakeasy mocktails. Afterward, Dr. Andrew Vassar will speak at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Town Hall. Vassar, an English professor from Northeastern State University, will provide an essential comparison that will help readers as they dive into the two books.

In the evening, readers should make their way to Brooklyn’s at 701 South Main and head down to The Cellar. Whisper the code phrase, “I have an appointment to see Mr. Wolfshiem,” to gain entry to the evening’s speakeasy, where Young will heat up the room with hot jazz ditties and where drinks and food will be available for purchase.

Please note that entry to Brooklyn’s Cellar is by stairs and there is no elevator access. The evening speakeasy is not funded by the NEA.

Copies of the two series books will first be released at these kick-off events. For more information about “Two Books, One Community: The Great Gatsby and Fire in Beulah,” visit http://library.stillwater.org/TheBeesKnees.php.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The opening night speakeasy is not sponsored by the NEA. Other funding partners include the Stillwater Public Library Trust, Friends of the Stillwater Public Library and Friends of OSU Library.

Additional community partners include African American Student Association, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, City of Stillwater Community Center, Downtown Stillwater, OK Quality Printers, Oklahoma Wondertorium Museum, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, NAACP, Stillwater Public Schools, and Town and Gown Community Theater.

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 South Duck.