Putting all of city on the same page

Frederick Douglass book may be the choice for new reading program

April 12, 2002|By Caitlin Francke and Jamie Stiehm | Caitlin Francke and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Following the lead of Chicago and other areas, Baltimore is planning a citywide reading assignment come fall, and the front-running book is the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, the one-time slave who became one of the most important black American leaders of the 19th century.

City and library officials confirmed yesterday that they are putting together a program to encourage community reading centered on the city's annual book fair in September.

The idea started in Seattle - residents read The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks - but gained speed after Chicago's program last year had citizens thumbing through Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. "The beauty is that people do love to read and discuss books," said Chicago's Public Library Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey. "Some need a citywide incentive to get caught up in the fun of it."

In Baltimore, city and library officials formed a committee and began researching the idea of putting their own intellectual booster program in place several months ago. Jeanne D. Hitchcock, the deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations, said the panel brainstormed about what book would be best.

It has tentatively decided on The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written By Himself because of the abolitionist's ties to Baltimore and the social issues his tale raises.

"We want [the book] to spark discussion and bring the city together around reading," Hitchcock said.

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