Friday, December 19, 2008



Professors' Panel in January

Galveston Reads’ popular Three Professors Panel Discussion returns this year featuring Five Professors to discuss the 2009 book selection, The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. The book introduction and discussion will be held on January 6, 2009, at 7 pm on the campus of Galveston College in Room FA-207.
This year’s featured professors are Mr. Michael Berberich and Dr. Dale Taylor from Galveston College, Dr. Stephen Curley from TAMUG, Dr. John Gorman from UHCL, and Dr. Dayle DeLancey from UTMB. Ms. Joel-Reich will be the moderator.
Galveston Reads, a “One City, One Book” program, encourages reading by offering programs held at various locations throughout Galveston County that revolve around the currently selected book. Programming will include local discussion groups led by trained discussion leaders, movie or theatrical presentations, discussion panels, and workshops. Details of further programs for this year will be announced soon. All programs are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Karen Stanley, Chair, at 409.763.8854 x119 or via email at

Monday, August 18, 2008

Galveston Reads Unveils Glass Castle Display

Galveston Reads installed a multimedia display for their 2009 selection, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, in the lobby at the Rosenberg Library. The display, which was created by Galveston Reads committee member, Lynn Burke, represents a scene from the book, as interpreted by the artist. Using oil pastels, paper, and a salvaged window, Lynn depicted a moment in the story as it might have been seen through the window of one of the many desert houses occupied by the family in the book. The view is of the night sky, the time is Christmas, and the story is told in The Glass Castle. Read the book and join the discussion for the 2009 Galveston Reads book.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Nomination Email~

To nominate books for 2010 send to:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Glass Castle selected for 2009~

Galveston County Reads Press Release

“Galveston County Reads Selects Glass Castle for 2009”
by Patty Mayeux

Galveston County Reads, a “One City, One Book” program, has selected Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls for 2009.

The memoir begins with Walls slipping down in the back seat of a taxi to hide from her homeless mother, whom she sees sorting through garbage on the streets.

Walls then skillfully unfolds the details of her life beginning with the time when, at the age of three, she was rushed to the hospital after setting herself on fire. She had been cooking hot dogs on the stove while her mother painted in the next room.

Glass Castle is a memoir that reads like a novel, despite the underlying reality of growing up with unstable and generally neglectful parents, whose decisions were more often based on their own needs than those of their children. Walls and her three siblings learned to make due on their own as the family criss-crossed the country, at times fleeing unknown enemies in the middle of the night, slept in cardboard boxes beneath a leaking roof and often went for days without substantial food.

Galveston County Reads encourages reading by offering programs held at various locations throughout Galveston County that revolve around the selection. Past selections include Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyles; Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team , and a Dream, by H. G. Bissinger; A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, by Mark Haddon; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehreinreich and A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines.

Programming has included local discussion groups led by trained discussion leaders, theatrical presentations, author visits and panel discussions, including the ever popular evening with three local English professors.

This year voting was open to the public for the first time. The Galveston County Reads committee is excited about the selection of The Glass Castle, one of four finalists chosen from the dozens of books reviewed by the book nomination committee. Other finalists were Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood; The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan and Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.

For more information or to volunteer as a committee member of Galveston County Reads, visit

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Webcast with Ernest J. Gaines

Our final event ended well, with the live, interactive webcast with Mr. Gaines. Galveston College hosted this event in the Fine Arts Auditorium. The program started at 7 pm and ended at 8:30 pm.

With the help of GC’s IT staff, Dale Harville and Andy Moon, our connection was tested, up and running, well before anyone arrived. Thanks to Michael Berberich for making this event happen at Galveston College and John Gorman for being a ready and willing facilitator! In addition, Ms. Geisu Lewis, Coordinator of Student Activities, and Dr. Phyllis Mingus-Pepin, Vice-President of Academic and General Studies are greatly appreciated for their support.

Leading up to this event, Dr. John Gorman, Dr. Steve Curley, Dr. Dale Taylor and Poom Taylor had the opportunity to interview Mr. Gaines by phone. He alluded to some questions the audience brought up, such as the death penalty and the autobiographical aspects of the book, based on one of the two main characters, Grant Wiggins. Mr. Gaines believes that there’s a little of him in all the characters, and a little of his aunt in the two female characters, Tante Lou and Miss Emma. His aunt, who brought him up, until he was fifteen, was crippled, and one can discern some similarities with the Tante Lou character.

He described the writing process by which he wrote A Lesson before Dying, and then took questions from the audience for half an hour.

There were more than 60 people in attendance, our dedicated Galveston County Reads members, and various community readers who attended some of the previous events or book discussions.

Book Nomination Email~

Please send in your choice for 2009 to:

Voting ends April 25, so start reading and vote!

Choose one of the four books listed, see summaries in previous post:

The four titles nominated are:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Glass Castles: a Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gaines Interview on Pelican Island

Literature, the Latin-speaking old timers used to say, is for delight and instruction. Galveston Countians should get plenty of both from Ernest J. Gaines at Galveston College (4015 Ave. Q) on Tuesday night. The author of A Lesson before Dying will be visiting via an interactive videoconference in the auditorium, Fine Arts-207 at 7:00 pm. This high-tech conversation--admission free-- concludes a stimulating season of discussions for Galveston County Reads.
At 75 Gaines is one of the strongest African American presences in American literature. Probably the best-known of his many books is The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. His characters, many white, are mostly black. “We have more in common than in difference,” he says. He proves that in smooth-reading yet sophisticated tales that are never soft or “sentimental.”
To get ready for the face-to-face, three local professors and a staff expert from the Rosenberg Library talked by speaker phone with Mr. Gaines and his wife at their home in Louisiana. What does he want from his readers? “I try to put you in a jungle, in a swamp, with a good machete. I try to let you strive and get out of there the best you can.”
The tangled growth in A Lesson involves family, love, race, justice (or its opposite) and the roles of godmother, preacher and teacher. The time is 1948 in rural Louisiana. A very young man, numbed by the battering he has taken in life, approaches death in the electric chair.
Gaines says that, while he is often asked about capital punishment, it is a structuring tool in his book, not a personal cause. “I was trying to write a novel about two men growing up.” Jefferson, the younger man, will die. Grant, who had paid little attention to Jefferson when he was his pupil at a small plantation school, either will or won’t go deeper into the role of teacher, one he doesn’t entirely want. The double tension draws readers relentlessly.
How does Gaines do this to us? “I write and rewrite and rewrite.” he says. “A friend of Flaubert asked, ‘What did you do yesterday?’ he said, “That comma we were talking about yesterday, I took it out.’ “What did you do this afternoon,” the friend asked. “I put it back in there.”
Though he’ll mention the great French novelist and remark, after his own style is praised, “the Bible is simple that way too,” Gaines wants readers to stay in the time and place of his books. As a young man he went to California, spent 15 years and returned to Louisiana. “The food, the color, the culture, music, our jazz, our blues just everything. You can’t stay away.”
Thanks to A Lesson before Dying, and an interlocking body of other novels and stories we can always go there. We can feel the universal human drama in a perfectly rendered local world. There are too many aspects of Gaines’s book to point to in a short article. Come to Galveston College and meet (electronically, but for real) the man himself.

Short List for 2009!

Galveston County Reads Announces Short List for 2009:

Community invited to vote.

Galveston County Reads announces the short list of candidates for the sixth year of the community wide book club. In the spirit of the electoral process, the voting will be open to the public this year. Copies of the books are available at local public libraries, including Rosenberg Library, and at area bookstores. The committee is a volunteer organization that invites your participation. To cast your vote or become a committee member, please email Karen Stanley at or call 409.763.8854 x119. Voting ends April 25, so start reading and join the discussion.

Following are the book nominations for the 2009 season:
The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls takes us on a journey of her childhood that begins with setting herself on fire at the age of three while cooking hot dogs on the gas stove and ends with her struggle to create a sane, stable life for herself. Walls expertly develops the characters in the book, slowly revealing bits and parts of their personalities to help the reader understand what drives their bizarre actions. High praise for any novel, but The Glass Castle is a memoir and the characters are the members of the Walls family. As she chronicles the often terrifying events of her childhood, Walls shares intimate glimpses of the family. Fleeing town in the middle of the night so often that no place can ever become “home,” being taught to hold your nose in order to stomach eating rotten ham and barely surviving a ride in the back of a u-haul with the doors flapping open as the parents obliviously ride in the safety of the cab are just a few examples. Many of the images Walls shares are horrifying, yet they are balanced with humor, hope and a belief in the ability of individuals to rise above struggle, adversity and even deprivation to discover who they truly are. The Glass Castle takes the reader to a new understanding of mental illness and homelessness, but also illustrates the power of familial love even in the most dysfunctional setting. Book available in paperback, hardback, Large Type, CD and cassette.

Orxy and Crake
By Margaret Atwood
Reviewers have called Orxy and Crake a work of science fiction that is more like Jonathan Swift than Robert Heinlein because there are no flying cars in this book. Although it is set in the future there are already parallels that can be drawn between the events in the world of this novel and those in the real world today. The narrator, Jimmy, who calls himself Snowman, may be the last human alive. In flashbacks, he tells the reader of the events that lead up to his present circumstances. Margaret Atwood, a talented Canadian author, spins a great narrative that includes genetic engineering, an unknown apocalyptic event and an ending that allows for intriguing speculation. This book is a vast departure from other Galveston County Reads selections and from titles on the list this year. However, it is a masterfully written thriller that has lots of dark humor and endless possibilities for discussion. It is available in hardback, paperback, audio and download. May also have limited availability in Spanish.

Water for Elephants
By Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants is a novel told in flashback by Jacob Jankowski, now in his nineties and spending his days in a nursing home. Jacob takes readers back into the Depression when he was a young man preparing for veterinary exams at Cornell. Jacob receives the sad news of his parents’ demise and finds himself facing a mental breakdown. Jacob flees school and his old life to join the circus where he’s hired to care for the animals. Jacob learns the inner workings of circus life, falls in love, and begins to understand himself a little better in his new and strange surroundings. This is a beautiful and well-written historical novel that will likely touch the reader by the emotional honesty and depth of Jacob. Book available in paperback, hardback, Large Type, CD and Spanish, Aqua Para Elefantes

The Worst Hard Time: The untold story of those who survived the Great American Dust Bowl
By Timothy EganTimothy Egan, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, has brought to life the heartbreak and hardships endured by the families that attempted to eke out a living in the American Great Plains during the extensive drought of the 1930s. Through interviews with survivors and the use of newspaper accounts, journals, and letters written at the time, Egan provides moving portraits of several families struggling to exist while watching their farms blow away. Much of the action is centered around Dalhart, Texas, one of the hardest hit areas in the 400 million acre dust bowl. Egan examines government policies on homesteading, water, and wheat subsidies during the wars as well as farming practices of the times as contributing factors to the disaster, prompting the necessary discussion of water policies that will haunt our near future. Informative, moving, and highly readable, this book is available in hardcover, paperback, audio CD, audio download, MP3 CD, and Kindle book formats.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gaines interview on Pelican Island, TAMUG~

Ernest J. Gaines’ novel “A Lesson before Dying” has been the focus of The Galveston Reads program for the last year. Several community discussion groups have formed as a result. This interview precedes a March 11 telecast with Gaines. The following is a transcript of a Friday, Feb. 15 interview with Mr. Gaines by professors Dr. Stephen Curly Curley of Texas A&M University, Dr. John Gorman of University of Houston-Clear Lake, and Dr. Dale Taylor of Galveston College. Ms. Poom Taylor, with Galveston’s Rosenberg Library, also participated in the interview.

Transcript provided by Dr. Dale Taylor.

Dr. Gorman: How important is teaching as a subtheme--Grant as a teacher—in making the novel?
Mr. Gaines: Remember, Grant wishes to do other things than teach school in a small one room school house. I’ve know teachers were very good under those conditions; I’ve known teachers who were not very good under those conditions because they wish to do other things, so Grant could be representative of a certain teacher—not, I would say, of all teachers. I went to a one-room school house. I had some good teachers there. I had some poor teachers there. So Grant is just one of the teachers.

Dr. Curley: Since we’re on the question of personal experience, I love the character of Taunt Lou. Is she modeled after anybody that you were raised by?

Mr. Gaines: I don’t know any one Taunte Lou. I’ve known thousands of Taunte Lous. I never knew one Miss Jane Pittman, but I knew thousands of Miss Jane Pittmans. I did not base it on only one character. Even Grant, or Jefferson or any of my characters there. The experience of the characters that I’ve know in my world here in Louisiana. This is experience of my characters I’ve known in my world.

Dr. Taylor: In Chapter 27, interaction between Grant and Reverend Ambrose includes a discussion about the nature of faith and a belief in an afterlife.
“‘I want him in heaven as much as you do Reverend.”
“A place you can’t believe in?”
“No, I don’t believe in it, Reverend.”
“And how can you tell him not to believe in it.”
“I’ll never tell him not to believe in it.”
“And suppose he ask you if it’s there, then what? Suppose he write on that tablet you give him, is it there? Then what?”
“I’ll tell him I don’t know.”
“You the teacher.”
“Yes. But I was taught to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Not the gospel.”
To what extent is this a commentary on the separation of church and state? Increasingly, politicians pass legislation that encroaches on the separation of church and state. Does this portion of your novel suggest that the two should not be separate or does it emphasize the quandary that educators find themselves in as they are expected to be open advocates of religion?

Mr. Gaines: The story takes place in 1948; that’s 60 years ago. And you’re dealing with two people here—one teaching on a small one-room school house in the deep south in 1948. It’s dealing with a preacher who never went to school at all—or maybe very limited education, hardly any education. He felt that his duty was to baptize, to soothe the ill, to visit the ill, to bury the dead, that was his job. The position of Grant at this time, 60 years ago at this time, a one-room school house on a plantation, was to teach his African American students the basic things that they needed to know to survive in that community at that time and that basic thing was reading, writing and arithmetic. Nobody was thinking separation of church of and state at that time. For me to make my novel realistic as I possibly could, I had to go back to that world and think as they thought in that world. As the minister felt, I had to become part of that minister. As Grant felt, I had to become part of Grant. The question of state and church today is a new thing. Neither Grant or the minister had anything like that in mind. And although I might think of the separation of church and state, I had to be part of those characters at that time. I did the best I could with those characters—the way they thought and the way they felt at that time.

Dr. Curley: Do you keep in mind what effect it has on the reader? Do you always have an audience in mind? Do you keep in mind what effect it’s going to have on the reader or do you write to please yourself? Do you think, oh they’re going to laugh at this or they’re going to cry at that? Or do you say, I’m going to write what I’m going to write because that’s what sounds right to me?

Mr. Gaines: I would not publish anything that does not sound right to me. I don’t have an audience in mind. I’ve been asked, Do I see a black audience in mind or a southern audience in mind? When I lived in California, I was accused of being a California writer who wrote about the South. I try to write as well as I possibly can. I’ve had books translated into 12 or 15 foreign languages—Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese and several other foreign languages. I try to write as truly—as well—as I possibly can. Most of us in this world have more in common than we have differences. If I write truly as I possibly can, others other people will relate to my characters. What I do when I’m writing is I try to put you in a jungle, in a swamp with a good machete. I try to let you strive and get out of there the best way you can. I try to write so that anybody can read my work. A 12-year-old child can read and understand my work or a professor, as you are, can understand my work. I try to make it as simple as I possibly can.

Dr. Gorman: One of the community discussions I was in went pretty heavily into a capital punishment theme, and I was very impressed with the power of that novel to remind us of what we’re doing when we consent to take another person’s life by public process. Is that a theme that you’re glad to have circulated when people talk about the book?

Mr. Gaines: I was trying to write a novel about two men growing up—two men who were not fully grown up—Jefferson and Grant—how to get Jefferson, not this boy, but to become this man in those five and a half months. I tried to do the same thing for Grant. Jefferson is to die in five and a half months and Grant is going to live another 40 years. I was not thinking about the death penalty or anything like that. I’ve been asked about that many times. I’ve received manuscripts where people want me to comment on the death penalty. That was not my intention when I wrote this book.
I wanted to put them under the extreme tensions to become a man or become a true human being. I was not pro or con as far as the death penalty goes.

Dr. Taylor: Does the exchange between Rev. Ambrose and Grant represent any experience of your own?

Mr. Gaines: I’ve known preachers who were uneducated, and they believed in sending you to heaven rather than proving your condition here. People in my family—older people—were constantly telling me to be good, to be good, to be good, because you have trouble being good all the time. He represents an older conscience, an older idea of what one should do. Grant of course was educated and had different ideas for what people were to do—life was for people to stand up, people to think, to speak. The minister felt that you have to be good, to attend the church; this is the way to live. I think we all—if you’re old enough. I’m 75 years old—if you’re old enough—when I was a child—I knew people who thought like this minister—30 years ago, 40 years ago, and I in some way disagreed with them but I can understand them.

Dr. Curley: To what extent did you believe you had to leave and then later return to Louisiana to write about it? Or do you think it could have worked out if you had stayed in Louisiana?

Mr. Gaines: If I stayed in Louisiana I doubt that I had become the writer that I am today because I didn’t have anyway to go to school. I wouldn’t have received the kind of teaching that I got at San Francisco State and Stanford. I wouldn’t I have been exposed to those kinds of books or the critics or the writers if I had stayed there. However, had I gone to California and never returned to Louisiana, I doubt that I would have been the writer that I am today. I’ve said quite often that two of the biggest moves that I made in my life were when my family took me to California at the age of 15 to be educated. When I returned 15 years later, I didn’t want to come back to Louisiana because of problems in the civil rights demonstrations and the violence that was going on. After Jim Meredith came back into Mississippi in 1962, I decided I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to write. I had to come back—I tried to write in San Francisco—many things—ghost stories, interracial love affairs, all the experience of a bohemian life in San Francisco, all that sort of thing. But the soul was not there, everything was here in Louisiana. I knew that if Jim Meredith had to go through all the things he went through, I had to come back to Louisiana to become the writer that I wanted to be. My friends were going to Africa, Asia—they were leaving San Francisco, and I wanted to go too. But I was tied to Louisiana. Meredith went to University of Mississippi. I realized I had to come back here and go through whatever pressures I had to go through to write about Louisiana. I couldn’t think about anything more worthwhile to write about.

Dr. Gorman: If Grant were a real person, I would ask him why he didn’t stay in California. According to the chronology of the book, he went out there when he was older than 15 and would have had more scope. Vivian tells him why he came back and why he’s going to stay. He never explains why he has done this.

Mr. Gaines: If you read the rest of my books, you can’t stay away; if you’re born in Louisiana, you can’t stay away. The food, the color, the culture[change the period . to a comma], music, our jazz, our blues, just everything. You can’t stay away. In “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” she tried to walk to Ohio, but she couldn’t get out of the swamps of Louisiana. . . . Robert X comes back from California and he dies in Louisiana. Grant is one of those characters. Lillian could not leave. Many of my characters can’t leave. They won’t be away long if they left.

Dr. Taylor: Jefferson observes in his journal: “It look like the lord just work for wite folks cause ever sens I wasn nothing but a little boy I been on my on haulin water to the fiel on that ol water cart.” Does this reflect the feeling of a number of young African-Americans you think that—God is for white people? Jefferson’s feelings reflect a sense of hopelessness. How much is this a reflection of not only Jefferson’s realization that he is stuck in a class and caste that offer no escape, but others who are failed by the educational system of our country?

Mr. Gaines: Jefferson is uneducated, and he always did what he was told to do with his life. Although his aunt knows about God, and the minister tells him about God, he doesn’t see that God is working for him. I grew up around quite a few young men who believed that—felt there was no hope. Not only in Louisiana but when I was in San Francisco—that there was no hope—but at the same time Jefferson is one of a kind. He does not represent all young black African Americans at ’48 or 2008 but he does represent a number of them.

Dr. Curley: What do you read for pleasure? Do you read any genre fiction like mystery, romance, westerns? You mentioned ghost stories. Do you have a favorite kind of fiction when you go to B. Dalton or Barnes and Noble? Do you find yourself going to the mystery section? What do you like to read when you read?

Mr. Gaines: I don’t go to B.Dalton. I have a large library of my own with thousands of books. I walk around in my library. I can stop at the shelf and pull down a novel of Tolstoy or Hemingway or maybe some poetry or Mark Twain or Shakespeare. I read all of this. I like a good mystery on television, but I don’t particularly like mystery novels or western novels. Although I love westerns, I’m a great western fan. I watch “Shane” and “High Noon” and those kinds of movies—I love them. I don’t read novels anymore. I read parts of novels; I read chapters, maybe an act of a play, a bit of poetry, a bit of philosophy. I don’t have any certain genre. Wherever I stop—I just look around and read a little bit of it.

Dr. Gorman: Are there younger writers—writers who are in midstream--you’re interested in?

Mr. Gaines: We just had the Ernest J. Gaines literary award recently. A young lady, Olympia Brennan, won for her book, “A Killing in This Town.” She’s very, very talented. There are others out there who are good writers.

Dr. Taylor: Is your representation of the mixed-race or mulatto male characters a reflection of the animosity that existed in the community in which you lived? Or is this a sort of ranking or hegemonic fictional device that polarizes and categorizes white and black in the novel? Do these characters serve to polarize white and black—was that your purpose? Or are they a natural part of your novel?

Mr. Gaines: I know characters like that in my book and in my community. I grew up with these types of people who have those kind of attitudes. Those attitudes are still around in Louisiana or you can go to Los Angeles or other parts of this country and you’ll find those attitudes. I’ve been around it—even in my own family where there’s a distinction between fair and darker people so it’s just one of those things. Writing a book is like building a house; you need extra boards and bricks—whatever it takes to make the novel more representative of your land, your area, your place—this is what you use. If I wrote only about dark skinned African Americans, I wouldn’t be true to my work and my area. If I did not bring conflict between the Creoles—the darker skinned Creoles and the lighter skinned Creoles—I would not be true to my work. If I didn’t write about conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, I would not be true to my work. So I bring all of these things into to develop my work. I’ve known characters like this.

Dr. Curley: Since this is a Galveston Reads Program, a number of people have been interested in whether you’ve ever visited Galveston

Mr. Gaines: Yes, we’ve been to Galveston. I’ve been all over the place.

Dr. Gorman: We wish you had been able to come to the Island so we can show you around. Everybody is looking forward to the webcast. I have read “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and “A Gathering of Old Men,” and I very much enjoy following that community from decade to decade as the political things and the cultural things change.
Do you mind being compared to Faulkner . . .?

Mr. Gaines: I’ve been compared to Faulkner, because I write about a central place just as he did, but so did Joyce, and so did Balzac and many other writers have written about a certain area. I never compare myself to anybody. If that’s what people want, that’s O.K. with me. I just want my agent to get as much money from my books as he possibly can.

All: (Laughter)

Dr. Gorman: All right. A beautiful motive and one that many of us envy if we don’t have agents. Thank you very much.

Dr. Taylor: Vivian also serves to demonstrate the internalization of colorism. In this exchange, Jefferson is speaking about how pretty she is. “I see how pretty she is an im sorry how I talk that day when I was mad at you an say them nasty thing bout her caus she so pretty an smil so pretty. . . Vivian also she so pretty an im so ugly”(232). We see this theme, this sort of colorism running through texts such as Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith and yours—a sort of internalization and acceptance of hegemony—the sort of ranking of worth based on skin color. What do you think is the cure for this?

Mr. Gaines: I think Jefferson doesn’t feel this way because of color. She’s a beautiful woman. No one has probably spoken to him or kissed him [except] Nanan, his godmother, the elderly lady who cares for him. The scent about her body. He’s been locked up in a jail cell and treated like an animal, and he knows he might die soon. He regrets what he said; it’s not because of color.

Dr. Curley: When I first read the novel, I thought how simple it was—it’s so simple people aren’t going to have anything to talk about. It’s certainly obvious. You can’t put it down emotionally. As you close the covers—it’s a parable of a story that refuses to die and go away. Do you do this on purpose?

Mr. Gaines: The Bible is simple that way too. I receive more letters from white students— middle grade on up all over the place—they say the same thing—we can understand this book. Many people from attorneys to children, after reading the opening chapter of “A Lesson Before Dying,” say how much they liked it. If I can get that reaction from 10th, 11th, 12th grade students and attorneys in their 40s and 50s I’ve reached a public out there.

Dr. Curley: When you revise do you try to keep in mind the effect a certain turn of phrase or action will have on your readers? Or do you write entirely to please your own sensibilities?

Mr. Gaines: I write rewrite, and rewrite. I want to get it so well that you can understand it. It’s like the machete in the jungle. A friend of Flaubert asked, “What did you do yesterday?” He said, “That comma we were talking about yesterday, I took it out. What did you do this afternoon? The friend asked. “I put it back in there.” Whichever makes it easier to read.

Dr. Gorman: Can you comment on Jefferson’s diary?

Mr. Gaines: I think Jefferson’s diary is a great uplift. He’s very sad, but it shows he’s growing.

Dr. Taylor: The development that Jefferson and Grant go though is representative or a metaphor of the growth that many African American men find themselves going through in this country.

Mr. Gaines: Right, I wanted the teacher to teach the student and the student to teach the teacher to help both develop.

Ms. Poom Taylor: Why did you select the names Jefferson and Grant?

Mr. Gaines: Jefferson and Grant those presidential names—I just came up with a name—had nothing to do what the presidents.

Dr. Curley: I think this has been a wonderful conversation. I had a college class read it and one student said, “You know I never read a book before, but this is my favorite book ever.”

Mr. Gaines: A guy told me the same thing. He said, “Mr. Gaines, “A Lesson Before Dying” is my favorite book and the “Sky is Grey,” the short story.” I said, “How many novels have you read?” He said, “one.” I asked him how many short stories he’s read. He said, “one.”

Thursday, January 31, 2008

3 professors, movie and the play

Three of our special events have been held, with our kickoff, the scenes from the play, presented by the Ensemble Theatre of Houston. Was well attended, food from the book was served, fried chicken and refreshments.

The movie was shown at the Rosenberg Library, in the Randall Room, to a full crowd and popcorn was served to complete the full movie viewing effect.

3 professors was wunderbar! See Heber's write up in the Daily News:

Rediscovering a real human pleasure

By Heber Taylor

The discussion at Rosenberg Library on Tuesday night about “A Lesson Before Dying” reminded me of why I love living in Galveston.Galvestonians are known for arguing about politics. But their arguments about books might be even more interesting.Every year, Galveston County Reads chooses a book and conducts a series of public discussions. On Tuesday, three college professors — John Gorman, Stephen Curley and Michael Berberich — led a discussion of Ernest J. Gaines’ novel.I was astonished by all the things I’d missed in the book that other readers pointed out. It wasn’t just the English professors who helped me. I’m still thinking through some comments from a cardiologist who retired from the University of Texas Medical Branch and from a young man not long out of high school.One of the points of the book is that we all want to develop fully as human beings before we have to face death.So what does it mean to be fully human? The characters in this book disagree.My neighbors on the island helped me rediscover a real human pleasure, though. It’s a pleasure to read and exchange insights into the work of some our important artists.If you haven’t dropped in on one of the discussions, you really ought to check the calendar.

The evening ended with an interesting comment, comparing the death penalty to lynching... and furthur discussion will be entertained at our next event:

Family Dynamics of Black Male Incarceration at Old Central


Panel discussion with Yoni Benson, Linda Ferguson, Leah Fanuiel, Robert Caraway, Charlie Baldwin, and James Dennis. Facilitated by Jason Glenn. Central Cultural Center Library, 2627 Ave. M, Galveston. Sponsorship and refreshments provided by the UTMB Office of Diversity and International Affairs. 6 – 8 pm

Monday, January 7, 2008

1st Discussion at Mosquito Cafe~

Thanks to Steve Rennick for graciously hosting our first discussion at the Mosquito. He had homemade cookies, coffee and mint iced tea.

We had a good crowd led by Fanny DeGesero. On the heels of the two articles in the Daily
News, we had some engaging conversation on the criminal justice system and justice in America today, versus when Gaines recalls Louisianna in 1948, which was 13 years after he moved to California. Had to leave just when it was getting interesting... turning a blind eye to violence war, and wholesale slaughter of chickens at Krogers! Basically, conversation moved to chicken, the sanitized version we see in stores towards the war in Afganistan and Iraq!

Fanny gave us some interesting biographical insight to the novel and the author, how Gaines moved away and came back to Louisianna and had the matriarch influences in his life, as the two main characters do.

Next discussion: Tuesday, Jan. 8th, TOMORROW!

St. Patrick Catholic Church, 1010 35th St., Galveston. 7 pm. 1/08/08

Play tickets are going fast.... do pick them up at the Rosenberg Library. As of 7:09 pm, Monday, there are 60 or so left!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Play tickets for LBDying

Tickets will be available from the Circulation Desk, at the Rosenberg Library on Saturday, January 5, 2008.

2 tickets per person, please.

There are approximately 190 seats available at The Strand Theatre.

Please arrive before 2:00 to ensure that you are seated. This ticket does not guarantee your seat. Others on the waiting list will be given any seats that are not occupied by 1:55 pm.

1/13/2008 “A Lesson Before Dying” - scene from the play and dialogue. Strand Street Theatre, 2317 Ships Mechanics Row, Galveston. 2 pm. Sunday. Phone: 409-763-4591

Presented by Ensemble Theatre of Houston.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A lesson in reading between the lines

A lesson in reading between the lines
By Dale Taylor
The Daily News
Published December 28, 2007

Editor’s note: Every year, Galveston County Reads chooses a book and puts on a series of public discussions. This year’s selection is Ernest J. Gaines’ novel “A Lesson Before Dying,” which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1993.

Ernest J. Gaines’ 1993 novel “A Lesson Before Dying” provides fertile ground for discussion as its Jim Crow setting places the reader in the middle of several controversial questions — among them the illegitimacy of race, the death penalty and the inadequacy of U.S. prison systems.The story features two central characters, Grant Wiggins, a teacher who has been charged with reforming a criminal, and Jefferson, the young man who is at the center of the story’s plot because of his unwitting part in a robbery and murder.Wiggins reluctantly accepts an emotional appeal from his aunt and her friend who press him into reforming Jefferson. At his trial, Jefferson is referred to as a “hog” for his involvement in the murder of a store owner. The story revolves primarily around Wiggins’ anger at having been asked to accomplish a task that he is doubtful can be achieved and his eventual acquiescence and visits to Jefferson in jail.Wiggins represents the broader educational and prison systems in this country that also are charged with reforming and acculturating people who have committed crimes. The story’s humanizing of Jefferson from an object to a human is a convincing argument for reforming the American justice system. However, the story also references important social structures.

There are several methods for examining this story; two key phrases seem appropriate as a tool for examining the internal workings — “discourse” and “hegemony.” “Discourse” refers to those words that are used by specialists in their work.The word “discourse” in a literary context focuses on a particular aspect of the society as it relates to the literature. As such, the word “hegemony” is important as well.“Hegemony,” coined by Antonio Gramsci, in philosophy and literature refers to those ways in which society orders itself with some people playing upper, middle or lower class roles on the social and economic ladder. Several key ideas emerge from the novel as we consider the discourse of race — language that defines who is black, white, multi-racial, etc. The story is set in a late 1940s Louisiana community that is galvanized by Jefferson’s trial. Through Wiggins’ internal dialogue, the reader learns how the society of his time is structured.Gaines, through his character Wiggins, makes it clear that whites are considered upper class in the community, and blacks are considered lower class. Certainly there is nothing exceptional in this portrait as the same kinds of social structure appear in novels by Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and other writers.A middle class in the story — unionized mulattoes or multi-racial characters — plays no special role except as the target of the narrator’s frustration. Even this is not exceptional in that American authors use multi-racial characters to mark and test boundaries. White and black groups are polarized in their respective positions as they vie for power and dignity. The novel ends on a hopeful note as Gaines suggests in Wiggins’ relationship with Paul, a white deputy at the jail, that white youth will see the humanity in blacks.One might read this story as an allegory for the social movement that begins in the late 1940s and ’50s, when young whites and blacks protested invalid hegemonic assignment of human value, or one could see it as a suggestion that Americans have much work left to do.The story makes this point clearly — communities have a responsibility for the care of all of their members, despite a sordid past and an invalid means of ranking members of the “human” race.

Here is a question that might be pondered for this text: To what extent do stories such as this one reinforce existing hegemonies or give us an opportunity to challenge them?

Dale M. Taylor has a doctorate in literature and teaches at Galveston College.