Four cities united today in the announcement of Britain’s largest ever community-based reading project with the backing of Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Small Island Read 2007 – which takes place from 11 January 2007 – builds on the success of the annual Bristol Great Reading Adventure and Liverpool Reads initiatives, and brings in new partners from Aye Write! The Glasgow Book Festival and Hull Libraries. Tens of thousands of people from Scotland to Cornwall are expected to join the project and read Small Island by Andrea Levy.
Small Island Read 2007 is linked to the 2007 commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the passing of the Slave Trade Abolition Bill – a year that is being used to explore the legacy of slavery and its continuing impact upon modern Britain. Andrea Levy’s widely acclaimed and award-winning novel describes the arrival in post-war Britain of black Jamaican immigrants, the descendants of enslaved Africans. It addresses the themes of identity, racial awareness, forgiveness, ignorance and survival with humour, high drama, anger and pathos, providing an unforgettable read in 2007.
In announcing their support for Small Island Read 2007, Adrian Tinniswood, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Nick Capaldi, of Arts Council England, commented:
We have supported two Bristol reading projects already and are delighted to be supporting this national project. Remembering the victims of the slave trade is essential to everyone’s lives. Just as important is celebrating the diversity of the modern city.
The mass reading project – and the associated arts and heritage projects – provides a fitting start to the 2007 commemorations.
In addition to the thousands of copies of the book being available for loan in the participating cities, readers will be able to obtain a fully illustrated guide, which provides information on the author and background material on the themes of slavery and migration. Books for younger readers are also being used as part of the project to ensure all age groups can take part. These are Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy and Mary Hoffman’s Amazing Grace.
All four cities were involved in the slave trade and the campaign for its abolition. In a joint statement the four cities said today:
We are all committed to promoting reading and literacy, at the same time as encouraging learning about the past. We are confident we will achieve both of these aims with Small Island Read 2007and are delighted to be working together on such an exciting and inspirational project. All this work will promote the pleasures of reading and learning about the past and celebrating the present – in this case the diversity of our cities.
The Bristol Great Reading Adventure and Liverpool Reads have already shown how mass-reading initiatives can engage a wide range of people in a single book, inspire discussion and debate, encourage more reading, writing and creativity, enhance social capital through the building of networks across the community, promote learning about our heritage, and be fun for all those involved.
For Small Island Read 2007:
50,000 copies of Small Island will be distributed free of charge in Bristol and the South West, Liverpool and North West England, Hull and Glasgow.
80,000 copies of a full-colour, illustrated guide will be distributed free of charge.
All the library authorities in Bristol and South West England, Liverpool, Hull and Glasgow are participating, along with many in North West England – over 500 libraries in total.
A programme of schools and adult learners workshops will be held in addition to reading group discussions, competitions, quizzes, talks and other activities.
An extensive website – www.smallislandread.com – to be launched in January 2007 will provide news of events taking place as well as further background information and links to resources.
Andrea Levy said today:
I am very excited that Small Island is the focus of this ambitious mass-reading project. I feel deeply honoured that it has been chosen in the year that commemorates the ending of the slave trade, and that the novel, which is set in the 1940s, is being used as the springboard to look back to the important issues of slavery and its aftermath. It has always been one of the aims of my writing to make the history of African-Caribbean people in this country more visible and to show their story to be an important part of British history. I hope everyone who takes part in the Small Island Read 2007 really enjoys the experience.