Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan the featured author of ‘Washington Black,’ on race and belonging

WHATCOM ­— The county’s annual book reading effort cannot be “together,” so it is happening online instead.

Everyone is invited to join in Whatcom Reads online events and book discussions leading up to the March 4-5 video appearances of featured award-winning “Washington Black” author Esi Edugyan.

The online events are free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. See whatcomreads.org for more information.

“Inspired by the book, events and discussions will examine the themes of race and belonging and illustration and the natural world,” said Ann McAllen, adult programming coordinator for the Whatcom County Library System and chair of the Whatcom Reads committee. “We hope to get neighbors talking to each other about the book’s themes and sharing their love of reading as we anticipate author Esi Edugyan’s virtual presentations on March 4 and 5.”

The book selection was announced back in March 2020. “Much has changed in our world since then,” McAllen said. “We believe the empathy, imagination and complicated truths of ‘Washington Black’ make it an ideal shared read for this time that will spur meaningful community conversations.”

Edugyan writes richly imagined and impeccably researched stories that illuminate complicated truths about race and belonging. She is only the third writer to twice win the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award.

“Washington Black,” her third novel, was included on numerous best-book lists when it was published in 2018. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of the Giller Prize. In addition to being a beautifully written adventure story, “Washington Black” can amplify community discussions regarding racism and social justice.

The book is “an enthralling meditation on the weight of freedom, wrapped in a rousing adventure story stretching to the ends of the earth,” praised reviewer Renée Graham in the Boston Globe.

Like Edugyan’s other richly imagined and impeccably researched stories, “Washington Black” illuminates complicated truths about race. 

Whatcom Reads will conform to COVID-19 health protection guidelines by using an online format. “We’ve learned a thing or two about hosting virtual events this year, so we are building in ways to create the rich experiences our community has come to expect from our annual gatherings,” McAllen said.

This includes creating resources for book groups such as a speaker’s bureau of librarians who can facilitate book discussions and community members who can share social justice efforts underway in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Learn more about programs and register at whatcomreads.org/events.

This is the schedule of events on race and belonging:

  •    7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, a poetry reading with local poet Robert Lashley, who has connnections to the deep South. 
  •    7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, “Angel in the Outhouse: Stories of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Seattle storyteller Kathya Alexander, based on her own experience growing up in the segregated South.
  •    6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 25, “Let’s Talk About Race” with author and professor Clyde Ford, emphasizing honest and open audience participation.
  •    7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, “African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song,” a moderated discussion with Dr. Bill Lyne, coordinator of African American Studies at Western Washington University.
  •    7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, “Technology and Social Justice,” with author, scholar and activist Clyde Ford, who delves into issues his father faced as the first black software engineer in America and may still be present in high-tech today.
  •    6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, “I’ll Fly Away: A Sojourn Through Poetry and Spirituals,” with award-winning poet, performer and distinguished scholar Gloria Burgess.
  •   his and other programming is made possible by a grant from Lift Every Voice,  a year-long, nationwide celebration of the 250-year tradition of African American poetry. Learn more at africanamericanpoetry.org.
  •   n the book, the title character, George Washington Black, is a talented illustrator who uses his skill to explore the natural world. His experiences include an inspiring encounter with an octopus.
  •   his is the schedule of events on the theme of illustration and the natural world:
  •    1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, “The Smart Skin and Amazing Brains of the Octopus,” with Dr. David Gire.
  •    4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, “What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Sleeping — What Birds are Doing, and Why,” with renowned ornithologist David Allen Sibley.

These are opportunities with author Edugyan when she is here March 4-5 via live video events.

  •    Create art inspired by the book for display at Allied Arts during March. Visit alliedarts.org/whatcom-reads-art-challenge for details. Submissions are due March 2-3, and the opening reception is March 5. The exhibition continues through March 27.
  •    At 2 p.m. Feb. 21 and 28 local writers share their work inspired by the theme, “Reconciliation,” read online from the Village Books virtual Readings Gallery.
  • It’s possible to join the conversation of “Washington Black” with a book group. Check whatcomreads.org for book group discussions and resources, including special events with Whatcom Reads partner Evolve Chocolate + Café. Details will be added in the months ahead. Email whatcomreads@gmail.com for information.