Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Local Writers, Students Help Sunrise Launch 'Little Free Library'

"Sunrise Gives Residents the Gift of Books via the ‘Little Free Library’"
by José Pérez

The City of Sunrise recently launched the Little Free Library initiative, a program designed to make books more accessible to more people in the community.    City leaders, local educators, students, and neighbors came to the Sunrise Village Multipurpose Center in City Park for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the Little Free Library project – with a little bit of starpower.

Along with residents, two special guests joined the ribbon-cutting.   Noted author Edwidge Danticat made a surprise appearance at the event, which was a special treat for Ashley Jones, an aspiring poet who is a student at Florida International University’s MFA program, who was also invited by organizers to read some of her poems to the children during a “Sidewalk Story Time.”     Jones was surprised and thrilled to get a chance to meet and read her work on the same program as Danticat.  “I can’t believe I’m here,” Jones said rather bashfully.

Danticat, who read to the children from her children’s book Eight Days, was supportive and understanding of Jones.  “We’re both storytellers,” said Danticat, pointing out that the only difference is that one tells her stories in prose while the other tells her stories in verse.   Jones agreed, sharing that “the way that I communicate is by putting my truest feelings out there.”  This she says comes from her appreciation of good stories she grew up with.  “If I read something that touched me I was glad about that,” said the native of Birmingham, Alabama.  This experience was familiar to Danticat.  “My first writing teachers were storytellers,” she said.

Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries were brought to life by local high school students who participate in the Sunrise Leadership Academy (SLA).    The SLA meets each month to learn more about leadership, policy, and more.   The Little Free Library project was a special one for the SLA students and Miami-based artist G.G. who's been working with the students.  “It’s a great program,” said Camilo Isaza, a student at Western High School, “I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

For Sunrise Mayor Michael J Ryan, the event was “a celebration of the power of an idea.”

“The power of literacy,” said Ryan, is that reading a good book “takes us on an adventure.” 

That idea was shared and embodied by both Danticat and Jones, two artists with a love for the power of their craft to touch people – especially when the writer and her audience can share the same physical space.  “When you see the faces,” said Danticat, “you see that the magic of the story is still possible.” This was evident by the contagious laughter from the children as Jones read a charming ode she wrote to the quirks of the grade school lunch forgotten by so many adults.

 A good story will take the reader to “a place you never imagined,” said Danticat, who talked about the wonder of what she called “the willingness to disbelieve” on the part of a reader, allowing him- or herself to be transported, to be “dissolved into the world of the story.”   This, in fact, is the theme of Eight Days, a story about a little boy who used his imagination to escape the fear and confinement of being trapped under rubble after Port-au-Prince’s deadly 2010 earthquake.

Although in her early twenties, Jones saw another side of the magic of storytelling:  nostalgic time travel.   For her, a good story can transport a reader back to “a world of memories” carried upon “lyrical thoughts.”

Danticat and Jones also reveled in the opportunity to be present in the ribbon-cutting for Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries.  “I like outeach,” said Jones. “It is a chance to be a part of something to put back.”  Danticat said that being at the ribbon-cutting was “acknowledging what it would have meant for me as a girl” to have a writer read his or her own story in person.

The first Little Free Library was started in Wisconsin just four years ago.  The idea is simple:  “Take a book, leave a book.”   With the creation of four Little Free Library locations in Sunrise, that city joins communities in Mexico, Haiti, India, Lithuania and more where people can walk up to an old newspaper box and check out a book in exchange for another one.   

Organizers say that that the titles available at Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries will rotate.   For the launch of the program, readers can look forward to works by writers such as Julia Alvarez, David Chabon, Dan Gutman, Sandra Cisneros, Sandra Boynton, and, of course, Danticat herself.  Smartly-designed booklets of Jones’ poems were given away as gifts to those in attendance.  

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