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How We Got Started
What Happened During
Reading Across RI

What We Learned
How Did We Get Started
In November of 2001, a group of literacy advocates including educators, librarians, state officials, bookstore owners and book lovers met at Providence Public Library. They decided that an initiative bringing the community together around one book and achieving the profound goal of encouraging Rhode Islanders to read and discuss that book would be an extremely worthwhile project, particularly in the aftermath of September 11th. It was agreed that a very simple statement described the group's mission: "to bring Rhode Islanders together through reading."

The members of the group hoped to broaden and deepen people's appreciation of literature and books through reading and discussion. Above all else, it was also decided, the project should be fun! Not so easy to agree upon was a novel that would meet the set criteria: a novel with universal themes and messages, appealing to a range of readers both male & female, ages 14 years - 100+. The book needed to be available and accessible, so everyone who wanted to participate would be able to find it in hardcover, paperback, large print, audio and in different languages.

The search for a good story meeting all the criteria led the group to choose Wish You Well by popular author David Baldacci, a poignant coming-of-age novel set in the mountains of West Virginia in the 1940s. The numerous thematic threads of intergenerational connections, folk art and storytelling and environmental issues which run throughout the story lent itself to a range of discussions and events to encourage and motivate people from all over Rhode Island to read and enjoy the book during the first few months of 2003.

The title of the book and the project were unveiled at a press event at the State House on December 4th, 2002.

By that point, Reading Across Rhode Island had become an exciting collaboration co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty and Barbara Morse of NBC 10, and presented with the cooperation of about ten sponsors.

The Providence Public Library led with manpower and PR support. Verizon, Fidelity Investments and New England Gas Company donated some much-needed cash funding. Barnes & Noble Booksellers helped with multiple Book Fair fundraisers. The Pawtucket Red Sox offered 500 tickets for Reading Across RI Day at McCoy Stadium, Cardi’s Furniture, i.d. group, RI - NEA, and Time Warner Books all contributed in-kind help with PR, books, and/or funding.

We kicked off the project with a well-attended Literacy Conference on January 25th at CCRI to which librarians, educators and book group leaders were invited. The impetus was to give conference participants a foothold on the prominent themes of the novel for use in different classroom & book group formats and in different content areas.

The generosity of the author, David Baldacci, was very evident during this first appearance in Rhode Island. He thrilled the student presenters by listening to them talk about their responses to Wish You Well and then spoke with them in a private session allowing them to interact with him on a very personal basis.

At noon, Mr. Baldacci spoke to a "full house" audience about his experiences as an author in America. He was a wonderful storyteller, using words to illustrate his message of the importance and necessity of reading as a lifelong pursuit, and making connections through the written word. He obligingly stayed to sign all of the books received by the participants in the workshop, donated by his publisher, Time-Warner Books. The line extended to the top step of the auditorium, with people patiently waiting for a chance to meet the author and exchange a few words while he signed their books.