The Mid-Columbia's annual literary festival is testing the concept of "the community that reads together, learns together."
Hundreds of copies of The Compound, a post-apocalyptic young adult novel written by American author S.A. Bodeen, will be distributed by Lit Fest organizers in mid-January as part of a community reading initiative.
The book giveaway will be followed by Bodeen visiting the Tri-Cities in March, which was coordinated with the help of the Cavalcade of Authors teen reading program.
Organizers said they envision the community reading initiative becoming a permanent part of Lit Fest, and a way to bring the festival's goal of reading for pleasure and enrichment to more people.
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"I call it mission fulfillment," said Bill McKay, one of Lit Fest's chief coordinators and Dean of Arts & Humanities and Physical Education at Columbia Basin College.
Lit Fest has brought prominent and award-winning literary figures to the region in the past, including Sherman Alexie who wrote The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and memoirist Augusten Burroughs, who's authored several books about his unconventional upbringing and life.
Hundreds of people have attended author visits arranged by festival organizers over the years, but McKay said he and others wanted to do more. That's when talk of an organized reading of a specific book in the community began.
"This way we can reach an even broader group of people," he said.
Organizers decided to pick a young adult novel so that children and adults could read it together.
Bodeen's The Compound was suggested by Michelle Lane, director of Calvalcade of Authors.
Cavalcade encourages students to read books by a designated group of authors, with the top readers getting to attend seminars with some of the authors each spring.
Lane said Bodeen's book is enjoyed equally by boys and girls and has won several awards since it was published in 2008. She's also written a sequel called The Fallout.
"She's the most popular author (in Cavalcade) right now," said Lane, who is a librarian at West Richland's Enterprise Middle School. "I don't ever have a copy of that book in."
What's more, Cavalcade already booked Bodeen for its author visits in March, making it all the easier to arrange for the writer to stay a little longer for a communitywide event.
Bodeen's book focuses on survival, science and family dynamics and will feed into other potential Lit Fest events, McKay said.
An Oregon State University researcher who specializes in bunker and shelter construction also may give a talk.
Most importantly, though, having a large group of people read the same book should lead to a community-wide discussion about the issues the book raises, organizers said.
"We're delighted to participate in anything community-wide," said Ann Roseberry, manager of the Richland Public Library.
Organizers are working with Bodeen's publisher, Barnes & Noble and local libraries to get copies of the book into the community, though it won't be enough for every individual.
"The hope is people will read it and then pass it on," McKay said, though he added that Lit Fest won't be all about The Compound.
An event similar to last year's Three Days In May also is being planned.
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