NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Over the last two months, all across Kansas, people have been reading the same book.
The Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library of Kansas chose Fort Scott native Gordon Parks’ landmark autobiographical novel The Learning Tree for Kansas’ first “one state one book project,” called Kansas Reads. The Newton Public Library has multiple copies of the book available for check-out and had a free showing of the movie The Learning Tree, based on the book, on April 16.
On Wednesday, April 25, Bethel College academic dean and associate professor of English Brad Born will lead a book discussion at the Newton High School Media Center, 900 W. 12th Street in Newton, at 7 p.m.
“I consider it a real privilege to participate in the Newton community’s Kansas Reads programming,” Born said. “I first learned that Gordon Parks’ novel The Learning Tree was the focus from Marianne Eichelberger, director of the Newton Public Library, and Ami Regier, Bethel College professor of English, who were among the people planning this event.
“Having attended a Gordon Parks lecture many years ago in Lawrence and having found him an incredibly rich cultural resource, I was happy to participate in this program,” Born continued. “Parks is truly an amazing Kansas and American figure and his novel is a great choice for a book discussion.”
Born noted that the Kansas Center for the Book’s Web site provides “some excellent discussion questions for The Learning Tree. Knowing that many of the Kansas Reads participants will have read those questions, I think that will be a good place to start with those who gather for the book discussion.” The questions can be accessed at skyways.lib.ks.us/orgs/kcfb/lt/discussion_questions.htm.
“That said,” Born continued, “I think many of those questions lead to more specific follow-up questions. For instance, the Kansas Reads resource poses the great question, ‘In what ways is The Learning Tree a Kansas novel?’ As readers of Parks’ novel know, it begins with the main character, the young Newt Winger, caught in a Kansas tornado. For me, that scene is a powerful illustration of a recurring theme: While in many ways Newt faces a future as open as the Kansas sky and as wide as the Kansas horizon, he also must come to terms with social forces that threaten to limit his opportunities – indeed, that literally threaten his life.
“The fact that Newt survives those forces is a remarkable testament to his own will and courage and the support of family, church and community members in the face of the institutional racism and segregationist policies of 1920s Kansas.”
Born added, “I’m also sure that local readers who come to the book discussion will bring many of their own insights and perspectives, and I look forward to learning from that community wisdom.”
The book discussion is free and open to the public. Call the Newton Public Library at 283-2890 for more information.