Let’s Talk About It: Picturing America—Land of Opportunity
East Meadow Public Library, East Meadow, NY
Project Director: Jude Schanzer
Target Audience: Adults
Library Size: 25,000–100,000
“According to Thomas Merton, ‘art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’ This is true many times over, as each piece of art is worth words, thoughts, and interpretations from each individual looking at it. We might be able to see in a piece of art, what we have not been able to see in ourselves. This series gave our patrons the opportunity to experience this phenomenon in art, film, and literature in an environment created expressly to allow this was allowed to happen.”
“Let’s Talk About It: Picturing America—Land of Opportunity” featured five discussion group meetings over a four-month period. Each session was lead by two scholars (one with a literature background, the other with an art background), and revolved around one of the five titles selected under the “Land of Opportunity” theme. At each program, attendees:
- view a filmed version of the book;
- viewed select images of art from the Picturing America collection that were particularly relevant to the theme;
- listened to a lecture that discussed correlations between the film, book, and artwork; and
- participated in a moderated discussion about the book.
Programs and Ideas
Two scholars were featured at each presentation. Marion Wrenn, PhD, teaches writing at Princeton University and is a published writer as well as editor of the Painted Bride Quarterly. Dr. Wrenn's expertise involves the influence of culture on the populous. Barbara Applegate is an art historian and Director of the Hillwood Art Museum at C.W. Post University. As Picturing America was the catalyst for the series, the art deserved to have the examination, respect, and an equal place next to the literature.
Whenever possible we showed a film that was an adaptation of the novel. The lectures and discussions of the books immediately followed the film at each of the five sessions.
Both speakers integrated images, characterizations, and script adaptations into their discussions of the novel and the art, illustrating the influence of both over the film and our American culture.
The complete Picturing America collection was displayed right outside of the room in which the program was held.
The target audience included community members residing in retirement complexes, young families, and those living in military housing. Library staff have witnessed military families meeting older residents at library events, and they are creating bridges as they discover common experiences, though the times, wars, and technologies are different. “Land of Opportunity” has a common thread that weaves through our population. Whether we are looking for a new land to follow our dreams, creating a family as a piece of our future, or enjoying or ruing the journey we have taken, this series provides moments for us to grab and examine. Promoting discussion and exploration through art, literature, and personal experience is the road we followed to explore the place they each have in our own identity, a national identity, and a collective identity.
- “Let’s Talk About It” Planner’s Manual (PDF)
- “Land of Opportunity” reading list and companion essay by national project scholar Suzanne Ozment
- Dreaming in Cuban related book discussion and art resources
- Ragtime (1981)
- All the King’s Men (2006) and related film, book discussion, and art resources
- Seabiscuit (2003)
- Noon Wine (1966)
The project impacted our audiences in a number of ways:
Attendees gained a respect for each other in the community. We have a growing immigrant population and a segment of the district that have lived here for many, many years. Talking about their individual views of America through literature and art gave them each a way of introducing their stories and an avenue for each to find the room to listen to vastly differing points of view with respect.
People read books. (We do have patrons who come to book discussions without reading the books. I was actually told by patrons that they feel the discussion will tell them enough about the book so they do not have to read it.) Because it was a series that went deeper than one medium, some patrons were eager to take part in the entire project. The read the books, they looked at the art, and they watched the films. They read the books because they felt it was an important part of the whole.
They looked at art, really looked at art. Attendees gave their interpretations of what they saw in the pieces. They made correlations between the art, the films, and the novels. Many went and looked at more art than that which was shown to them during the program. As people left they looked at the Picturing America collection and talked with each other about what they were seeing. Some folks went to visit the Hillwood Art Museum’s exhibit of World War II posters.
One patron came up to me and said, “It is nice to talk to people face to face. Really talk.” This is so true. We spend much of our day working on computers, texting, phoning, watching television, but little time is spent getting out and meeting with people, even friends, to have a conversation. This series gave people a safe and familiar atmosphere where they could exchange ideas and tell their stories.