Blue Ridge Read – A Brief History

A Brief History of the Blue Ridge Read

Blue Ridge Read (BR Read) is an initiative of Alleghany Arts Council that encourages reading and community-oriented conversations and activities around a featured novel. Based on similar initiatives in other communities across the U.S. (e.g. One Community, One Book), Blue Ridge Read is nevertheless somewhat unique in that it is entirely volunteer-run. The volunteers are a diverse group of individuals who for the BR Read 2016 chose “Fun, Friendship, & Joy” as guiding principles.

How it all started

The idea for Blue Ridge Read was hatched in 2014 by the Blue Ridge Book Club and expanded to include volunteers, readers and artists across the community. As books are not readily available to buy in Alleghany County, the decision was made for the BR Read team to buy books and to provide them free to the community. Individual donations are encouraged. Community and corporate grants and donations have been used to pay author fees and expenses, and to cover promotional costs.

In addition to specific BR Read activities listed below, two additional books clubs have been created as a direct result of the BR Read. These book clubs continue to prosper.

Blue Ridge Read 2014

In the inaugural year of Blue Ridge Read, the community was treated to surprise sightings of the White Dog, an illusory main character in featured author Terry Kay’s Dance of the White Dog. Fourteen conversation groups, including one for Spanish speaking residents, met to discuss the novel and themes that resonated with Alleghany County residents. One conversation group went on to form a book club that remains very active today.

Allied arts activities included:

  • the creation of quilt that was raffled with proceeds given to Alleghany County’s Animal Shelter,
  • a “white dog” art class taught be a local artist,
  • a musical evening, including a song focused on White Dog themes by a local musician,
  •  a scrap book created by a local artist,
  • a wall poster visually summarizing White Dog activities created by a local artist,
  • a writing workshop by author Terry Kay at Alleghany High School,
  • a community book signing by the author, and
  • a showing of the film, To Dance with the White Dog.

BR Read 2014 proceeds were used to fund Little Libraries around Alleghany County.

Blue Ridge Read 2015

Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton spotlighted Blue Ridge Read’s second year. Thanks to a local volunteer actor, Maggie Rigsbee, the main character in this delightful novel, showed up around the community at unexpected times, creating excitement and anticipation. Six conversation groups focused on common themes in the book on both a personal and community level. The play performance based on the book brought a good crowd, as did Clyde Edgerton’s visit and talks in the community and at Sparta High School.

Allied Arts activities included:

  • a “Hymn Singing” at Sparta Presbyterian Church
  • a chair caning class
  • a quilting class with the quilt being donated to the Alleghany County Library
  • a play performance
  • Mattie Rigsby sitings
  • a community book signing and evening of entertainment by the author
  •  a writing workshop by the author at Alleghany County High School
  • a scrap book
Blue Ridge Read 2016

While the 2016 leadership team chose “Fun, Friendship, & Joy” as guiding principles, more formally the BR Read 2016 goals were:

  • to expand the practice of reading by Alleghany citizens and
  • to foster community through book focused gatherings, art projects, and conversations.

2016 BRR activities were held in November and December - perfect timing for the featured novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. This humorous story gave conversation groups opportunities to share about their own holiday traditions…and those they could do without! Frosty the Snowman, a silent character in the novel, and Santa Claus made appearances throughout Sparta much to the delight of both children and adults. Eight conversation groups met locations around the community to discuss the novel and their own Christmas experiences. Ofelia Killeen volunteered to read the novel in Spanish for all who wanted to participate. The culminating event included activities for Junior Readers such as “Crafts with Mrs. Claus”, other theme oriented activities, and reading aloud to children with parents looking on. The movie, “Christmas with the Kranks,” a feature film based on the novel as shown.   Snacks and desserts offered opportunities for meeting people and more conversations during the final event.