FHASS Launches Sheridan Reads

By Owen Percy

As you surely know by now, FHASS launched its first contribution to Sheridan’s Creative Campus initiative, Sheridan Reads, in January of 2015. Conceived of as an ‘extended reading event’ designed to draw on FHASS’s expertise in reading texts, understanding culture, and fostering community engagement, the program’s goal is, in the words of Dean Has Malik, to “take the private act of reading and make it a communal practice.” In short, Sheridan Reads aims to take and make some visible, inviting space for conversation, collaboration, community, and creativity within and beyond Sheridan’s disciplinary and institutional walls. Check out our webpage (https://www.sheridancollege.ca/news-and-events/sheridan-reads.aspx) for further information.

The initiative is based loosely on the One Book, One Community model whereby members of a larger community read one central text around which a series of events and gatherings are planned. The 2015 Sheridan Reads Steering Committee is comprised of Has Malik, Sean McNabney, Stephanie Samboo, Janet Shuh, Yael Katz, Maria Tchajkova. Mike McNamara, Glenn Clifton, Derrick Millard, Natalie Manrique, Gail Benick, Jennifer Chambers, Anna Boshnakova, Marcel Nelson, Christian Knudsen, Patrice Esson, Alexander Hollenberg, Jennifer Phenix, and Owen Percy; newly hired FHASS faculty Robyn Read and Brandon McFarlane are also recent additions to the Committee.

Image: Jonathan Gorys

Image: Jonathan Gorys

The novel at the heart of this year’s initiative, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, was selected by the committee after an enthusiastic roundtable debate; fortuitously, the selection of the novel coincided with the cinematic adaptation of the book that ran through January and February on the CBC television network. Program lead and Acting Associate Dean of Humanities and Creativity Sean McNabney arranged for FHASS to acquire 500 copies of the mass market paperback version of the novel, and the Committee organized our first event, the series of Sheridan Reads Book Giveaways during Week 1 of classes. After a rapidly organized email campaign, the books were distributed free of charge to interested members of the Sheridan community (students, staff, alumni, and faculty) at all four campus locations; interest was so great that committee members were met with line-ups of eager readers at every single campus. The 500 copies went very quickly, leaving groups of disappointed would-be readers ruing their luck, or the traffic/class/errands that had prevented them from arriving to the giveaway earlier; if nothing else, the enthusiastic fervor surrounding free books set an encouraging and engaged tone for Sheridan Reads and made clear that the physical book is still far from dead in the digital age.

Sheridan readers line up for their free copy of The Book of Negroes at Davis. Photo: Sheridan Reads

Sheridan readers line up for their free copy of The Book of Negroes at Davis. Photo: Sheridan Reads

Week 2 of the Winter semester saw the initiative’s first official event on January 19 at The Marquee at Trafalgar. In conjunction with the Office of the Provost, the Launch of Sheridan Reads doubled as the first event in the newly minted Creative Campus Speaker’s Series; Lawrence Hill delivered a multimedia address entitled “Mining Creativity: Perspectives from a Novelist and Screenwriter” wherein he discussed his processes of researching, writing, and adapting The Book of Negroes for the small screen. After a brief Q & A with the audience, Hill signed books for the long line of Sheridan readers waiting for a moment of his time. The event was well attended (the snacks and refreshments from The Marquee and Chef Kal were a hit!) and was simultaneously broadcast on Sheridan TV and streamed on the Sheridan Reads website.

Lawrence Hill signing books on January 19, 2015. Photo: Sheridan Reads

Lawrence Hill signing books on January 19, 2015. Photo: Sheridan Reads

The next Sheridan Reads events took place in Week 5 after readers had had more time to make their way through the novel; Book Club Conversations were held at the Davis library, the HMC atrium, and the Trafalgar library on the evenings of February 10, 11, and 12 respectively. While attendance was ‘varied’ at each gathering, members of the Steering Committee facilitated meaningful and interdisciplinary conversations about the book and the experiences it both describes and embodies. In addition to faculty and alumni, some of these conversations also saw the participation from employees of the Mississauga Public Library.

The most interactive and dynamic event of our inaugural program has thus far been the Sheridan Reads Story Swap, held in Week 7 on February 24 at the Davis campus steps outside the bookstore. Hosted by Professor Glenn Clifton and headlined by celebrated Canadian poet Daniel Scott Tysdal, this event allowed Sheridan readers to flex their writing and performing muscles and to share their own stories with an engaged audience. The Committee put out a call for submissions for 5-minute stories to be told in any media; we received many interesting and provocative submissions from Sheridan students, staff, faculty, and alumni, and after a brief vetting process, 12 storytellers were invited to present their stories at the event. After reading some of his work and delivering a brief, insightful address on poetry and loss, Tysdal led the entire audience through a creative writing activity wherein each audience member contributed a line that the author compiled and presented as a remarkably touching and personalized elegiac poem at evening’s end. Between the bookends of his performance, Sheridan community members presented their own stories—poems, spoken word, photo essays, anecdotes, excerpts from larger stories—and gave Dean Has Malik much material for his own pastiche story which he presented as a thank-you and conclusion to the evening. With its cross-disciplinary participation, its mingling of student, staff, faculty, and alumni voices, and its creative interactivity, this event embodied the spirit of Sheridan Reads at its core. The event was also captured and broadcast on Sheridan TV and streamed on the Sheridan Reads website; at the time of this writing it was still available to stream at your leisure (https://www.sheridancollege.ca/news-and-events/sheridan-reads.aspx).

Lawrence Hill answers audience questions at the launch of Sheridan Reads. Photo: Sheridan Reads

Lawrence Hill answers audience questions at the launch of Sheridan Reads. Photo: Sheridan Reads

Most recently, through the diligent work of Professor Christian Knudsen, Director of Library and Learning Services Joan Sweeney Marsh, and the Oakville Museum, Sheridan Reads has facilitated the presentation of an ongoing exhibit on Black History in Oakville called Freedom’s Story (see the blurb in “Cool Stuff”). The exhibit went up on March 9 in the Trafalgar Library and Learning Commons and will run until April 30. Please make an effort to stop by and check out the posters, panels, and video detailing this remarkable story from our regional past.

If you’ve been unable to join us so far this semester, there’s still time! Please try to attend (and promote, promote, promote!) our final event, The Closing Chapter (April 8, 2015, 6:30-9:30pm, The Marquee, Trafalgar); Lawrence Hill will read from and discuss The Book of Negroes before being interviewed by Executive Advisor to the President (and former talk show host) Ralph Benmergui. Mr. Hill will also be taking questions from the audience and signing books after the event. Light snacks and refreshments provided.

The committee is also finalizing the details of an exclusive opportunity for students to interact with Mr. Hill in a small Master Class (approx.. 30 attendees) to be held in the late afternoon of April 8; if you have a student or class who might have interest in The Book of Negroes, the writing life, journalism, adaptation, creativity, or making a living in the arts in Canada, please mention this opportunity to them. Details to be circulated soon.

Recommendations for possible future iterations of Sheridan Reads have thus far included exploring the possibility of making digital and ESL versions of future selections available, acquiring complimentary copies of future selections for all FHASS faculty and staff, finding ways of increasing student involvement in the selection and organization of events, and ensuring earlier notice of selections and schedules in order to allow faculty to integrate events and related topics into their courses. If you have ideas or suggestions about how we might refine and/or expand Sheridan Reads as we move forward, please do not hesitate to send your thoughts to Owen Percy (in person, at x.5666, or via owen.percy[at]sheridancollege.ca).

Thanks to all of you who have been reading along with us, who have attended our events, and who have offered your support in other ways. See you at The Closing Chapter on April 8!

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