The novel by award-winning author Yaa Gyasi has yet to make its formal debut in Kenosha’s Big Read event, which is less than a year away.
But “Homegoing” appears to have found a place in the Kenosha County Board chambers.
On Tuesday night, the novel was the topic of discussion for a third consecutive meeting, as yet another resident questioned the intent of a County Board supervisor who challenged the Kenosha Public Library director’s recommendation to offer “Homegoing”, the National Endowment of the Arts’ selection for next year’s Big Read event, to community.
Supervisor Tim Stocker had earlier described the book as “controversial”, “pornographic” and “graphic” in its depiction of a child’s rape. Two weeks ago, Kenosha resident and Congregations United to Serve Humanity’s community organizer Lori Hawkins called on Stocker to read the book in its entirety, while putting into context the graphic descriptions and controversial topic that described the plight of Ghanaians captured and sold into slavery during the 18th century. The novel describes the brutality and violence endured by those enslaved.
In her historical fiction novel, Gyasi tells the story of two Ghanaian half-sisters, one who marries a white Englishman, the other sold into slavery. For a time, unbeknownst to each other, both reside in the same “slave castle,” only the former lives a life of luxury in Ghana, while her sibling is held captive and shipped to America.
Targeting library director
Over the past several weeks, however, residents have continued to wonder why Stocker has targeted Kenosha Public Library Director Barbara Brattin’s reading recommendation and the need to raise the issue before the County Board, which has no oversight of the city’s library system. Several residents also expressed concern about possible attempts to somehow censor the book.
At the Tuesday meeting, resident Joan DeVries echoed Hawkins’ sentiments that Stocker, who had pressed the librarian to change the book for the Big Read event, sought to undermine Brattin’s authority by bringing the issue to the board.
“I think that some of the people that were concerned about this, that is the question: `To what end are these concerns brought to the board?’” DeVries asked. “If you read, we should be able to read what we’d like. We’re adults.”
Earlier, Stocker had alluded to the city library’s reading program as one that catered to teens and adults. While past Big Read events have promoted family literacy, next year’s community Big Read in Kenosha will be geared toward an adult audience, according to library officials.
DeVries was also critical of Stocker – who is the County Board’s representative on the Kenosha County Library System Board, for which Brattin also serves as director— for attempting to “police” what adults read.
“I really find it kind of insulting and I know a lot of people that do that. You have the right to say it’s inappropriate. It may be inappropriate for certain ages. But to tell us what we can read?” she said.
“And, the big question is, where are you going with this?” she said. “What will you do with this?”
Stocker clarifies comments
During supervisor comments, Stocker responded saying: “It’s clear that my announcement a few weeks ago needs clarification.”
“There seems to be some confusion regarding my intent. Nothing I have said or done has attempted to ban the book. I have not called for it to be removed from the library shelves. I have not even called for it to be removed from the list of books available for the Big Read program,” he said.
Stocker said he was concerned about Brattin’s recommendation given her position in the community.
“The position of librarian and her recommendation represent every elected official in the city, in the county and it is my hope that this recommendation does not accurately reflect our values … that’s why I wanted each one of you to be aware of it,” he told the board.
All checked out
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning, all 19 print versions of the book in the SHARE system, which the Kenosha city and county libraries use to track available books, had either been checked out, placed on hold or are being transferred between libraries. The SHARE system also includes libraries in Racine, Walworth and Rock counties. Pre-loaded and downloadable audio versions of “Homegoing” were still available.
Readers can check back on the system’s webpage periodically for the status of print selections.
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