A literary journey begins Monday, April 19, in Superior.
The weeklong Wisconsin Native American and Multicultural Read-In challenges community members to reach for titles that highlight many different cultures. It includes virtual author readings and discussions, crafts, a book club for kids and much more.
This is the ninth year the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Department of Education has hosted the event. With a week’s worth of virtual events and hundreds of multicultural books available for participants to check out, it could be a read-in for the record books.
UWS joined the statewide read-in in 2011. One hundred people pledged to read 156 books in three days and gained a new outlook.
“Initially, our target audience was students in our teacher preparation program,” said Mary Lee-Nichols, UWS professor of teacher education. “This was an opportunity to showcase excellent literature representing culturally diverse perspectives — exposing them to the sorts of books it will be important for them to use in the K-12 classrooms where they will be teachers.”
Students told her the event opened their eyes to the possibilities, gave them insight and taught them something new with each title they read.
“Because the event was so well-received, we decided to continue highlighting Indigenous authors and illustrators, and more broadly including all multicultural literature,” Lee-Nichols said.
They also expanded it to a weeklong celebration centered at the education department’s student resource center. Students, staff, faculty and community members flocked in to browse the titles, enjoy a snack, sit and read. This year, virtual events will take place due to the ongoing pandemic.
The read-in is supported by many departments and offices on campus, including the First Nations Center.
“One of the key goals of Native American and Indigenous Studies is recognizing the importance of Indigenous perspectives and challenging misrepresentations of Indigenous people,” said Chantal Norrgard, assistant professor of First Nation Studies. “Literature is one way that everyone can learn more about and celebrate Indigenous perspectives.”
The Superior Public Library is partnering with the event for the first time this year.
“It’s a perfect fit,” Youth Services Manager Kelly Wiisanen said.
A lot of thought goes into what materials the library purchases, and retains. About one-quarter of the library’s collection was weeded out in preparation for the building’s 2018 remodel.
“Special attention was paid to discarding outdated or inaccurate materials about marginalized communities, and there has been a conscious effort to replace materials with diverse titles and formats,” Wiisanen said. “We make every effort to create a fair and balanced collection, which hasn’t always been easy, given the lack of diversity in the publishing industry over the years.”
Having diverse titles reflects the multicultural society we live in.
“Young people must see themselves in stories,” Lee-Nichols said. “When they don’t, the message they hear and see is they don’t matter. In the same way, when only the dominant culture is portrayed, a harmful message is sent that only that culture matters.”
Norrgard teaches a course on First National literature, which spans genres from oral histories and early written works to the novels of Louise Erdrich and Indigenous science fiction.
“We are excited to share our enthusiasm for First Nations literature and hope to inspire others to read more works by Indigenous people through the read-in,” Norrgard said.
Visit the UWS event page, https://bit.ly/3wWJ7Lb, for more information about the events.