The Big Readers of Staten Island

Monday, February 13, 2012

Readers at a Mark Twain event in Richmondtown, Staten Island (Jennifer Hsu/WNYC)

On a recent Saturday afternoon, dozens of locals gathered at a library in Richmondtown, Staten Island, to read Mark Twain together.

Some came in 19th-century garb. A fifth-grader dressed up as Twain himself. A couple played Twain-era songs, while children decorated a fence.

The National Endowment for the Arts is currently sponsoring a series of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" happenings on Staten Island, as part of The Big Read, an initiative to revitalize literary reading through a community discussion of a single book.

The host of the series, Staten Island OutLOUD, was one of 76 literary organizations nationwide chosen to take part in the program.

Organizers are trying to attract an audience unfamiliar to the work with events like "Make a Raft, Make Valentines!" "American Idol: A Fresh Look at Tom Sawyer," and an evening reading in a cemetery. 

"Some people are intimidated to read classic literature," said OutLOUD executive director Beth Gorrie, an attorney by day who founded the literary performance group in 2001 as a way to explore books and ideas with the ever-changing, diverse Staten Island community. "'Moby-Dick? Oh my God, it's 500 pages.' They're scared before they start," said Gorrie. "We try to make it fun and easy."

Every year, Staten Island OutLOUD reads James Joyce's "Ulysses." They have read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" by a road, outside a deli in Richmond Terrace. They have read Confucius, the Koran, even Henry Rollins. One year, they staged Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" in a bar on Staten Island's South Shore.

"We didn't think that Chaucer would necessarily be popular," said Gorrie, but the reading was a hit. "There were some people who could have taught a course on Chaucer there, and then there were people who had never heard of the guy." 


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Comments [6]

Laura Drew Kelly from Dover, Delaware

Beth Gorrie is a national treasure. When I lived on Staten Island, I was part of almost everything OutLoud did. Bloomsday was my personal favorite and Moby Dick a close second.

OutLoud appeals to all the people on Staten Island and brings them together in ways that nothing else can. Beth Gorrie and OutLoud are a large part of the reason we have decided to reestablish residence on the Island

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Marty Albucher from ST.Gdorge

Two great memories here:"The Portrait of Dorian Grey" read at my Electric Hair Salon,and the wonderful group reading of "Lysistrata" @ The old Muddy Cup! ( I read the part of the judge) Fun. Fun. Fun, Definately making "Yo Twian" and bringing my buddy Daniel Bauer, new ST. George resident, magician, and successor to the great Harry Houdini legacy! Magic meets magic!!!

Mar. 28 2012 06:09 AM
Malachi McCormick from 10304

"Staten Island OutLoud" & founder, Beth Gorrie, have, in 10 years, become a very important part of S.I.'s cultural life, & --more important-- to its community life, especially its inter-cultural life. I myself participate in many of her annual events --a particular favorite is the Joyce BLOOMSDAY event (June 16th) at EveryThingGoes Book-Cafe, but there are many others, e.g. the Melville/Moby Dick event at Fort Wadsworth. Beth is the visionary, the organizer, the galvanizer, & the moderator & has enriched the life of the community in ways that it might well not have discovered itself.
I am a writer, a bookmaker & a poet, etc., & a Staten Islander since 1980 who finds SI & especially the North Shore has become an active and congenial community to live in, & Beth Gorrie of Staten Island OutLoud has contributed to this development very significantly.

Feb. 13 2012 01:48 PM
Staten Island OutLOUD from Staten Island NY

Cindy, I've been to Hannibal and had a wonderful time visiting the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, plus all the sites you mention. You do a beautiful job in presenting Sam Clemens/Twain's origins and his work.
A trip to Hannibal is definitely something that everyone can enjoy!
Keep up the fine work you're doing!

Feb. 13 2012 01:07 PM
Cindy Lovell from Hannibal, MO

We are thrilled to see so many folks enjoying The Adventures of Tom Sawyer! Come visit us at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, MO and see all of the sites described in the book - his home, Huck's home, Becky's home, Cardiff Hill, the Mark Twain Cave... it's all here!

Feb. 13 2012 12:38 PM

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