The 1,800-mile Poetry to the People Tour is off to a rollicking start, giving out books to underserved communities between Brooklyn and New Orleans via House of SpeakEasy‘s mobile book truck. After a late-night packing party at Pioneer Works on Thursday night, we drove to the Philadelphia Free Library on Friday morning to coordinate a poetry workshop led by Rayna Guy. As part of the program, the Philly poet laureate Raquel Solas Rivera read with teens and three 70-year-olds, one of whom read a stunning poem about being able to say, for the first in public, that she was a gender nonconforming lesbian to the rousing support of the teen slam veterans. Then on Saturday, we headed over to Pittsburgh to pull up to the Carnegie Library, where poets Jenny Johnson and Rickey Laurentis read with award-winning local teens to a rapt audience. After a long haul to Columbus, Ohio, we pulled up in front of Two Dollar Radio’s headquarters, which is one part bookstore, one part café. Hanif Abdurraqib and Eloisa Amezcua each gave stunning readings.
At every stop, we pressed books into the hands of readers young and old alike. Many were surprised and delighted to hear there was no catch to the free book offer. This reaction was best exemplified by a Carnegie Library security guard who told us that she “uses poet’s lines to help express myself when I am trying to make myself understood to other people.” She left with Tracy K. Smith’s anthology, American Journal, a title which we anticipate distributing hundreds of throughout the over the next seven days.
We’ve lost count of the number of books we’ve given away for free so far, but we haven’t lost sight of our goal one bit: expanding access to books and books culture, building a community of book lovers wherever we go.
Onward to Floyd County, Kentucky, where we plan to meet up with our Narrative 4 partners. Stay tuned for the next dispatch and follow up at #poetrytothepeople.