Vermont Reads 2003

Last Updated 5/17/2011 3:49:17 PM

A Statewide, One-Book Community Reading Program

Vermont Reads 2003

Witness by Karen Hesse

White hoods in the Green Mountains? The Ku Klux Klan’s crosses once burned bright in Vermont. Witness by award-winning, Brattleboro-author Karen Hesse, brings this past to startling life. The book tells the story of the KKK in Vermont in 1924 through the first-person narrative of eleven characters. The book appeals to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Hesse based Witness on Fiery Crosses in the Green Mountains, the Story of the Ku Klux Klan in Vermont by Montpelier author Maudean Neill

Picking up Witness, a haunting story about a Vermont community’s reaction when the Klan comes to town in 1924, one might wonder whether the Ku Klux Klan was really active in Vermont. But the KKK had many supporters in Vermont in the 1920s and 1930s. In A Vermont Century, published by the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, a chilling photo of a Klan rally in Montpelier in 1927 brings this to startling life. In Vermont, the Klan targeted Jews, Catholics, and immigrants.

For this first year of Vermont Reads, a VHC program in which Vermont communities are encouraged to explore the same book, the Council chose Witness, by Vermont author and Newbery Award winner Karen Hesse. Because the book is accessible to confident and fragile readers alike — and young adults and adults — Vermont Reads Witness helps achieve the Council’s goal of bringing the power of the humanities to Vermonters of all ages and backgrounds — and in every community.

Across the United States, cities and entire states have read the same book, finding opportunities for discussion, intergenerational exchange, food for thought, and encouragement to read more. Many Vermont towns are involved with this program, which started in Manchester, thanks to committed volunteers.

Through a competitive application process, the Council awarded author appearances by Karen Hesse and Maudean Neill to Northfield and Burlington. Neill is author of Fiery Crosses in the Green Mountains, a history of the KKK in Vermont and part of the research Hesse used in writing Witness. Those communities and another thirteen have received copies of Witness from VHC and will run art projects, dramatic readings, community forums, and book discussions.

Fifteen communities participated in Vermont Reads Witness, the first year of VHC’s  one-book, one-state reading program. The fifteen communities hosted intergenerational book discussions, dramatic readings, panel discussions with older Vermonters, and public readings. Northfield and Essex held dramatic readings, using members of the community as the actors. The communities involved are Brattleboro, Bristol, Burlington, Cuttingsville, Essex, Hancock, Hyde Park / Lamoille County, Jacksonville, Milton, Northfield, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, South Duxbury, Stowe, and Winooski / Colchester.

Vermont Reads Witness originated in Manchester, Vermont in 2002 when librarians, teachers, business people, and book lovers began planning a community one-book project. Because VHC was planning its own statewide reading Witness program, the council teamed with Manchester to make Vermont Reads Witness a truly all-Vermont program.

Vermont Public Radio aired its first Vermont Reads feature in October 2003, with an audio version of Witness.

Vermont Reads Witness Full Information Packet

Vermont Reads Media Partner

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