Music, cookies and a free book: Wichita’s Big Read kicks off Saturday

“The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” is the 2017 Wichita Big Read selection.
“The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir” is the 2017 Wichita Big Read selection. Courtesy photo

Get ready to read, Wichita.

The Big Read, our city’s annual communal book club, will kick off Saturday with a celebration at the Wichita Art Museum that features Laotian folk music, almond cookies, mango tea, poetry readings and free copies – while they last – of “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.”

“We like for the kickoff to give people sort of the flavor of the book,” said Julie Sherwood, program and outreach manager for the Wichita Public Library.

“We want to give them a preview of what we think is excellent about the book. Bringing in the music and the cultural elements … is a way to introduce the audience to the themes we’re going to be exploring in the upcoming month.”

This year’s selection, a memoir by Kao Kalia Yang, tells the story of her ancestors’ escape across the Mekong River into a refugee camp and their immigration to the United States.

Saturday’s kickoff celebration, 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Wichita Art Museum, will include a talk by Erica Nola, a second-generation Hmong (pronounced “mung”) immigrant living in Wichita, who will display and tell about her family’s story cloth. Her uncle, Victor Her, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., will play folk music on a khaen, a traditional Laotian instrument.

The library received a $16,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help finance this year’s Big Read, a community-wide program that encourages diverse audiences to read the same book and participate in events designed around its theme.

Big Reads happen all over the country, with books ranging from classics, such as “Bless Me, Ultima,” to recent bestsellers like “Station Eleven.”

As part of this year’s event, Yang, the author, will visit Wichita to deliver a keynote address and sign books on Oct. 12, 7-9 p.m. at De Mattias Performance Hall at Newman University. She also will visit with students at Newman and three Wichita high schools.

Book clubs and other groups interested in hosting Big Read events are encouraged to contact the library and have their event listed on the Big Read website. Events scheduled so far include book discussions, movie screenings, a memoir workshop and children’s storytimes.

Sherwood said “The Latehomecomer” deals with relevant and timely issues of immigration that should appeal to Wichita readers.

“We still have refugees coming here today, and many of them are reticent to tell their stories because it can be very difficult to relive the trauma they’ve been through,” she said.

“When you have a refugee who is willing to talk about their experience, I think it helps those of us who have not had to flee for our lives to understand better what that experience is all about. It helps to promote compassion in people.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

Big Read kickoff

Wichita’s 10th annual Big Read will kick off Saturday with a celebration at the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd., featuring Laotian folk music, refreshments and giveaways of this year’s book, “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir,” by Kao Kalia Yang.

Music and refreshments begin at 2 p.m.; the program starts at 2:30 p.m. The event is free. Copies of the book are available – one per person – while supplies last. For more information, visit www.BigReadWichita.org.