Chicago Celebrates Juneteenth With A Virtual Reading Circle Dedicated to Richard Wright’s ‘The Man Who Lived Underground’

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The Chicago Public Library is hosting a virtual Juneteenth Reading Circle to commemorate the day that all Black Americans were informed that slavery was officially over, a day that was recently declared a federal holiday.

The Juneteenth Reading Circle is a spinoff of the monthly Carter G. Woodson Reading Circle on social justice created in September 2020 by the Chicago Public Library’s Regional Director Veleda Simpson, a double HBCU graduate. Last year, she curated a Black Lives Matter suggested reading list for Chicago’s library system. “I started working at the library on Juneteenth of 2020. We were on the heels of civil unrest—George Floyd’s murder—and protests all over the world. As the new regional director, I feel it’s important to create some type of social justice program. I want to involve community leaders, to make the idea of the circle engaging and to have intellectual dialogue about the things we’re protesting about.”

Simpson reached out to organizations that were active in the Southside of Chicago to find facilitators for each book that was featured. She notes, “It’s important that we find people who are social activists or social media influencers in the community.”

The tome up for discussion this time around is The Man Who Lived Underground, a book which was written 80 years ago by the esteemed Black author Richard Wright but which hadn’t been released until this year. The protagonist in the book is blamed for a crime he didn’t commit and tortured by police. “This posthumous writing by [the Native Son author] is an excellent choice for our inaugural reading circle because of the police brutality that is depicted in the novel. The book was denied by Richard Wright’s original publisher in 1942 due to the subject matter. Thankfully, its new publisher, the Library of America, is dedicated to truth and accuracy,” explains Simpson.

The release of The Man Who Lived Underground shaped the idea of the virtual Juneteenth Reading Circle. “It was great timing and the fact that Richard Wright was a Chicagoan and part of the Great Migration also helped. This is also the first reading circle where we’ll have a panelists of scholars and leaders of Chicago to discuss the book,” notes Simpson.

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The Black American author Richard Wright. Image: Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

“Whether or not folks read the book, this conversation is important and relevant to the collective need for racial healing and our overall efforts to create a more equitable and just society,” adds Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown.

The Chicago Library’s Juneteenth Reading Circle will be an annual event. As it is virtual, anyone can join the reading through the Chicago Public Library’s Facebook page and YouTube live.

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