Thursday night, Mayor Steve Benjamin welcomed book lovers to Richland Library for a community discussion of A.J. Mayhew’s novel, The Dry Grass of August.
Mayhew’s book is this year’s selection for the mayor’s One Book, One Columbia program, which encourages everyone in the city to share the enjoyment of reading together.
The novel is a coming-of-age story set in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida during the summer of 1954, as the South was in the throes of initial reaction to the Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision that eventually led to school integration. The protagonist is a 13-year-old girl from Charlotte traveling on vacation with her white, middle-class family and their black maid, Mary. Through events ranging from the touching to the deeply tragic, the narrator learns a lot about race, character, herself, her family and society at large, lessons of universal relevance to all readers in this part of the country, whether they’re old enough to remember that summer or not.
The discussion at the library Thursday night was lively and frank, with participants sharing personal perspectives and experience on race, history, domestic violence, family, courage and cowardice, and how they all have shaped the world in which we live. The panel was moderated by Brad Warthen, director of communications/public relations at ADCO. He was joined by R. Blakeslee Gilpin, assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina; Valerie Rowe Jackson, deputy director of Richland Library; and Clo Cammarata, programs and partnerships manager at the library.
The audience thoroughly engaged with the panel, both vocally and through use of an instant polling device that allowed everyone in the room to answer multiple-choice questions bearing on the themes of the book, which in turn sparked additional threads of conversation.
Columbia isn’t finished discussing this book. The author herself will talk about what it takes to start a successful writing group, from 2-4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27 in Bostick Auditorium at Richland Library. Also at the main library, Ms. Mayhew will lead a discussion of her novel from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28.