Thoreau Bicentennial Massachusetts Statewide Read
One of the exciting projects Freedom’s Way was pleased to support as a partnership project during 2017 was the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read, along with The Walden Woods Project, University of Massachusetts Lowell Honors College and Massachusetts Center for the Book. Spearheaded by The Walden Woods Project the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read, invited community organizations to host an event focused on reading one of Thoreau’s works.
Over 150 communities participated, offering a wide variety of programs and events appealing to a wide range of ages. We would like to share the Year-End Report compiled by The Walden Woods Project staff and encourage you to visit the Bicentennial Read Gallery for a sampling of stories and photos of events that took place.
The Thoreau Bicentennial brought together many organizations and interested individuals to explore Thoreau’s writings, beliefs and impact on the world with an emphasis on his relevancy for today. Freedom’s Way is grateful for the opportunity to be a partner in this and other projects that have worked to expose new audiences to Thoreau’s legacy.
Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read Year-End Report
By Walden Woods Project staff
The Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read, a first-of-its-kind in the Commonwealth, engaged thousands of participants (we estimate around 6,000 overall) in a wide range of events that brought Thoreau’s writings and relevance to people throughout Massachusetts in 2017. The Walden Woods Project, University of Massachusetts Lowell Honors College, Massachusetts Center for the Book, and Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area came together to offer the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read in celebration of the 200th birthday of the great American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.
More than 150 Massachusetts cities/towns confirmed their participation in the Statewide Read (45% of all municipalities), having offered 200 distinct events (several towns held more than one). Hosting organizations included libraries, land trusts, book stores, non-profits, historical societies, high schools, Unitarian Universalist congregations, universities, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, a private company, and a Conservation Commission. These partners made the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read possible by providing programs that were timely and relevant to their specific community.
Our partners amazed and delighted us with their ingenuity, dedication and passion, hosting a variety of programs, including:
- open mic nights where patrons shared their favorite quotations;
- birthday parties in Thoreau’s honor;
- book club discussions that led to another month of reading Thoreau and more discussions;
- walking challenges that ended with creating art projects;
- nature walks and interpretive hikes;
- Thoreau-themed reading and craft programs for kids of all ages;
- virtual reality presentations by high school students that were shared with the entire school community,
- a public, all-day reading of Walden on a college campus;
- a Simplify! Simplify! challenge to declutter, donate, and recycle items;
- a bean-themed pot-luck dinner and planting of beans in the library garden after reading "The Bean-Field";
- lectures by Thoreau scholars, college and university professors, and authors about Thoreau’s writings and his notions of social justice, environmental ethics and deliberate living; and
- presentations on and discussions about “Civil Disobedience,” as well as remarks from people whose experiences today embody the ideas from this essay.
In addition to the hosting sites, many others contributed to the program’s success. The Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read was funded in part by support from the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and the National Park Service. The Walden Woods Project was able to provide up to 10 free books to host sites that requested them, thanks to generous donations from Eagle Hill School and Fulcrum Publishing. Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts, donated 140 copies of a Signet Classics edition of Walden and “Civil Disobedience” and Fulcrum Publishing donated 500 copies of Thoreau on Freedom. The Walden Woods Project also supported our partners by finding speakers, offering program ideas, and helping advertise the many events held for the Statewide Read.
We are ecstatic that so many people took the bicentennial as an opportunity to engage with Thoreau’s ideas and words and to come together as a community to consider the current relevance of Thoreau’s legacy. We look forward to continuing the conversation with audiences across the Commonwealth.
This report is shared with permission of the Walden Woods Project.