Chicago Public Library (CPL) will celebrate Juneteenth—the commemoration of the June 19, 1865 ending of slavery in the United States—with an inaugural Juneteenth Reading Circle discussion on the novel The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright. Adult and teen readers are invited to join CPL and local community leaders on Thursday, June 17 at 6:00 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube. The program will be archived on both platforms for those unable to join the live conversation.
Written nearly 80 years ago and recently released in April 2021, Wright’s novel has timely and contemporary significance as the narrative explores race and the relationship between police and the communities they serve. The Man Who Lived Underground tells the story of Fred Daniels, a Black man who is picked up by the police after a brutal double murder and tortured until he confesses to a crime he did not commit. After Daniels signs a confession, he escapes and flees into the city's sewer system.
Known for his writings on race in the mid-20th century, particularly his memoir Black Boy and novel Native Son, Wright’s literary contributions offer readers a critical perspective on understanding racial injustice in America. His works often discuss themes of police brutality, black masculinity and urban living, inspired by his time living in Chicago’s South Side during the Black Renaissance (for more on this period, patrons can access CPL’s online Chicago Black Renaissance Digital Collection.)
“Chicago Public Library is proud to initiate our inaugural Juneteenth Reading Circle. This program offers Chicagoans an opportunity to connect, reflect and build on community healing and civic unity,” said Commissioner Chris Brown. “The Library remains committed to showing up and prioritizing this work through our year-round programs and services.”
The Juneteenth Reading Circle's panelists include many Chicago leaders and scholars from an array of prominent institutions: Dr. Adam Green, Professor of History, University of Chicago; Ms. Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director, American Library Association; Dr. Garrard McClendon, Associate Professor, Chicago State University; Dr. Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies; Northwestern University; and Mr. Juan Perea, Professor, Loyola School of Law.
The conversation will be facilitated by Ms. Sylvia Ewing, Director of Strategic Communication, Marketing and Outreach at Elevate. John Kulka, the Editorial Director of this novel from the nonprofit publisher Library of America, will make a special guest appearance for an introductory interview with CPL Commissioner Chris Brown.
"One of the best ways we can observe Juneteenth is by diving into stories that acknowledge how the vestiges of slavery continue to manifest today," said City of Chicago Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore. "I applaud the Chicago Public Library for initiating this inaugural Juneteenth Reading Circle, which will connect residents to this important history as well as prompt the collective racial healing we need in order to create a more equitable and just society."
The Juneteenth Reading Circle is a spinoff from a monthly program hosted virtually by Woodson Regional Library. The Carter G. Woodson Reading Circle on Social Justice debuted in September of 2020 to create a forum for education and growth around social justice matters primarily pertaining to race and disparities. These discussions are held monthly on every 3rd Tuesday. Patrons are encouraged to attend discussions even if they are unable to read the novel in advance, as these discussions are ongoing and relevant today. For future events, please visit chipublib.org/events or sign up for CPL’s monthly e-newsletters.
The Juneteenth Reading Circle is presented in partnership with the City of Chicago’s Together We Heal initiative. Together We Heal focuses on racial healing by encouraging Chicagoans to do their part to foster learning and restoration in every neighborhood across the City. The initiative seeks to promote civic unity by connecting Chicagoans across lines of difference and to support a collective conversation about our truth and our promise as a City.
CPL thanks our philanthropic partner, Chicago Public Library Foundation (CPLF), and their donors for generous support in making this program possible. To learn more about how CPLF supports the Library’s mission and offerings, visit cplfoundation.org.
About Chicago Public Library
Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment, and knowledge through innovative services and programs, as well as cutting-edge technology. Through its 81 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits and programs for children, teens and adults. For more information, please call (312) 747-4300 or visit chipublib.org. To follow CPL on social media, visit us on Twitter (@chipublib), Facebook (Chicago Public Library) or Instagram (@chicagopubliclibrary).
About Chicago Public Library Foundation
The Chicago Public Library Foundation (CPLF) is an independent nonprofit that exists to accelerate the potential of our public library by investing in resources that transform lives and communities. Together with its civic-minded partners, CPLF makes pathways to learning, creativity, and civic engagement accessible to Chicagoans of all ages through investment across three funding priority areas: Closing the Academic Opportunity Gap; Activating Creativity & Connection for All; and Bridging the Digital Divide.