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BWW Blog: From Book Club to Broadway

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How my local public library changed my life for the better.

BWW Blog: From Book Club to Broadway

I'm from a small town located right next to the Allegheny National Forest, one of the least densely populated areas east of the Mississippi River. I've lived here in Northwestern Pennsylvania for nineteen years, born, raised, and now educated amidst the hills. It's not a bad place (actually, it's quite a lovely place to grow up), but when your interests are of the more artistic variety, you have little to no venues in which to see your interests at work-at the least, an art class, at the most, a school musical. So, when a new teen book club formed at the public library, my mom sent me to a meeting at once.

In a small town where a decent portion of citizens live in poverty, the idea of getting a free book and dinner once a month, alongside experiencing once-in-a-lifetime cultural events on a near-yearly basis, is radical. The only cost, so to speak, was our time, which we gave devotedly. We read everything from John Green's Turtles All The Way Down to Ann Aguirre's Razorland Trilogy. Through a combination of grants, donations, and partnerships, we were able to meet authors whose books we read and discussed as a club, such as Laurie Halse Anderson and Jeff Zentner-proving to us that writers were real people, not invisible gods upon Mount Olympus.

Three years after I first started attending meetings, the book club was granted our greatest opportunity yet. We had just read Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which had been recently adapted into a Tony Award winning play, when we got the news that a trip to New York City was in the works. We would have been less surprised if we were told that we were going to Mars. New York was a foreign land, a beacon of hope to my enclave of theatre kids and a Babylonian metropolis of danger to those who had never left my town.

Needless to say, I was beyond myself with excitement.

It was June 15, 2016. I was on a bus and buzzing with energy by three in the morning, headed east to the mythical promised land of Manhattan. Although I generally bury any outward displays of emotion, I couldn't help but practically bounce up and down the whole way there. When I finally stepped off the bus into the morning light of Bryant Park, I was instantly head-over-heels in love.

The day passed in a blur-we went to the New York Public Library, of course, as well as Times Square, Central Park, and the Barrymore. By the time I got back onto the bus and nighttime was cloaking the city, softening all of its edges, I couldn't help but queue up the Hamilton soundtrack and watch the skyline until it disappeared from my sight. I was smitten; I had to go back.

In the years since, I have. I was lucky enough to take two more trips with my book club, visiting Ellis Island, Strand Bookstore, Radio City Music Hall, and Rockefeller Center-all classic tourist destinations, I'm aware, but you have to start somewhere. Most recently, in the summer of 2019, the book club read Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and then saw Aaron Sorkin's excellent stage adaptation at the Shubert Theatre.

In retrospect, I am amazed that these opportunities were afforded to a small group of teenage readers in my small corner of the world. It is incredible that there are so many people and resources out there-donors and grants alike-that made this possible. In truth, I'm forever indebted to them. Through my expeditions with my book club, I was able, in the highly unstable and confusing chapter of life known as "high school", to set my sights on something bigger. I was able to fall in love with a place, a people, and an industry beyond all that I knew before. I was able to grasp the idea that, even though everybody tells you it's the stuff of dreams and fairytales, you can follow your passions, what you love, all the way to the city of your fantasies.

Public libraries are small town America's lifeline. More than just a place to pick up a book, in rural places like the one I live in, they are the cultural heart of the town. They are the reason that I have an interest in theatre, the reason I've been to Broadway, and the reason I'm writing for BroadwayWorld today. Having closely observed a librarian at work for many years (thanks, Mom), librarians are some of the most knowledgeable, helpful, and hard-working people you'll ever meet. So, show your local library some love. See what events and services they offer, make a donation, or just simply check out a book. They're waiting for you.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson