By Martha Bezzat
Malden Reads, a community organization with the mission of literature for all, will launch its 2022 season with a kick-off event at the Winter Festival on Dec. 4 that showcases this year’s selection: An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo, the first Indigenous Poet Laureate of the United States.
Malden Reads members are excited about the opportunity to showcase a book by an Indigenous author. “This is going to be a very unique reading experience,” said Meredith, a self-described “recent recruit” to Malden Reads. Meredith is an alum from NYC’s New School with a background in the poetry performance arts scene, which includes poetry readings and slams. “It’s a very different experience than reading a core curriculum by mostly white people. It will highlight the differences between Indigenous and colonial writing. It’s a great shift in perspective,” she continued.
Felicia Ryan, another first-year steering committee member, said, “It’s a brave choice because poetry can be off-putting for people but this book of poems is extremely accessible for people.” Highlighting Malden Reads’ role in “making connections throughout the community and bringing everyone into the conversation,” Ryan noted that the organization has “influence” and anticipates discussions around “Native Americans in our area who were pushed out.”
One of Malden Reads’ co-facilitators and co-founders, Jodie Zalk, said, “This is our first poetry collection, so you don’t have to read it cover to cover all at once…you can take it in and let it sit with you.”
Zalk promised some “tricks up our sleeves” for this year’s events, including a poetry reading by Medford’s own Poet Laureate, Terry Carter. The event will be in collaboration with Friends of the Malden River — “with canoes that people can borrow” — plus possible programming with the Wampanaog Tribe. Chief Daniel StrongWalker Thomas, the president of the Board of Directors and Chief Servant Leader of the Global Initiative for Indigenous Advancement, is an advisor to Malden Reads this year.
Ryan, as a poet herself and a member of Malden Writer’s Collaborative, added further insight: “How do we think about poetry? Every people has a poetry tradition…a hymn, oral tradition, song…a call and response…we have to find our way into something different.”
She also emphasized that there are great themes in this year’s pick. “The book is a lot about making connections, talking about ancestors, how we view our land and how we view our community — I just love it.”
During the last year and a half, Malden Reads, like other groups, had to pivot from in-person events to online events to accommodate city and state guidelines for the pandemic. They delivered their entire 2021 programming online, including dinner discussions and a comedy show. For 2022 “we’re planning to have a hybrid schedule so that over the winter, we’ll have some virtual events, but next spring we’ll be back in person,” Zalk said. She points out that one silver lining to the virtual experience is that “for some people, if it were in person, they couldn’t have attended…for example a steering committee alum, Eda, who now lives in Ohio, was able to attend.”
Meredith emphasized that “we are prioritizing safety. We’ll be paying attention to CDC guidelines because now we have a good sense of public safety protocol around upticks in cases and that will determine if everything is made virtual or live.”
As newcomers to Malden Read’s steering committee, both Meredith and Ryan offered praise for the organization. Ryan attended the kick-off event for Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury two years ago, saying, “They did a good job communicating different aspects of the book, but also creating a community event – learning about reading and writing, and also multicultural.” Ryan will be involved in the poetry workshop for this year’s programming.
Meredith said “while volunteering with other organizations, whenever Malden Reads comes up, everyone swoons…there’s a lot of respect and affection for Malden Reads…people place a lot of trust in this organization and it’s kind of rare to see.” Meredith said she will be involved with social media, event planning, and the website, and hopes to get some high schoolers from Malden High to participate, explaining, “It’s not a common experience that someone gives you a stage…seeing young people step into the creative experience…once you figure out that you’re a poet or writer or artist….there’s a type of spark.”
More activities at the kick-off event on Dec. 4 include poetry readings at J Malden Center, partnering with Monkeyhouse for short films with dance interpretations of poetry, and a participatory “Unsilent Night” procession down Pleasant Street, according to Zalk.
As Meredith put it, “This year will probably be a lot different in terms of the types of events we put on. We can shake things up a bit and put more things in the rotation that haven’t been tried before, and that will be exciting.”
For more information about the Malden Reads program, visit maldenreads.org. To receive details and updates about the program, sign up to join the mailing list and follow them on social media.