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Library Matters

Library Matters is a podcast by Montgomery County Public Libraries exploring the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning.
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Library Matters is a podcast of Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) in Montgomery County, MD. Each episode we explore the world of books, libraries, technology, and learning. Library Matters is hosted by Julie Dina, Outreach Associate, Lauren Martino, Children's Librarian at our Silver Spring branch, and David Payne, Branch Manager of our Davis branch and Acting Branch Manager of our Potomac branch.  

Oct 10, 2018

Listen to the audio

David Payne:  Welcome to Library Matters, with your host David Payne.

Julie Dina:  And I am Julie Dina.

David Payne:  And today we're looking at local voting.  In case you haven't heard, it's election season again.  And on the ballots, there are a number of issues which have a bearing on local, state, national interest, things of interest.  And we're delighted to have a very special guest with us today for the podcast, Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, or otherwise known as Dr. Z, outreach coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections.  So, welcome, Dr. Z.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Thank you.  Thank you for having me.

David Payne:  For our very first question then let's ask you about the Board of Elections.  So a lot of people don't know, what is the actual role of the Board of Elections, what do you actually do.  And what actually interests me is, obviously, elections happen twice a year, but I presume your work is year-round.  What do you do or what does your year look like for you?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Okay, so we administer the, not only the local elections, but the state elections as it pertains to a particular contest.  So we have them every even year, so a Montgomery County resident will vote, exercise their constitutional right every two years.  So, obviously, 2016 was the presidential elections. It's 2018; it's the gubernatorial midterm elections.  And then after this election we're looking again towards the presidential in 2020.  In between elections, on the odd years, we do a lot of outreach.  We look at best practices; we looked towards our neighbors and our counterparts across the U.S. to see what programs, what systems we could implement to improve the process, not only for the voters, but internally.

We do a lot of voter maintenance, equipment maintenance, extensive outreach.  We have an aggressive outreach campaign, an incredible team that goes out into the community.  So a lot of individuals will say, what do you do every other - like in the odd years.  I would love to say sleep.  But the fact is that we are always working.  And then what's interesting, the election profession is something that you don't really grow up wanting to be.  You know, when I grew up I want to be a police officer or a librarian or a physician, you never say an election administrator.  But it's a very rewarding profession.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I was one of those 18-year-olds like, "Why do people vote?"  But now as an adult and in my past experiences it's very critical that every individual exercise their constitutional right to a secret ballot.  Maryland is extremely progressive as it pertains to the franchise.  We have a lot of incredible mechanisms in which we will allow voters to vote.  And so we are tasked, and that was the first part of your question.  We are tasked to be ready for every single registered voter who desires to exercise that right.  We always look for 100% turnout.  Some elections are dismal.  But we always prepare for a full turnout.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And we want to ensure that if an individual has a desire to exercise their constitutional right that we are prepared, and we are transparent, and we are ready.

David Payne:  How many regular staff do you have year-round?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we're about 24 full-time county employees.  And then we will bulk up to over a hundred temporary seasonal staff and do an incredible extension of our team.  It's similar to other departments like recreation; they hire a lot of lifeguards.  So when it's election season we have a lot of individuals we hire, from election judge recruitment, polling place support, operations, nursing home program, outreach.  You know, we really - there's a huge need to be there and ready to serve the public.  And we do a lot of outreach as it pertains to newly naturalized citizens to introduce them to their franchise.

For us, we have our bias because we know how the system works.  You know you have to register to vote.  But Montgomery County is extremely diverse.  I believe five of the 10 top the most diverse cities in the nation are in Montgomery County.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And we recognize the abundance, the beauty of the various languages and cultures.  And so we want to meet them halfway so they understand their constitutional rights.  We want to make sure they're ready and they're prepared, and we want to meet them halfway to ensure a seamless, painless experience.

David Payne:  Great.  Sounds like you're doing a good job.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I hope so.

Julie Dina:  Well, since I'm also in outreach for the libraries, I know you mentioned earlier the nursing home program.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So we identify and we work with nursing home facilities, assisted living facilities in Montgomery County, and we do extensive outreach.  We will reach out to their social coordinator or therapist or a social worker and we set a date and time, and we train our staff to be competent in how to help these individuals exercise their rights to vote.  Whether health reasons or they can't access their polling place on Election Day or during early voting, we ensure that they could vote and leverage an absentee request to vote by mail.  And then also we would assist them and they could vote with our team members.  We send a team of opposite parties, democrat or republican, or a democrat and unaffiliated, and then we're there to serve.  And we will meet them at their facility.  So we coordinate that ahead of time.

In between the election seasons if there's new facilities that arise or maybe some will close or they expand, so we do a lot of maintenance to maintain those relationships with the different facilities in Montgomery County.

Julie Dina:  Wonderful.  So it sounds like you ensure no one is left out.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  That's our goal.  You know, that's our goal.  Our goal is to ensure that everyone has access to their franchise.  We're always trying to find that equation, that precise science how to encourage people to vote, but that's at the personal level.  But we want to make sure that you have a multitude of options.  And Maryland, and specifically Montgomery County, I call it The Cheesecake Factory of elections, because if you ever go to a Cheesecake Factory there's a million things in that menu and you always pick the same one, as I am always guilty of getting the orange chicken.  But at the same time you have vote-by-mail numerous weeks before actual Election Day, you have eight days of early voting.  And then you have Election Day.

And on top of that, we have same-day registration, and we have an aggressive outreach component, nursing home program.  It's a large, large - we have a lot of tentacles in the community, but that little piece of crust, the turnout, we're always trying to fine-tune that to encourage individuals to exercise that right to vote every single election.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Julie Dina:  Well, talking about relationships and building relationship, can you tell us the difference between the county's Board of Election and the County Government, what are the major differences, if there is any?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we follow policy procedures established by the Maryland State Board of Elections.  So we're kind of a quasi agency.  We're county employees, but we follow those rules established by the State of Maryland.  We do collaborate closely with the county executive, the assistant CAOs, obviously the County Council because they have to appropriate our budget.  And so there is a close relationship between county government, the council, the second floor, the county executive, the assistant CAOs, but also with the delegation in Annapolis and with the State of Maryland Board of Election.  So it's a large family, so there's a very close relationship with all the parties.  And then the most important individual is the actual voter.  So it's both from the bottom-up and from the top-down.  So yes, there's that close relationship between all parties.

David Payne:  Do you work closely with other Maryland County Board of Elections [CROSSTALK] [00:08:51]?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes, we have our neighbors.  I mean, there's over 24 counties in Baltimore City, so we work closely, and we also meet for best practices.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Sometimes you have smaller counties, like Wicomico, they do some really great things.  And also, they want to implement what we do in Montgomery County.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  And later on we'll talk about some of the successes that we implement here in actually one of the programs, it's the only program, it's called the Future Vote Initiative.  It's the only program in the entire United States that brings in students as young as middle school to work as Election Day aids, and the goal of the program is for them to serve as a full-fledged election judge before they graduate from high school.  And just in 2016, we had over 1,100 17-year-olds serve as an election judge.

Julie Dina:  And do they all have to go to Montgomery County public schools?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No.  As long as you are a Maryland resident and registered to vote you could serve as an election judge.  Obviously, if I you live in Howard County or Prince George's we don't want to take their voters from them.  But at the same time, a lot of them will work for Montgomery County, they live close, maybe near Sliver Spring, and so it's just a matter of the voters' interest.  And we let them know you could vote for the - you could participate in Prince George's County and, but a lot of times they’ll serve for us.  At the end of the day, whatever works for the voter works for us.  But for those individuals that do live outside of Montgomery County but within Maryland we do coordinate with them, so they could vote either by mail or during early voting, but we still want them to cast their vote even if they're working for us on Election Day.

David Payne:  So, Dr. Z, let me put you in the spotlight.  How long have you worked with the County Board of Elections?  What do you most like about it?  And what you find most challenging?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, I joined the Montgomery County Board of Elections on September of 2003.  And actually a little tidbit, I was the outreach coordinator for the public library system from 2000 to 2003, when I joined - prior to joining the Board of Elections.  What I enjoy is meeting individuals, informing them, giving them the tools to be successful to have an outstanding experience while voting.  There's a lot of sacrifice that come before me to have the opportunity to engage and empower the community to vote.  I personally, my family is from El Salvador.  So even during the Civil War I had an uncle who actually disappeared trying to bring democracy to El Salvador.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So I have a personal vested interest in the right to exercise your voting privilege.  What's challenging with my position is the hours.  And I've been blessed with a great family; I have two sons.  Sebastian is 12 and Julian, he's nine, and a beautiful wife, Karen.  And polling 15 hours a day, but it's a short period.  You know, it's a short-term commitment with long-term impact because 90 days leading to an election it's busy.  There's a lot of moving parts.  You want to make sure that the machinery is well-oiled, and so you pool a lot of hours.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Election night is a long day.  The last day of early voting it's a long day.  But it's very rewarding.  And there's always - of course, we all take our vacations and our breaks, but my family, they, when I became a father my children were young.  And so they know that it's an even year, "Good night, Dad.  See you tomorrow."  And so that's the most challenging, is the time commitment needed.  But the reward is way - they're much, much, much, that the rewards are like ten-folds.  And so it's a commitment, it's a sacrifice.  And it's my little part I could help to defend the constitution.

David Payne:  And, I presume, the ultimate reward is seeing high voter turnouts.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  In the beginning when I worked, that was my goal.  And then I would get frustrated because then the turnout wasn't as high as I expected.  But my reward is daily.  Today, this is a reward for me, the fact that I could inform, and educate, and empower a voter; someone may learn something today.  That will satisfy my cup for the day.  But yes, we always, not just me, but the entire agency, from the director down to myself, we always desire a 100% turnout.  And we if we in the low 16%, like we did in 2014 or a little under 25% this past primary, we will always tweak the machine and hopefully aim for a higher turnout.  But at the end of the day, we're all adults.

And for your reason why you desired not to vote, it can't be for the options, because once again, we have The Cheesecake Factory options of voting; there's a lot of options for you, so your time, your vote, your voice.  So it's imperative that you decide how you're going to exercise that constitutional right through a secret ballot.

David Payne:  Absolutely.

Julie Dina:  And while we're still on that note, for our listeners, can you tell our listeners why it is very important to vote for the local elections.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Well, all politics are local.  And it's important that there is an empty seat at the table.  And I think by exercising your right to vote you are being known.  You show up, you're prepared, you get your sample ballot, you do your due diligence and your research, and you mark your ballot, you scan it, and you go home, and you get that famous I Voted sticker.  And so I assure you, you will feel so much better when you get the sticker on your lapel or on your chest; it's a badge of pride.  And like I said earlier before, a lot has transpired to keep that right to vote.  There's so many countries around the world that desire to have what we have.  And when you have an average or a low voter turnout it does hurt.  But at the end of the day, I'm here to serve.  I'm a public servant, and I will do anything to help you reach that goal of helping you vote.

I can't tell you how to vote, do not carry your left or right, center, up and down, north, east, west, south; it doesn't matter.  But my desire at the end of the day is that you cast your vote.

Julie Dina:  And have you mastered ways that might be helpful to get great turnout?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You know we've done a lot of outreach.  On average, we average about a thousand outreach events in election season.

Julie Dina:  Wow.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Where it's - we, for the presidential, between the 2014 gubernatorial general and the 2016 presidential primary - general primary, I apologize.  General presidential elections, we did over 1,100 events.  And I personally do not care if it's a room with five people, like today, we're four.  And - or a big event, like Oktoberfest in Kentlands with 5,000; it doesn't matter.  That opportunity to connect with an individual, and so we have done farmers' market, PTAs, food drives; we've done it all.  We've gone to clinics and shelters.  So at the end of the day, we want to meet individuals halfway.  So we've done it all, both electronically.  We're kind of meeting millennials with this whole QR codes and geo-fencing, and a lot of neat things are going on right now.  But at the end of the day, whether you got a sample ballot or you get a geo-fence tag, whether you got a QR code in the mail, whether you saw us at an event or a farmers' market or at the library, that individual must take ownership and a desire to vote.

David Payne:  So we talk about voting.  Dr. Z, can you remind us when Election Day is this fall?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So Election Day is Tuesday, November 6th.  Our polls are open from 7:00 AM till 8:00 PM.  We have approximately 235 precincts.  Voters should definitely look out for their sample ballot, which is mailed several weeks before Election Day.  And then, also, we have early voting.  So if Tuesday, November 6, and you're busy, then you could vote during early voting, which is October 25th, that's a Thursday through Thursday November 1st, from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM, that includes the weekend, Saturday and Sunday.  And we have 11 early voting centers across Montgomery County.  What's interesting, you're not tied to a specific early voting center.  So let's say, I'm going to use myself as an example.  I live in Clarksburg; I am doing events Downtown Silver Spring, at the Silver Spring Library.  I could flex my right to vote at the Silver Spring Civic Center.

But for Election Day you are tied to your Election Day precinct.  However, we are blessed with traffic in this area.  If for some reason you can’t make it to your precinct you could go to a neighboring precinct, you would vote a provisional ballot, and then we would do some research to ensure that whether that ballot is accepted in full or not.  But we do encourage you to do due diligence, to go to your neighborhood precinct on Election Day, but the early voting centers are there to facilitate access to the franchise.  So you have early voting, you have Election Day, and then you have vote-by-mail.  Right now we have the absentee vote-by-mail application online.  You can make a request via email or the old style, download an application and mail it to us.  And then we will do our due diligence to send the appropriate ballot style to that address that is presented on the application.

Julie Dina:  So, for those who haven't already registered, how can they do so, and how can people find out if they have registered in the past or not?  And also, how would they find out where their local polling station is?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Okay, great questions.  So the first thing, I encourage individuals to go to our website, which is 777vote.org.  You go to our website, and if you scroll to the bottom there's a tab that says Voter Lookup.  And you would click on that or tab if you look on your cell phone and you - it depends.  You have to be correct, unless you have a touchscreen monitor at home.  And what you would do is you would put your last name, first name, date of birth, and zip code, and we will cross-reference that information, it'll tell you've registered or not.  If you don't get anything back from the database then we would encourage you, on the same website, especially if you have a Maryland driver's license, a Maryland permit, or a Maryland ID, you could register to vote online on our website, and it's easy.  You could see, it says Voter Registration, and there's a tab that says Register Online.  But you must have one of the Maryland-issued IDs in order to do so.

If you do not have an ID, driver's license, or permit, there's also a tab, Register to Vote, and you could download the paper format, fill that out, and mail it to us to the address that appears on the application.  Even if you live in Prince George's or, let's say, Washington County, it's the state form.  And on the back of that form is the corresponding address for that corresponding local board of election of Baltimore City, so you can mail it to them.  If you are already registered but you want to do maybe a name change, address change, party affiliation change, you could actually fax your application to the local board of election if you don't have a Maryland ID or driver's license or permit.  But if you do have those forms of ID you could update your registration online.

You could go to the libraries.  The libraries will have copies of the voter registration application.  You could go to the local DMV or the Motor Vehicle Administration to register as well.  There's a lot of options, there's a lot of - you know, this is Maryland, and you live in Montgomery County there's no excuses.  And I, trust me, I've spoken to thousands of voters over my career, and I've heard all the excuses, and I come back with …

David Payne:  There isn't one.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  There isn't one.  This one's on you, my friend.

Julie Dina:  It's all on you.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yes.  So there's a lot of options.  And they could also call our office, 240-777-8532.  And I will - definitely glad to help, and we're there to serve.

David Payne:  Great/

Julie Dina:  Sounds good.

David Payne:  So, a couple of other voting questions.  When is the last day to register to vote?  And also, if anyone perhaps new to Montgomery County, are there any particular residency requirements to vote?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, as it pertains to the deadline, it's Tuesday, October 16th.  As it pertains to residency requirements, if you've registered to vote, we have something called same-day registration.  So, let's say you missed the voter registration deadline and you're new to the county, you could register to vote during early voting.  You would present ID, Maryland-issued ID or driver's license or permit.  And if you don't have that because you just moved in, then proof of residency, bank statement, the lease of your home, utility bill with your name and the address, and then we could register.  And then we will grant you the opportunity to vote during early voting.  Now, if you missed the voter registration deadline, which is once again, Tuesday, October 16th, and you don't leverage same-day registration during the eight days of early voting, from the 25th of October through the 1st of November, then we would provide you a provisional ballot on Election Day.

We would do our due diligence to research, because it could be that you lived in Prince George's County, could be that you registered and maybe you got married or divorced and there's an error on your record.  We always provide - we always give the voter the benefit of the doubt.  We will do extensive research.  And if it happens to be that you are registered to vote and you casted a provisional ballot, then we will make recommendations to our board of directors to either accept or accept in part your provisional ballot.  If you're truly not registered and you showed up on Election Day, November 6th, and you are given a provisional ballot, you will be ready for 2020.  The provisional ballot application doubles as a voter registration application.  Another quick tip is look out for your sample ballot.

If you don't get your sample ballot within, like, two to three weeks, either contact the Board of Elections or go to our website just to make sure that you're registered to vote.  So, if you're listening to this podcast I would highly recommend not to wait until November 7th, which is a day too late, because Election Day is the day before.

David Payne:  Right.  So as you say, no excuses.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No, no excuses.  Yeah, there's no excuses.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Julie Dina:  How exactly do they determine the polling stations?  And how many polling places are there in the county?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So there are, give or take, about 235.  They change, sometimes we consolidated precincts, sometimes we add precincts.  We keep tabs on the population growth of the county.  We look at our, we call it MD Voters, which is our voter registration database.  Everything is based off of that, the allocation of election judges, the allocations or creation or consolidation of precincts.  Obviously, if you look at Silver Spring, 50% of our voters live in the Silver Spring area.  So if you would look at a precinct map you'll see over close to 75 to 80 precincts in the Sliver Spring area.  If you go to Poolesville, there's two precincts.  So it's based on population, and based on our voter registration database.  So we have about 660,000 registered voters, it's always growing daily.  And so after an election we will tweak, if needed.

If a precinct grows too big, for example, let's say they have 3,500 voters, then we may consider identifying another facility within the neighborhood, and even splitting that.  But there's like an extensive research, vetting, we have opportunities for the community to give us recommendations and to share their concerns.  We don't anything on the fly.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  That's not how we roll.

Julie Dina:  So you just don't say [CROSSTALK] [00:26:57].

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  No, you vote here now [CROSSTALK] [00:27:01] we don't operate like that.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  We don't want to disenfranchise voters.  We want to facilitate their right to vote.  And sometimes schools close, they open, they do a refresh, like some libraries do refreshes.

Julie Dina:  Yes.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Or they'll build a new facility.  And so we always add.  And we may temporary relocate voters to a different location.  And we understand that sometimes the voters do get upset with us, but ultimately our goal is not to upset you.  Our goal is to protect you, and your right to vote.  So I tell voters to be patient with us, you know thank - and there's one thing I always want to tell individuals, you need to thank our volunteers, our election judges.  After an election all the campaigns are like, "Woo".   Either they're sobbing in a corner or elated and popping champagne.  But don't forget our volunteers; don't forget our team members, the staff.  Because - and I'm going to take the liberty of saying that without our volunteers and without the staff this party wouldn't take place.

David Payne:  Right.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So when you go and vote, say thank you to our election judge.  If you see a young lad or a young lady volunteering at the pools handing out I Voted stickers, say thank you, tell them how proud you are.  That little extra smile, you know.  We don't want to see frowns; we want to see your teeth, okay.  And thank us, because at the end of the day we're there to serve.

David Payne:  What's the typical voter turnout that you may expect for a midterm election?  And presumably you're anticipating a large turnout or hoping for a large turnout.  Is there sort of a benchmark figure that would be acceptable for you?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  100% is acceptable, nothing less; nothing less.  We always aim for 100, it could be 60%.  It all depends on the climate, it depends what's going on in the nation, depends what's going on local politics.

David Payne:  The weather even, I suppose.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Even the weather.  Yes, even the weather.  And it's interesting because even when I compare what we have, and we're blessed what we have now.  And I compare it, for example, to El Salvador, they don't have provisional balloting, but their voter turnout is higher.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  It's interesting.  And so we always aim for 100, let's say we get 60%-70%.  Obviously, if we get 70% we're still missing 30% of the electorate.  But we try to target those 30%.  We have those famous super voters, and they will come regardless if there's a hurricane coming, they will show up.  And that's great.

David Payne:  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, for those individuals that historically vote every year, we love you.  Can you help us identify someone who doesn't vote every other year and bring them with you, because then you're an extension of us, and that would be help us tremendously, because at the end of the day we have a finite budget, we all pay taxes, and we want to leverage that accordingly.  So please help us.

David Payne:  Can you give us suggestions as to where someone can find out about candidates for smaller offices, let's say, a school board or city council?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, we collaborate with a lot of organizations.  The League of Women Voters, whether it's Maryland or Montgomery County or your particular county, does incredible work.  Also, they have the voter's guide that goes out.  That's a good publication that you could get at your neighborhood libraries.  I believe they deliver them to all their branches.

David Payne:  They do, uh-huh.  Yeah.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You know, in the advent of internet, Google it.  [CROSSTALK] [00:30:45] tell people, "Google it."  And if you don't know how to Google it, find someone who does.  Everything is online nowadays.  I know sometimes the candidates, I know they will mail out the mailings, the research seen, so read that information they send.  We will not - all we will provide in our sample ballot is the candidate's name and the contest for which he or she is running for.  Other than that, the League, a lot of nonprofit organizations, there's a multitude of forums - forums that will take place for the different contests, keep your eye out on those.  I say go to those forums and ask your questions, and the local newspapers and print.  Print or online, or TV, but do your due diligence, get your sample ballot, do your research, markup your sample ballot; vote.

David Payne:  Be informed.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Please, yes.  Yes, please.  Because it makes early voting and Election Day go much smoother when you know how you're going to vote your ballot, as opposed to taking 69,000 leaflets, and the voter's guide, and the posts.  And then the voter is like, "Why do I have all that paper laid out on them and on that ballot booth?"  Do your homework beforehand; I'm telling you ahead of time.  So you got about two months, so get cracking.

Julie Dina:  It's funny we talked about googling it earlier, but I was going to ask you, how has technology helped to improve voting procedures and efficiency, and just voting in general?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, right now, we're working with the Department of Technology Services to create geo-fencing or geo-tagging.  And hopefully, I'm crossing my fingers, but what would happen is as you go near an early voting center you get a little tag, a notification that you're close to the Potomac Community Rec Center.  It'll have information, it'll have directions; it's pretty neat.  And the reason I wanted that geo-tag capability is also when we do outreach into the community.  We're going to visit all the high schools or when we come to the libraries, we could geo-fence the Rockville Library, and everyone who's walking around the Rockville Library could say, "Oh, people are - I could register at the Rockville - there's someone from the Board of Elections."

Those are kind of the things.  And it's something that I was dying, I wanted to do since, actually 2014, but the technology wasn't there yet.  And it was expensive back then.  Now it's cheaper.  That's one of the kind of things we want to implement with the advent of technology.  We're starting to QR code everything because that's the language of millennials.  A bookmark, you know, and it works for the libraries.  But for us when you go to a student and you give him a bookmark with information they look at it like, "Okay, thank you.  Oh, that's to my grandmother."  And it's funny because, "Okay, I guess this is not going to work."  But they love QR codes because they'll just scan the QR code and they could register the vote, they could sign up to be an election judge, they could get information; so QR coding is great.  It's simple, it's inexpensive.

And texting, you know, texting.  And we're starting to use more social media.  That's another - you know, it's been around for a while, but I think more agencies are using social media.  But it looks easy, but it does take time.  And so - but I think those are the three tips, I would say.  Geo-fencing and QR coding are two good quick ways to leverage technology in favor of promoting or selling your services.

David Payne:  Sticking with technology, the hacking of elections is a very topical subject.  Can you tell us what hacking elections actually means, and also what procedures the Board of Elections has to ensure the protection of our voting process?

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  So, there's a lot of internal mechanisms in which we implement as guided by the State Board of Elections, especially when you do the VPN network for early voting we don't share Wi-Fi, we don't upload results on election night over the internet.  I mean, we literally drive everything.  I think individuals, because of the age of the internet, everyone's an expert.  And so I tell individuals, at least in Maryland and Montgomery County, it's secure, okay.  I think what we need to focus is encouraging your neighbors to vote, marking up your sample ballot, ensuring that your voter registration is current.  Even if you are moving within the same building, so let's say you live in apartment 101, you marry; you have two kids, now you move into apartment 201 in the same facility, that's a new address for us.

So make sure everything is current.  And make sure you make a cognizant decision, am I voting by mail during eight days of early voting or on Election Day.  The hacking, security; we got that covered.  Trust me, we got that covered.

Julie Dina:  Cool.

David Payne:  Sounds good.

Julie Dina:  So do you have any tips for those who bring their kids to the polls, and also for, and I can tell there's got to be crazy things or crazy situations or stories that you can actually share with us.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Yeah.  So with children, if your child is 12 and older and you bring him to the polls, we will request that they fill out a voter assistance form, because the thought process is that individual could entire the voter to change their decision who to vote for, okay, because they're 12, and kids are very intelligent, very sophisticated thinkers.  Having said that, for those families with children grade six to 12 in Montgomery County, we welcome them to work as future vote ambassadors on Election Day.  All the information is on our website, 777vote.org, and the upper-right-hand corner, it says future vote, or midway on a page on the left-hand side it says Future Vote, has all the FAQs on how to register your child, there's a training that's mandatory, so one-hour training session in middle October.  They'll work in their precinct; they earn SSL credits that they need.

And then once they hit 16, we would love for them to serve as election judge.  And they could earn up to $210.  But this is also for our voters.  So if you're an adult and you have some extra time and you want to serve as an election judge, go to our website, signup, serve, and we will call you every other year to see if you're available.  Now, interesting story, I have a lot of stories.  Let me see, we'll try to find a PG story - rated G story.  So this was the funniest.  And so we had one of our future vote ambassadors, sixth grader, big-eyed 11-year-old, and we happened to forget to pack the power chord for one of our voting system, this was several years ago.  So the chief judge was ecstatic, "Oh my god, what are we going to do?  We need a power chord, we're missing one.  We have to call the office."  So they called the hotline, you know, our helpdesk.  We said we'll deliver the power chord tomorrow morning, it's okay, there's a battery pack, you're fine.

So there was this 11-year-old and he said, "Oh, let me look at the equipment."  And they're not supposed to touch the equipment.  He's like, "No, I'm not touching; I just want to look at it."  And he told the chief judge, "Can I call my dad."  He's like, "Okay."  He's like, "Dad, go to my PlayStation and go to my DVD, and take the power chord off and bring it to me now."  So then the dad's like running up the street, goes to the precinct, and it fit.  It worked.  And so now the chief judge could sleep at night, because the meeting was on Monday night.  And then he woke up early, showed up at the polls at 6:00 AM to open the doors at 7:00.  And the power cord, it worked.  And then the funny thing is after the student did their four-hour shift in the morning he came back in the evening, knocked at the window of the school.  And the judge is like, "Are you okay, what's wrong?  Did you forget something?"  "Yes, I forgot my power chord."  And he took his power chord back from his PlayStation.  So that's a funny story.

Julie Dina:  Wow, that's really cute.

David Payne:  We're ending on a happy note.  Dr. Z, we always close our podcast by asking our guests to tell us about a book they are reading or recently enjoyed.  So, something other than League of Women Voters election guide, perhaps.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  Uh, COMAR and the Maryland election law book, unfortunately that's what I read, unfortunately for now.  You know, finding time to read, and with my sons, that's - every year I say I'm going to read this book.  I have a book called, Path to Power.

David Payne:  Uh-huh.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  It's the autobiography of Lyndon B.  Johnson.  I owe the library a lot of money.

Julie Dina:  Take note.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  I've had that book since 2004.  And I always have to restart it because I forget what I read three years before.  But yes, but that's one of my list of things to do.  So I won't lie.  I don't read much lately.  But right now what's on my desk are the COMAR and Maryland election law.

David Payne:  Well, thank you.

Dr. Gilberto Zelaya:  You're welcome.

Julie Dina:  I've got to say, Dr. Z, it's been very enlightening.  Thank you so much for joining us on this particular program.

Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcasts App, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts.  We'll love to know what you think.  Thank you once again for listening for our conversation today, and see you next time.

[Audio Ends]

Oct 9, 2018

Summary: Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, Outreach Coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections, joins us to discuss how elections are organized in Montgomery County and the Board's ongoing efforts to empower voters to participate in elections.

Guest: Dr. Gilberto Zelaya, AKA Dr. Z, the Outreach Coordinator at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. 

Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne

What Our Guest Is Reading:  The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson) by Robert A. Caro. The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR)

Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:

Early Voting for the 2018 General Election: Thursday, October 25, 2018 through Thursday, November 1, 2018. 

Election Day for the 2018 General Election: Tuesday, November 6, 2018. Find your polling place

The Future Vote: An initiative to increase youth civic participation and promoting civic duty, community involvement, and recognition of the importance of preserving participatory democracy.   

League of Women Voters, Montgomery County: A nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed civic engagement. 

Maryland State Board of Elections

Montgomery County Board of Elections

Read the transcript

Sep 26, 2018

Hear the audio

David Payne: Welcome to Library Matters with our host David Payne.

Julie Dina:  And I'm Julie Dina.

David Payne:  And for today's episode, we're going to be delving into the fascinating world of banned books.  Why banned books?  Well, because in the public library world, one of the highlights of September is Banned Book Week.  And here to tell us and share their passion and interest for banned books are two of our librarians from the MCPL system, Danielle Deaver, who is the young adult librarian at Germantown.  Welcome Danielle.

Danielle Deaver:  Thank you.  I'm happy to be here.

David Payne:  And from Olney Library, we welcome Alessandro Russo, who is the Senior Librarian there.  Welcome Alessandro.

Alessandro Russo:  Thank you.  I'm glad to be here.

David Payne:  And um, Danielle, you've had some experience with banned books displays at Germantown?

Danielle Deaver:  Yes, I have.  We do banned book displays in our adult and children's sections.  And this year I got to do the one in the adult section.

David Payne:  That's great.  And Alessandro you were telling me earlier your rebellious nature attracted you to the field of banned books?

Alessandro Russo:  Yes, I believe it was when I started as a volunteer and they told me I wasn't allowed to read certain books that I was like, "Hey, I'm going to do completely opposite and I'm going to read these books."

David Payne:  That's great.  That's great.  Well, let's start by looking at band book next week and asking you both, what's the purpose of banned books week, if I start with Danielle?

Danielle Deaver:  Sure. Well, I think the purpose is basically to draw attention to the fact that all over the country every day, books are being challenged by people and even banned by library system, school systems and other -- and government agencies.  And I kind of, though it had existed forever, but I found out today that it started in the early 1980s when book challenges started becoming more common.

David Payne:  And you mentioned it started -- We will go back to 19, the 1980s.  Do you think that over time since then it's attracted more and more interest?

Danielle Deaver:  Oh, I think it definitely has.  It's become, sort of, something that you see merchandised now where you can actually buy bags that have banned book titles on them.  And I think it's become, you know, something that is kind of starting to attract a lot of attention and popular culture.

Alessandro Russo:  And as you know, social media and it becomes more available and to see, you know, and to track news and information.  I think people are getting a better understanding of what banned books are and why kind of this movement is growing in a sense.

Julie Dina:  Well, since we're talking about banned books, when exactly is Banned Book Week and more importantly, how does MCPL participate in banned books week, Alessandro?

Alessandro Russo:  Banned books week is from September 23rd to September 29th.  And just in general, I believe our system, we do a great job in displaying banned books and kind of adding a little literature to explaining what banned books are.  And we actually, I know they're doing a story time at Gaithersburg Library with a banned book.

Julie Dina:  Danielle, did you have anything to add?

Danielle Deaver:  No, I mean we do the displays and it actually generates a lot of conversation.  We had a little girl today who came in and said, you know, "What's a banned book?"  And her mother actually said, "Well, let's go over and look at them and I will tell you about that."  So that was, that was really nice.

David Payne:  So, I think we should, we should clarify for our listeners, Banned Books Week is actually a national event I think.  Is it from the American Library Association?

Alessandro Russo:  Yes, yeah.

David Payne:  Can you tell us, really talk about banned books and challenged books and there's a difference between the two.  Can you explain what, what the difference is Alessandro?

Alessandro Russo:  So challenged book is basically presenting the question of why are we going to remove this book from a collection or why are we going to censor this book?  And then, a banned book is actually if the verdict get passed by whoever saying we are officially pulling this book from the stack or the collection.  So the easiest way to look at it is a challenged book is phase one and then if it goes further, phase two, is the banned book, so.

Danielle Deaver:  And we actually only see a small snapshot of what it's challenged around the country.  The American Library Association tracked 416 books that were challenged or banned in 2017, but 82% to 97% of book challenges are never reported to organizations that track such things.  So there are probably a lot of challenges and even bans yes, going on.

Julie Dina:  So what would you say is MCPL's policy regarding book challenges and has MCPL ever banned a book?

Danielle Deaver:  Well, I asked around about this and people who have been here much longer than I have say that in their institutional memory, about 30 years, they have not seen or heard of any books being banned from MCPL.

Alessandro Russo:  So it's actually in MCPL collection policy on page 10 section 4, Intellectual Freedom.  It's, and there is -- I'll just quickly go for what we're looking for. The statement pertains to all formation formats, including print, video, audio, digital, and electronic formats.  "Libraries assure that the collection is open and accessible to all residents.  It is committed to well-balanced print electronic and electronic collection, which presents various points of views on all subjects, controversial or not.  Libraries do not remove, restrict, or withdraw materials because they are regarded as discriminatory or inflammatory by an individual or group."

David Payne:  And there you have it.

Alessandro Russo:  Yes.

David Payne:  So, looking at the lists over the years of banned books and challenged books, obviously a great diversity in amongst the titles that fall into that category.  But what are the think of any, of the strangest reasons that you've come across for banning a book?  Let's start with you Alessandro.

Alessandro Russo:  My favorite is a cultism or Satanic worship, which in particular, the example was any -- the Harry Potter series when they came out and it's that kind of just an interesting way to read that book as many people read it in a completely different way.  But yeah.

Danielle Deaver:  The strangest reasons I found were in 1983, the Alabama State Textbook Committee wanted to ban Anne Frank's diary of a young girl because it was "A real downer."

Julie Dina:  Wow.

Danielle Deaver:  Yes.  And in 1987, school officials in Alaska tried to, or actually did ban the American heritage dictionary because it used slang terms such as "bed," "knocker," and "balls."  So they just banned the dictionary.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

David Payne:  Okay.  On that note.

Julie Dina:  On that note, now can you tell us about what are the most common reasons for challenging or banning books?

Danielle Deaver:  Sure.  Officially, the top three are that the material is considered to be sexually explicit, to contain offensive language or be unsuited to age group and most people who bring book challenges are parents.  But a lot of people have started noticing and writing about lately the fact that a lot of the books that are being challenged and banned are books that feature diverse characters, diverse, you know -- or are written by diverse authors.  And in 2015, nine of the top 10 challenged books included diverse content.  They were about, you know, transgender teens, they were about LGBTQ characters.  And so, that's a disturbing trend that's kind of not officially on the radar.

Julie Dina:  Why do you think those are the most common ones or are the top three that keep popping up?

Danielle Deaver:  Well, Professor Emily Knox in Illinois researched this topic.  She looked at the ALA's annual top 10 challenged book lists from 2001 to 2015, and 29 diverse books appeared a total of 63 times on the list.  And they were all -- a lot of them actually said that they were in question because they depicted racism such as, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, the Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  And, you know, she kind of brings up the fact that, you know, this is -- these books are being challenged for being about diversity implies that the topic of diversity itself is inherently wrong or controversial, which is of course, you know, extremely disturbing.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.  It's kind of like that overall discussion.  Actually, I had a discussion with a colleague of mine the other day about should classics be banned because they are written in a different time period.  And so, someone reading that nowadays without any kind of prior knowledge can read it as being offensive or you know, racial.  But both of our curt collusions came, it's kind of like learning about history, if you kind of censor that part of history, that way of writing, how will you learn about the present and the future?

David Payne:  Right.  So can I ask you both to give us some examples of some recently banned, banned books?  Let's start with Danielle.

Danielle Deaver:  Okay, 13 Reasons Why is a teen book by Jay Asher that was made into a Netflix movie earlier this year.  And that has been -- that was the number one banned book in or challenged book in 2017 because of the discussion and the themes about suicide.  The book Drama, which is a children's book, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, that is immensely popular in our library and I think all over the system, was challenged -- and it's also won a lot of awards.  And it was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered confusing.

And the other one that was kind of upsetting because I loved this book, was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas.  And that's one of those books that has really drawn in even teenagers who don't particularly like to read.  It shows a side of the controversies over police shootings of black unarmed teenagers that we don't often see and that's the impact on the community.  And that book will also be a movie in a couple of weeks.  And that was challenged because it's drug use, profanity, and offensive language.  So that's just kind of a snapshot.

Alessandro Russo:  And then one that has made the list of, since 2007 is one of, one of my favorite young adult books is the Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian, written by Sherman Alexie.  And the, the, the reason why it keeps, it's getting challenged are you know, poverty, alcoholism, sexuality.  Even though the book won a national book award, was a national book award winner, and I thought it was a -- even though it's fiction, it was a great look into living on a reservation life and kind of like the reality's a person would face day-to-day as a, especially as a teenager's point of, perspective.  One of my other favorite classics that have historically been banned is Catcher in the Rye.  And if anyone who read it knows the profanity and how many times the "F" word comes up in that book.

Danielle Deaver:  I think it's a good book.

Alessandro Russo:  But it's so -- I love it because it's so crude and it's so real, like it's just a teenager skipping school one day and doing what he has to do, you know.

Julie Dina:  Yeah, but that's not you.

Alessandro Russo:  No, I was the good teen.

Julie Dina:  We could tell.

David Payne:  So really when it comes to, to, to banned books across the whole spectrum, really we're looking at children's books as much as adult books as much as young adult books.

Alessandro Russo:  Oh yeah.

David Payne:  Is that correct?

Danielle Deaver:  Yes. Yeah.  Where the Wild Things Are, was challenged and banned when it first came out because the characters were imaginary, which some people thought I believe would be somewhat occult like.  And the -- also it was just, it was very real at a time when most picture books and children's books depicted children as being, you know, good little boys and girls.  These kid's, you know, hammering nails into walls and chasing the dog and running off to bed and being punished and they just didn't want to deal with it.

Julie Dina:  Well, now that you've listed examples of recently banned books, can you tell us which book actually tops many of the banned book list?  Let's start with you, Danielle.

Danielle Deaver:  Honestly, I could not find one clear winner, not over all the years.  The classics come up time and time again.  Let's see, Harry Potter was challenged more than 3000 times, although it fell off the list in like the early 2000s.  And Judy Bloom, who writes books for, I guess, tween and teen girls, wonderful books, she was banned quite frequently.  And Maya Angelou has also been banned quite frequently.  The Bible actually gets challenged and banned a lot.  It was number six on this year's list.

Julie Dina:  What?

Danielle Deaver:  For religious content.  Yes, I thought that was-

Julie Dina:  That's, that's what it's for.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.

Julie Dina:  Okay.

Danielle Deaver:  And also, I think more recent challenges have objected to, things like the stoning of the homosexual man in a book that I would know if I was better at the Bible.

David Payne:  So when it comes to banning books, what are the, or what do you see as the determinating factors that go into banning a book?

Alessandro Russo:  So there's a cool feature online that there's, it's not complete, but there's a map of showing the location of where these books have been challenged and banned.  And a lot of them are in Bible Belt America, Midwest America.  And so I would say just off of that information, location is a major influence, obviously content of the book and being part of the location aspect, the personal beliefs, you know.

Danielle Deaver:  Yeah.  Just anecdotally, I would say that if you get a big enough group of people who is challenging the book, it's going to be more likely that the ban will go through.  But I think Alessandro is right, it's a lot to do with location and just what type of censorship the population supports.

David Payne:  And interesting, interesting enough, I think banned books are a pretty much a worldwide phenomenon.  It's not just this country, right?

Danielle Deaver:  Yes.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.

Danielle Deaver:  Back to the ancient Greeks.

David Payne:  Right?

Danielle Deaver:  Yes.  And even when they're not officially banned, my manager and I today we're, or we're talking about how customers do sometimes find ways to kind of ban them themselves.  One of the branches I worked in had the racier issues of cosmopolitan turned backward so people couldn't see the cover.  And she was telling me that at some libraries, the book, Go the F to Sleep was constantly being turned around and once it was moved from new books to the stacks, it just disappeared.  And I did a display for Gay Pride Month in the teen section last year, and when I walked past it on the second day, all of the books had been knocked down so that they were, you know, the covers faced, were just down in the bookshelf and you couldn't see them.

Julie Dina:  You're sure it wasn't construction?

Danielle Deaver:  I don't think it was because the historical fiction display across the way with oddly enough totally fine.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah, I think the most recent experience would be The Fifty Shades series.

David Payne:  Yes.

Alessandro Russo:  Where those tend to disappear or accidentally get re-shelved somehow in a completely different place.

David Payne:  Different place.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah, yeah.

Julie Dina:  Which leads me to my next question.  Why do you think books get banned, do you think, for offending the sensibilities of mostly one group of people or do many different groups of people have to get involved?

Danielle Deaver:  I think that a lot of the people who, you know, write about this and think about it a lot more than I do, use the word fear a lot.  And a lot of it is society is changing and the things that are changing in it are scary and people don't want to deal with it, they don't want to read about it and they especially they don't want their children reading about it.  The largest group of people who challenge these books are parents.  And I think that that, you know kind of says a lot about how we think of childhood as a protected time, that isn't quite realistic.

Alessandro Russo:  And one of my favorite quotes is from a Simpson’s character saying, "Think of the children."  And so when I see a banned book or I hear about a banned book, that's the first thing that comes to mind.

Danielle Deaver:  "Think about the children."

Julie Dina:  Exactly.

David Payne:  But that leads me to my next question.  I'm going to put you both, both on the spot and ask you, have either of you ever been tempted to, to ban or challenge a book?  And if so, what's your response to yourself?  I'll start with, with Alessandro.

Alessandro Russo:  So absolutely not to the first part of that question.  Even I remember in library school, we were discussing about challenged books and what happens if you find, if there's a book out there that tells you how to put a bomb together?  There are certain limitations to that.  And the overall idea is if the book is going to cause harm to someone or is going to hurt someone in a non-psychological manner, then it's okay.

David Payne:  Mm-hmm.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.

Danielle Deaver:  Yeah, I've never been tempted to ban a book, although like Alessandro said, I mean, a lot of these, you know, if somebody writes an entire book about, you know, how to build a nuclear bomb, like he said, like, I mean, we're not going to buy it.  So a lot of that kind of takes place before the book ever reaches me.  But when it comes to like fiction and that kind of stuff where it's more of a judgment call, I think every person reads every book differently almost to the point where they read a different book than I would.  And so, I don't feel that I need to tell them what to read, they can choose.

Julie Dina:  Well, I'll start with you Alessandro because I know before the program started, you mentioned the answer to this question.  Does banning a book actually encourage more people to read it?

Alessandro Russo:  I believe so.  And then, I don't have a psychological explanation why, but I'm going to go based off of kind of that idea when you tell someone don't do something, they're going to do the complete opposite.  That, that movement it's kind of increasing too as you know, more, more diverse books get challenged and banned and kind of go against the grain of society.  So.

Danielle Deaver:  Yeah, I agree.  I think it does, it makes them more attractive to people because they feel like they're doing something daring.

Alessandro Russo:  Yeah.

Danielle Deaver:  And also, I mean I think people are starting to realize that a lot of the books that are being challenged and banned are books that address important topics.  There's a group called Commonsense Media and it's a nonprofit that advocates for kind of using technology and media in a positive way for children.  And it gives like ratings for various TV shows and movies and stuff.  And they published an article last year encouraging families to read banned books together because it was a good way to get into these sometimes difficult but really important topics.

David Payne:  So again, putting you both on the spot, can you tell us what your favorite banned books are and, and why?  Let's start with you Danielle.

Danielle Deaver:  Oh, I have to go with the, the really obvious answer, which is the Harry Potter series.

Alessandro Russo:  Oh, Harry Potter, yeah.

Danielle Deaver:  I just love them for the same -- you know, I think the -- what people saw as maybe witchcraft to me was just total escapism.

Alessandro Russo:  I will go with a graphic novel, i-it's the Bone Series by Jeff Smith.  And I believe they got banned originally because of political views and there was some cry because there was racism and violence.

Julie Dina:  And down to our final question, it's actually traditional on our show for us to ask this final question, what are you both currently reading? Let's start with-

David Payne:  Banned books or otherwise.

Danielle Deaver:  Right now I'm reading a book called Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano.  And I actually checked it out, it was an eBook from the Overdrive app at the Kendall County Library system.

Alessandro Russo:  So I usually juggle a few books at the time, but the one that I've been deep into is Jim, it's a biography, Jim Henson by Brian Jones.  And it's a fascinating book and it goes beyond the Muppets Incorporate and gets perspective of everyone he has worked with, his family, a recommended read if you're a biography enthusiast.

Julie Dina: Well, I would like to say a big thank you for coming on the program today.  Thank you so much for being our guests.  Let's keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also, please review and rate us on Apple Podcasts, we'll love to know what you think.  Thank you once again for listening to our conversation today.  See you next time.

 

Sep 25, 2018

Summary: Freedom to read enthusiasts and MCPL librarians Alessandro Russo and Danielle Deaver talk about Banned Books Week (September 23-29, 2018), the annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read and warns of ongoing efforts to challenge and ban books. 

Recording Date: September 12, 2018

Guests:

Danielle Deaver, Children's Librarian at Germantown Library

Alessandro Russo, Senior Librarian at Olney Library

Hosts: Julie Dina and David Payne

What Our Guests Are Reading

Danielle Deaver: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano 

Alessandro Russo: Jim Henson: the Biography by Brian Jay Jones

Books and Authors Mentioned During this Episode:

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

American Heritage Dictionary

The Bible

Judy Blume, an American author best known for her children's books, whose books have been frequently challenged or banned. 

Bone series by Jeff Smith. The first book in the series is Out from Boneville

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 

Fifty Shades triology by E. L. James. Includes Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The first book in the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 

Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode:

American Library Association Infographic of Recent Banned Book Statistics

"Banned Books Are Often Diverse Books. Check the Stats." by Emily Knox

Banned Books Week

Common Sense Media: Online guide to books, movies, and other media for parents. See also the site's "Why Your Kid Should Read Banned Books" article. 

MCPL Collection Policy: The Montgomery County Public Libraries’ Collections Policy presents the strategies to develop, expand, diversify, and build 21st century library collections to meet the library needs and expectations of the Montgomery County residents/communities.

Overdrive: An online collection of e-books, audiobooks, and e-magazine available for free to MCPL library card holders. 

Special Family Storytime: Banned Books: A family storytime held on September 25, at Gaithersburg Library that featured children's books which have been banned or challenged. 

Read the transcript

Sep 12, 2018

Listen to the audio

Lauren Martino:  Hello listeners welcome to Library Matters.  My name is Lauren Martino and I'm your host today.  And today we're talking about the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.  And with me today is Dr. Jackson Bryer who's been involved with the festival from the very beginning in 1996 and who has edited several books about F. Scott Fitzgerald, welcome Dr. Bryer.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Hi.

Lauren Martino:  We also have with us Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, Professor Emerita at Concordia, Saint Paul, which is the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  We have with us as well Eric Carzon, who's the Branch Manager of the Twinbrook library and also very involved in this festival.  Welcome Ellie.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Thank you, good to be here.

Lauren Martino:  And welcome Eric.

Eric Carzon:  Thanks, good to be here.

Lauren Martino:  So Dr. Bryer, can you tell us a little bit about what the F. Scott Fitzgerald festival is?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, it's as you said it started in 1996, which was the centennial year of F. Scott Fitzgerald's birth.  And in that year the City of Rockville decided they wanted to do something to commemorate Fitzgerald who is buried in Rockville.  We can talk about that a little later as to why he is here.  And they appointed a group of citizens from the community to organize what I think they anticipated would be a one-year celebration of him.  And we did that in 1996 and it was so successful that we've been doing it ever since.

It started as a one-day event and has now become a three-day event in the sense that there are programs on Thursday afternoon sponsored by one of our partners the Friends of the Library.  And an event on Friday night at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda and then the main event here in Rockville all day Saturday.  So it's a three-day festival.  It is in many ways sort of a dual event in that it honors Fitzgerald.  But it also honors writers both established writers who we honor every year with the F. Scott Fitzgerald award and also encourages younger writers of all ages to pursue writing of various kinds.

We have writing workshops and there are other programs where we frequently show a film.  We also have master classes and we have in recent years affiliated very closely with the Montgomery County Public Schools and we can talk about that as well.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And the number of the writers who have been honored from really panoply of the great writers of our century beginning with William Styron, John Barth, and another Marylander and even a fantastic novelist, E. L. Doctorow.  So many of them are gone now, so that it's wonderful that we had them and that fledgling writers got to meet them and talk to them and go to a master class with them.

Lauren Martino:  You’ve gotten over twenty years of writers you’ve honored in this festival.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And the last year was Annie Proulx, she was terrific.

Lauren Martino:  So when are the dates of the festival?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  It begins on the afternoon of October 18th at Strathmore Mansion with a program in the afternoon.  It continues on Friday night October 19th at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda and then all day Saturday October 20th at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

Lauren Martino:  Eric can you tell us a little bit about MCPL’s role in this festival?

Eric Carzon:  Sure, yeah MCPL is very pleased to be part of the committee this year.  And we've planned several events throughout the library system to compliment the festival.  So the first one that's coming up is Tuesday, September 18th at 06:30 PM at the Twinbrook Library. And so we'll be doing our Twinbrook Library book discussion group.

And we're going to discuss Richard Russo's book Trajectory and Richard Russo is this year's honoree at the festival.  So if you want to be part of the book discussion group, you can give the branch a call at 240-777-0240, or just show up at the program, try to read the book of course before you come, but --.

Lauren Martino:  That always helps.

Eric Carzon:  We’ll take everybody who comes.

Lauren Martino:  But you're going to spoil the end.

Eric Carzon:  Yeah.  And then on Monday, September 24th at 07:00 PM which is F. Scott Fitzgerald's birthday, The Rockville Memorial Library is going to have a screening of Bernice Bobs Her Hair, which is a movie that was inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same title.  We’ll also have a little bit of birthday cake courtesy of the Friends of the Library Montgomery County. And we’ll be showing it using MCPL’s new streaming movie service called Canopy, which people can access online by the way as well.

On Thursday, September 27th at 06:30 PM at the Twinbrook Library Ellie and Jackson who are here today are going to discuss the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories, Winter Dreams and Babylon Revisited.  And then on Saturday, October 6th at 03:00 PM at the Twinbrook Library, we're going to show the movie Benjamin Button, which is also inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story.  And then we'll have a discussion afterwards with members of the F. Scott Fitzgerald festival planning committee.

And then finally on Thursday, October 11th at 06:30 PM at the Twinbrook Library, the three student finalists from this year's F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival Short Story Writing Contest will be invited to read and discuss their short stories with the audience.

Lauren Martino:  Are there other events related to the festival going on elsewhere?

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  There's luncheon that is given at the Strathmore Mansion that Jackson mentioned the three-day event, so that's on a Thursday.  Reservations do need to be made through the Friends of the Library.  And it's a smaller event, but I think that the room perhaps hold 60, so people do need to make a reservation, but it does get you in the spirit of the event and then on Friday at the Writer’s Center, Jenny Boylan who's going to introduce Richard Russo, the next day will be there to be honored herself.

She is very interesting writer I don't know what you know about her, but she has made some important changes in our life and she'll be there with other writers who will read in the honor of Jenny Boylan and Richard Russo.  So it's really literary rich time. And then on Saturday the number of people who are doing workshop, six different local writers are with these more fledgling writers in small groups.  They're coming and they range from Ethelbert Miller to --.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Susan Coll.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes and her husband.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Patricia Browning Griffith.  There are two fiction workshops, two nonfiction workshops.  Margaret Talbot who is a staff writer for The New Yorker is going to --.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  To be honored.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Do going to do a nonfiction workshop as the Ethelbert Miller is doing a memoir workshop and Susan Coll and her husband, Paul Goldberg are doing fiction workshops as well.  So there's a little something for everybody that's for beginning writers and immediate writers, anybody who is interested.  We try each year to have a theme.  This year in honor of Richard Russo, who has done a lot of work with first generation immigrant writers in his native state of Maine, in his honor we've kind of structured some of the festival around the theme of literature without borders.

And two other writers who are reading on Friday night at the Writer’s Center, not Jenny Boylan, but the other two writers are themselves not native to this country and are in sense immigrant writers. And so we want in some ways to stress that we think that's very important.  I'm sure Richard Russo will speak about that and about the program that he is involved in in Maine that encourages young first generation Americans to write about their experiences.

Lauren Martino:  So we have a lot of busy people in Montgomery County and there will be people that can only do maybe one or two of these events.  What would you – okay, let's do it for writers and for non-writers because it sounds like there's a lot of things out there, if you are a writer what is the one event you wouldn't want to miss.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I think you wouldn't want to miss the writer workshops and the master class, those are on Saturday.  And you go to ‘FScottfestival’ all one word ‘.org’ and make your reservation for that.  You do need to sign up for a writing workshop, a specific one because they are contained, they are small.  The event I don't think we said where it is, it’s in Richard Montgomery High School which is large – as large – some large and some small classrooms just rather perfect for our uses and a large parking lot.  And it’s very easy to find, its right out Rockville pike. It's very easy.

So if you want the master class I mean if you want the workshops, you do need to register.  But there also people can come in and there is a registration fee it's very modest.  But you can come in for anything, you can come in just to hear Russo or you can come in in the morning and see the movie at which she will be present to talk about it.  There are two wonderful movies made of his books, The Empire Falls and Everybody’s Fool, wonderful movies and we're going to have one of those.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Nobody’s fool, it's Nobody’s Fool.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Nobody’s fool.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  And he'll be talking about the film after the film is presented.  Also in order to maintain the connection with the F. Scott Fitzgerald, we're very-very pleased this year that F. Scott Fitzgerald's granddaughters, Eleanor Lanahan and Cecilia Ross have agreed to come to the festival.  They came to one of the earlier festivals, but they have been back in probably 15 or 20 years and they're coming this year along with Eleanor's daughter, Blake Hazard who is F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's great granddaughter and who also now works with her mother and her aunt in administering the Fitzgerald estate.  And so they will be participating in a panel discussion on Saturday afternoon talking about what it is like to be the heirs of a great American writer and also what it is like to administer the estate of a great American writer.  So we're particularly pleased this year that they're going to be with us.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Blake is also a singer.  And they're going to be speaking exactly across the pike from the grave of their great grandfather.  You know that both Fitzgeralds and other members of the family I think about six or seven other graves of Fitzgerald’s are right across the street in the Saint Mary's cemetery.  There is a tour, but you don't need to take the tour to go to see the graves, anybody can go at any time and park back by the school and see.

So we beat on boats against the current on the gravestone and whatever little goodies people have left bottles, roses, signs, in honor of the Fitzgeralds.  Scott was moved there; he was buried in another non-sacred plot close by until his daughter until his wife’s death. And then his daughter and -- I don't know how she arranged it, it's quite amazing because I don't think they were good church goers all their lives, but they are now in St Mary's churchyard.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  And so is their daughter?

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes.

Lauren Martino:  So can you tell us a little bit about the Fitzgeralds connection to Rockville in Montgomery County.  Why were they buried?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, Fitzgerald’s father's family was from Montgomery County and even though Fitzgerald lived most of his life in Midwest and in the east, he always had a real connection to his father's family.  And when he died he died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  And everybody involved his daughter and his widow all knew that where he wants to be buried was in Montgomery County with his father's family.  And as Ellie said he was originally buried in the Union Cemetery not in the church cemetery and so was Zelda. And then I think in the middle of seventies maybe their daughter arranged to have them move to Saint Mary's which is where many of the other parts of the family are, but it's true his father's family that he has the connection with Montgomery County and he came here often to visit. And he lived in Baltimore for fairly long period of his life, so he has that Maryland connection as well.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And close by Washington to, I believe his parents were married there actually.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah, yeah.  So that's the connection.  And as Ellie said the last -- this is the second time we've been at Richard Montgomery with the festival.  And you can literally look out the windows of the Richard Montgomery High School Library and see the graveyard where the Fitzgerald plot is.  So you couldn't be in a more appropriate spot for an F. Scott Fitzgerald festival.

Lauren Martino:  I wonder what it would be like to go to school in that place and then live in the shadow of this and your English teachers can always keep pointing to it.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  It would be wonderful.  I hope they all know that where the -- how close they are to a great legend, one of our great, maybe if you name five of the greatest I would put Fitzgerald in there.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Maybe they work that into their paper grading, F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried here, you can do better. D-.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  When you go there that spot is in the middle of a terrible traffic pattern and when you're standing there in that little graveyard, every time I've been there it seems peaceful somehow.  It's quite remarkable and there is a kind of sacred quality about it.  His mother actually died in Montgomery County.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  We're also very pleased that we have a increasingly close connection with the Montgomery Public Schools.  We have for many years had two short story contest as part of the festival; one for -- is open to anyone who lives in the DC Maryland, Virginia area and the other is open to students in Montgomery County.  And we gave two awards; well actually we gave an award for a winner in each contest and a couple of runners up in each contest.

Also in the last few years, we have asked each Montgomery County Public High School to name one of their students an F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and those individual students attend the festival as our guest.  They have special programs with the honoree and with other special people, master classes.  They receive a book signed by the honoree and also they get a certificate indicating that they have been selected as an F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar.

So that’s quite a distinction and almost every high school last year name somebody as a Fitzgerald scholar and we're hoping I mean we usually have between 15 and 20 high school students who attend.  The winner of the high school short story contest does get to speak at the festival. And as Eric said this year we're very excited because the libraries are going to have a program where all the finalists, the three finalists for the student short story contest will be able to read their stories and speak about them at the public library as Eric mentioned.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And nobody will know who the winner is, of course see that will heighten the interest.  We hope that everybody who hears the stories will want them to come to here who was named though the actual winner of that contest.  Stories are wonderful.  Last year's story was just a marvelous, intercultural story, an intergenerational story, very sensitive story.  So I'm looking forward.  They're printed in our program too.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Is it too late to enter the contest?  When does the—

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  I think the student short story contest deadline has passed, but I think the adult or open short story contest deadline is August 11th.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes.

Lauren Martino:  So for next year, yeah.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Is past, but people should keep it in mind for next year.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  They should practice.

Lauren Martino:  About a year to work on it.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Can you imagine for your college entrance, I mean intrinsic reward of the honor is great.  But also it does not look bad on your college application.

Lauren Martino:  Who knows maybe you'll have an honoree for the F. Scott Fitzgerald award one year that's previously won the short story contest.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  In 2040?

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Winner, let me look that.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, one year when we applied for a grant, one of their letters of support was from a previous winner of the short story contest who has gone on to become a fairly accomplished short story writer and he testified to how important winning the festival's short story contest have been in his career.

Lauren Martino:  Wow.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  He is not a young person, I mean he is an adult who has submitted a story one and was very encouraged by that, and he’s continued to write.  I mean one of the things that could easily happen and he would be a perfect candidate.  He could very easily be one of our workshop leaders some day and that would be a wonderful succession of having a previous short story winner be the workshop leader in a fiction workshop.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  That such a good idea we should put that on our agenda.  I think that's a wonderful idea.  When I go back to the family a moment if I may because I think we left this out, it's pretty important.  Francis Scott Key of course is an ancestor of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Lauren Martino:  Really.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Hence his name.

Lauren Martino:  Fitzgerald.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes and of course Maryland.  So that's very important Maryland connection.

Lauren Martino:  Are there other any references to Maryland or to Montgomery County in any of their works.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I think there's a beautiful one.  Jack will elaborate on this, he probably knows the passage by heart but Dick Diver in Tender is the Night which is autobiographical of the marriage particularly much more so than the Great Gatsby as you probably know.  But he goes home – his father dies and he goes home which is – I don't remember if the place is actually named but I always get the sense of coming back to Montgomery County.  It's a southern place in the novel.  And he thinks about tradition and his fine father is having a crisis in his own life and he remembers his father's strong ethos.  It's a very moving passage and one of the most autobiographical I think in all of Fitzgerald is about the middle of the book.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah I mean the passage is something -- he also wrote a very famous essay about his father when his father died.  I mean it's kind of ironic because his father was a terrible failure as a businessman and as a wage earner.  But it's interesting because his mother was by far the dominant person in his life and his mother's family supported Fitzgerald.  And his father for most of his life because his father -- his grandfather on his mother's side was a very successful I guess you'd say grocer; he ran a grocery store and he died – very relatively young and left quite a bit of money.

Fitzgerald's father on the other hand never could keep a job, but Fitzgerald learned from his father what you might call the graces of the south.  I mean he said at one point maybe in this essay I can't remember that he always referred judgments to his father because he always thought his father had that sense of noblesse oblige and southern grace that he admired and you know that cut across whether he was successful or not.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Actually when you think about the Great Gatsby begins with a reference to the next father, I don't know, you know my father taught me to reserve all judgment.  I don't know whether that came from Fitzgerald’s own father or not but it is an homage to fathers.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah and so his father represented something very important to him beyond whether he was successful.  I mean he never got over -- Fitzgerald never got over when his father lost his job.  They lived in upstate New York for a while, and he came home one day and said he lost his job. And Fitzgerald was very young at the time probably seven or eight years old and he said that was a devastating moment in his life.  But he still remained – had a tremendous respect for his father.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  The issue of money of course is so central in all of Fitzgerald's work in most 20th century fiction I guess.  But his first biography -- one of his first biographers, Malcolm Cowley, I think it was who said that F. Scott Fitzgerald resembled the little boy at the candy store window with his nose pressed against it looking and not able to afford what was within, just a kind of devastatingly sad picture and not untrue.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah I mean he grew up I mean all you have to know about Fitzgerald is to go to Saint Paul and see where his house was.  And his house was across the street from the backyards of all the biggest houses in Saint Paul and he was -- his friends, his playmates were all the children of Saint Paul's richest and most successful citizens.  And because of his grandfather's money, he was able to go to a very good private school.  But he was always aware that he was not one of them and he was always aspiring in a way to be one of them at the same time is realizing that was never going to be possible.  And all his work is filled with that sort of double sense of envy and regret that you find just by seeing the physical situation in Saint Paul.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And his story, the rich boy, of course starts with one of the most famous served catalogs of why the rich are different.  It's the one that Hemingway made fun of. but it's much more true than Hemingway's attacked on it.  The rich are different.

Lauren Martino:  And it's suppose around here there's a lot of that that resonates just with the extreme wealth we have --.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  These days.

Lauren Martino:  Yeah especially in the DC area.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  We ought to say something about Richard Russo who is this year's honoree.  He is a marvelous, marvelous novelist; Empire Falls which won the Pulitzer Prize is probably his most famous book, but he has got several other wonderful books.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I've been reading the older books now, I’ve read Everybody and Nobody's Fool.  Now I'm reading Bridge of Sighs.  It did get an award, but I don't -- I think it got overshadowed later.

Lauren Martino:  There's a warmth to him.  He loves his characters.  There's humor.  He puts them in ridiculous situations.  In Bridge of Sighs, a little boy gets stuck in a trunk and people make love over the trunk.  And I mean that’s the beginning of the book.

Lauren Martino:  He loves such a crazy situation, yeah, really.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  You know, the situations people get in and he pulls them out of them with the most loving, that's the word -- maybe that's too sloppy a word Jackson, but I get the sense that he loves his characters and he loves America.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, he's also written one of the funniest novels about academic life called Straight Man which is based on his long experience as a college teacher.  It's a very-very funny novel.  The other thing about Richard Russo that I'm particularly looking forward to hear -- in my experience he is one of the most articulate writers I've ever had the pleasure of listening to.  What I mean is there a lot of writers who are brilliant writers, but who don't necessarily talk that well about what they do that doesn't mean they're not good writers they just write, they don't talk about it.

Richard Russo talks beautifully about the art of writing, the art of fiction, about teaching.  And I'm really looking forward to his master class where he'll talk about the craft of writing and will answer questions.  I don't know anybody I go to a lot of readings where writers come to town with their books.  I don't know anybody who is more interesting and more articulate in a Q&A than Richard Russo.  So I recommend that as one of the features of this year's festival.  I'm really looking forward to.  And he is a wonderful person as Ellie says in his books you can feel that.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  You wrote a memoir about his -- it's ostensibly about his mother.  But of course he is the other major character and he is a professor and writer in the book.  So there you get a lot of the pressures on a writer, time pressures and how you advance in academia and how you blend that with the needs of your family.  Again, the portrait of his mother is affectionate and a slightly humorous ironic.  And it's a wonderful book, it's a wonderful memoir.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  I think we have to say something about Jenny Boylan.  We ask the honoree every year who he would like to have introduced him or her at the event and it's usually another writer and we try to honor that request.  And this year Richard Russo ask the Jenny Boylan be asked to introduce him.

Jenny Boylan is a Professor at Barnard College in New York, but for many years she was James Boylan at Colby College.  One of his colleagues and she underwent a sex change about 15 or 20 years very publicly.  She has written about it.  And so has Richard Russo written about the trauma that he went through had seeing his best friend become a woman in a way and how difficult that was for him initially and now they obviously have maintained the friendship.  And I'm really looking forward to meeting Jenny Boylan, as I say she has written a couple of books about her experiences.  And I think people will be interested in her story as well as in Richard Russo's.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  By the way you said the word books gives me a chance to say that thanks to Montgomery County Library.  We will be selling books by all of the workshop people, Richard Russo of course and Jenny Boylan.

Lauren Martino:  The Friends of the Library will be selling this.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes, at the Saturday event.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And also on the Friday event.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  And the writers are usually very-very willing to sign copies of their books and to -- writers always like to see their books sold.  And if signing them will help sell them, they'll do it.

Lauren Martino:  So how do you choose the recipient of the F. Scott Fitzgerald award every year?  Who does the choosing?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well the committee, the committee basically talks it over each year and we come up – I mean I have to admit that sometimes we ask somebody and they can't do it.  And so then we have to go to another choice, although in recent years it's very interesting when we first started out we were very lucky we got a couple of very good writers at the very beginning.  And then people began to turn us down because we don't offer a lot of money and there isn't much prestige.

But then as we began to honor certain writers, other writers who had previously turned us down suddenly were willing to come.  I mean I very fondly remember John Updike refusing us until we gave the award to Norman Mailer.  He somehow found it in his schedule to be possible to come to Rockville and get the award.  As Ellie said we've had just a star studded array of writers over the years.  I think we're now up to 14 Pulitzer Prize.  Well, not 14 different writers, but 14 Pulitzer Prizes won by the writers that we have honored.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  The real reason we have these people, they're willing to come here that they know Jackson Bryer who has edited their work or introduce them in some other context. And so we sit at the meeting and Jackson says, “Why don't I write so and so,” and we say, “Oh, sounds like a very good idea.”

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, that's partially true, but also the festival now has become well enough known.  So that when we invite a writer, they know who the other writers are that we've honored and they are very pleased to be on the list now.  So I think that's part of it too.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I noticed that Richard Russo's book – no, no, I noticed that Robert Olen Butler’s book, I just read another one of his mysteries and it features the F. Scott Fitzgerald award on the back of the, you know, on his credits.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Oh, which is it.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Biography it is featured along with the Pulitzer.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, last year we honored Annie Proulx and this year the national book festival in September 1st is honoring Annie Proulx.  They got the idea from us for sure.

Lauren Martino:  Are there any other previous honorees you'd like to mention?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, two years ago we honored Garrison Keillor who is a great Fitzgerald fan.  And he very generously agreed to do a program on Friday night at Strathmore.  And he donated the entire receipts from that event, which we split with Strathmore.  And as you can imagine filling Strathmore brought in a great deal of money and we're not a particularly wealthy organization. And because of his generosity, we are in much better financial shape than we were before he did that.  And I know he has had some trouble since then, but we remain extremely grateful to him for that.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And he was wonderful with the high school students.  He refused to let anybody other than the high school students for that part of the day the next day.  And you could hear this laughter – all these high school students and they never did tell us what they talked about it.  But he charmed them and he certainly charmed us and --.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well and when we introduced the Fitzgerald scholars which is the group that he met with, he knew something about every single one of those students and had talked to each of them individually.  So given the difficulties he has been having I think it needs to be said that he certainly was a model honoree for us.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  He was indeed.  He was wonderful.  And I should mention that there's one local honoree, wonderful-wonderful writer I'm sure you know Alice McDermott.  She has been an honoree and she is also participated in other parts of the festival, otherwise there's no geographical limit to where we find the people.  But it’s wonderful to have her be part of it.

Lauren Martino:  I have a confession to make I have not read any F. Scott Fitzgerald since high school and I did not enjoy the Great Gatsby in high school.  Is there anything you can say to all of those people like out there like me who have just not taken a look at F. Scott Fitzgerald since their, you know, adolescent brains were –

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, I think you need to look, read them as an adult.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  You grown into him.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  I think I'm retired as a college teacher and I now teach adults, Ellie does too.  And the difference between reading when you're 15, 16 and 17 years old and when you're an adult is a very different experience.  I don't guarantee that you would love Fitzgerald now, but I think you are to give him another chance because I think after you've lived a little while you might see things in him.  Also The Great Gatsby is I think a great novel not because of its story or not because of anything other than how beautifully written.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Style.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Just is almost, you can read The Great Gatsby almost the way you read a poem word for word.  It's just beautifully-beautifully written and I think you should give it another chance.  But you could also start with some of his short stories which are obviously briefer and can be read more quickly.  And you know he may not be to your taste, but he seems to be to the taste of a lot of, as I said a lot of modern writers who admire him a great deal.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  The style is magnificent and of course he rewrote so many times.  Gradual dissertations have been written on comparing version one degree -- Version 7.

Lauren Martino:  Version 7.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  The green light didn't appear at first as it does in the beginning, it just appeared later.  And his wonderful editor, Maxwell Perkins relationship is so famous that there's a whole separate movie about Maxwell Perkins suggested that it become a motif and he put it in.  There was a big debate about the title of the book that is very revealing about what he thought of the book because it didn't begin as The Great Gatsby.  There are a number of other titles among Ash Heaps and Millionaires for example.

But as Jackson said the story of people with varying degrees of selfishness and jealousy and desires is wonderful on one level.  And although my daughter when she read it when she was too young she said, at age 15 she said, “I think they're very immature people”.  That was my impression too.  But then you read it and you realize well of course that's the point in a way I mean Daisy is not worth it the dream but to have such a dream.  And then to couch it in language which is poetic.  I've heard it read well, Jackson has seen the play which is the whole book.

And in Saint Paul, Garrison Keillor again arranged a reading of the entire book all one day with famous people reading each chapter.  When you hear it and you can't skim, you can't skip over anything.  You realize that it's a, there's humor in it that you missed the first time, little ironic twist stuck in and there's just great beauty.  And these lists of things are all interesting in themselves, you know the guests who come, their names and so forth.  And then there are historical people and then the man who fixed the World Series, for example you learn a little bit of history if you have a good English teacher. I taught high school before I taught college at Stone Ridge.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  For 18 years.  So there are hundreds and hundreds of young women out there who have -- I hope have a happy version of the book.

Lauren Martino:  Do you think that's a plug for listening to the audiobook verses reading it, would this make a good audiobook just because you can't skip over the language.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I like to do that because you -- I think you need both.  But yes you do hear things differently and you don't miss it if you are attentive, you don't miss anything so and you don't mind traffic jams or doing the dishes or whatever it is that's mindless while you listen.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, it show that Ellie was referring to is a show called gats in which the elevator repair service, theatre company had an actor who read the entire text of Gatsby while other actors were silently acting out parts of the book.  And this year pleasure of hearing this actor read the book.  He didn't act the book, he just read it.  He didn't attempt to act the roles, he just simply sat there and read the book and it was incredible.

And as Ellie said it brought out how very humors in a clever way Fitzgerald's languages.  There were a lot of laughs in that audience and a lot of chuckles and it was an incredible experience just to hear the book read out loud.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  In some way it is more satisfying than the movies.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Oh the movies, yeah.  The movies can’t because the book isn't really a great book because of the story.  It's a book -- it's a great book because of the way it's written and the movies can't convey that.  They've tried with having voice over say some of mixed lines but you just can't convey, it’s a different medium, you can't convey it.

Lauren Martino:  Are there any particular movies based on Fitzgerald books that you think are particularly well done or particularly poorly done, which you’d like to talk about?

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, it's interesting I don't think that the movie versions of the Great Gatsby, the two most recent ones are all that bad.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I love the Robert Redford movie.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah, I -- there -- it's interesting because each generation does a version of The Great Gatsby that is that generation’s version of The Great Gatsby.  And each version is slightly different because each version is made by a movie maker who sees different things in the book.  And I thought Baz Luhrmann’s version the most recent one was really quite good.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I hated it.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah, I know a lot of people did.

Lauren Martino:  Why did you hate it?

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  It was too noisy and too big and there was a psychiatrist who's not in the book and bunch of things like that.  But we showed -- Jackson arranged for us to see the Alan Ladd version that’s a 1940 or something.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  It ’45 or ’46, I can’t remember.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Which completely changes the story, it’s black and white in it.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah, but it's a gangster movie.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Yes.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  Because that was what was popular, you know, it starts with a silent stretch of film where some people do a gangland killing.  And I assume you're supposed to believe that Gatsby's henchmen are doing that.  And it's just a completely forties version of Gatsby.  And in a way I mean I certainly respect Ellie’s opinion of Baz Luhrmann’s movie but each generation should interpret the novel the way that generation wants to interpret it.

A book isn't static, a book, you know, a book means different things to different people.  And it means different things to different movie producers and directors and writers.  And the very fact that it's been done so many different times says something about its enduring power.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  There had been a couple of television, many episode ones like six hour depictions which have been good to.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah and you know there's a movie of Tender is the Night that's pretty awful.  And but – again, it was a testimony to the fact that somebody thought it was worth doing.  And there've been dramatic versions of both I mean Gatsby was made into a play in the twenties and it's been adapted into a play by a contemporary playwright.  And I've seen it and it's pretty good.  He is smart enough to remain pretty faithful to the book.

I think that same playwright is done it adaptation of Tender is the Night.  Fitzgerald seems to hold an appeal for people part of the reason obviously he holds an appeal for people is that his and Zelda's life story is kind of interesting.  I mean people, you know, there's a certain glamour involved with the Fitzgerald’s --.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  They defined the Jazz Age.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah and so people are interested for that reason but one --.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  He also wanted to be a playwright, I mean he did write plays, not successfully [Indiscernible] [00:41:46].

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  He wrote one very unsuccessful, but --.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  He wrote them when he was a kid.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Yeah, he did and he also wrote plays at Princeton.  He wrote the triangle club plays, but you know part of the reason he survives is Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald are one of the most glamorous literary couples of the 20th century.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  And tragic.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  And tragic and somewhat hard to understand like all marriages it's a mystery and it's fascinating to people.  But one would hope that if they're attracted by the story of their lives that they'll sit down and read the books and see that the real value is in the books.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  The President, the new president who is taking over from Jackson of our committee is undertaking a study of Zelda's art, the visual art.  And I think she'll have a good book someday about it.  And she gave a lecture at Twinbrook which was wonderful I thought.  You know everything -- she fascinates people and to the extent that they know more about her I just think people will turn to the books more they will see details in there.  In the diver marriage in Tender is the Night, there is a lot of the real Zelda.

Lauren Martino:  So we like to ask all of our guests at the end of the episode, what are you reading right now, we'll start with Eric.

Eric Carzon:  I am currently reading a short book it's called ‘The Poet Slave of Cuba’ and it’s fascinating.  So it's a story of this poet, he is a Cuban poet and he was a slave as well.  And it just -- so it's sort of an autobiographical poem about his life.

Lauren Martino:  Like a book length poem?

Eric Carzon:  Yeah, I mean it’s a fairly short book, but yeah it is fascinating read and it's just a very-very odd situation for this poor person, because he was a slave and then the rich slave owner sort of saw something in him, so he sort of ripped him away from his parents.  And you know, gave him a lot of opportunities, but he is still a slave.  Like even at some point in the story the slave owner who is a little crazy, frees his mother and father, but keeps him as a slave.  So like he is a slave and his parents are free and he can't be free until she dies and it just goes south from there.  So very fascinating story so far and I'm about I guess two-thirds of the way through.

Lauren Martino:  All right, thanks Eric.  How about you Jack.

Dr. Jackson Bryer:  Well, I just finished reading Anne Tyler's most recent book ‘Clock Dance’ and I'm a great Anne Tyler fan.  We'd love to get her to the festival, but she doesn't go anyplace so.  We've tried and now I'm reading a novel by a man name Kent Haruf called Benediction and -- which I'm liking very much.  But I certainly recommend Anne Tyler to anybody who has never read her work.  She's quite something and she's local.  She writes mostly about Baltimore.

Lauren Martino:  Ellie what are you reading.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  I'm reading Richard Russo.  Everything I can get and I’m so enjoying that the characters are so marvelous.  But I'm also going back to Robert Olen Butler who was – he has participated in two separate years and he started writing mysteries that are, sort of crime espionage stories that are set in World War I with, you know, Zeppelins and a character whose mother plays Hamlet.

Lauren Martino:  Oh wow.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  His mother plays Hamlet.  And it's really great fun and so I have read a couple of those for entertainment.  He is a person who is written very serious books about Vietnam experience, you know, veterans and so forth and love stories.  But he is also written some wild far out things like a collection of short stories based on imagined and real enquirer headlines, you know, tomato speaks for the child and the family or you know, really very strange stories.  He has got a great imagination, so that’s fun.

Lauren Martino:  So he is just trying to come up with a situation where this would make sense.

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham:  One of the things about this festival is and I think Jackson so much for inviting me to be part of it, he was one of my advisors at Maryland. But one of the great things is you get to know the authors who come and because you know you're going to be meeting them, you want to know their work.  And for example I wouldn't -- I don't think I would've read works about a sports writer like Richard Ford, but what a deeply satisfying experience it is to read his novels and that was, you know, the work of another summer for example. And then I really -- James Salter who wrote about Flying Aces in Korea.

Again sort of guy fiction, but it turned out no, no, not so, they're universal and they're wonderful.  And having the privilege of taking him to the grave to see the Fitzgerald grave shortly before his own death – shortly after our festival is something that personally I treasure a great deal.

Lauren Martino:  Eric, Jackson and Ellie, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your wealth of knowledge. We really enjoyed this conversation and I am so glad we could have you here today.

Eric Carzon:  Thank you.  Thank you, it’s our pleasure and we also hope to see you at the MCPL events and at the festival.

Lauren Martino:  Yes.  Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.  Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple podcast app or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also please review us and rate us on Apple podcasts.  We'd love to know what you think.  Thank you for listening to our conversation today and see you next time.

[Audio ends]

Sep 11, 2018

Summary: F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival organizers Dr. Jackson Bryer and Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, as well as Twinbrook Library Manager Eric Carzon, talk about the upcoming festival, as well as the life, work, and Montgomery County connections of jazz-era author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Recording Date: August 9, 2018

Guests:

Dr. Jackson Bryer, author of several books about F. Scott Fitzgerald and one of the founding organizers of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.

Eric Carzon: Branch Manager of Twinbrook Library and MCPL liaison to the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival. 

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, Professor Emerita of Concordia University Saint Paul and one of the organizers of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival. 

Host: Lauren Martino

What Our Guests Are Reading:

Dr. Jackson Bryer: Benediction by Kent Haruf, Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Eric Carzon: The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle

Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham: The books of Richard Russo and Robert Olen Butler

Books, Authors, and Other Media Mentioned During this Episode:

"Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

John Barth

Bernice Bobs Her Hair (film): Based on a short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jennifer Boylan

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Robert Olen Butler

Susan Coll

Malcolm Cowley

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (film): Based on a short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald

E.L. Doctorow

Empire Falls by Richard Russo 

Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo

F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Richard Ford

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This famous book has had numerous film adaptations

Garrison Keillor 

Norman Mailer  

Alice McDermott

E. Ethelbert Miller

Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo

Maxwell Perkins

Annie Proulx

Richard Russo

Trajectory by Richard Russo

Straight Man by Richard Russo

James Salter

William Styron

Margaret Talbot

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

John Updike

The Vegetable, or From President to Postman (play) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Winter Dreams" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Other Items of Interest Mentioned During this Episode

The Elevator Repair Service Theater Company: Performs original works with an ongoing ensemble. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival: This literary festival features writing workshops, panel discussions, the presentation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award to a prominent author (the 2018 recipient is Richard Russo), and much more. The festival honors the works of jazz-era author F. Scott Fitzgerald and as well as the work of current, prominent authors. The festival also supports and encourages aspiring writers and students interested in the literary arts. The festival takes place Saturday, October 20, 2018 at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. There is an opening lecture by National Book Foundation Executive Director Lisa Lucas on Thursday, October 18, as well as a special event Friday evening, October 19,"Readings in Tribute to Richard Russo and Literature Without Borders." MCPL will host several Fitzgerald related programs before the festival begins. 

Friends of the Library, Montgomery County: A nonprofit organization that supports MCPL by providing supplemental funding, programs, materials, and equipment. 

Kanopy: MCPL's free, online movie streaming service. Includes film festival favorites, award-winning documentaries, indie films and world cinema. 

The Writer's Center: A literary organization in Montgomery County, MD hosting writing workshops and literary events to promote the craft of writing for people of all backgrounds. 

 Read the transcript

Aug 29, 2018

Listen to the audio

Lauren Martino:  Hello, listeners, this is Lauren Martino, host of this Library Matters episode.  Before we get started, I want to let you know that this episode is all about true crime and includes discussion of murder and other related unpleasantries.  So be advised if you have any sensitive listeners or children around while playing this episode.  Okay, let’s get started.

Welcome to Library Matters.  I’m your host Lauren Martino and I’m here today with Carol Reddan who is the Library Associate at Only Library and also a true crime enthusiast.  [00:00:30] Welcome Carol.

Carol Reddan:  Thank you.

Lauren Martino:  So I must admit this is not an area I'm well versed in.  I'm a children’s librarian and there is only so much children’s true crime out there, but Carol, well, how do you define the true crime genre?

Carol Reddan:  Probably best to keep it super, super simple and literal, a book that talks about, investigates, delves into a true crime.  So obviously a lot of the time that’s going to be murder [00:01:00] or something violent like that, but also I am really into white-collar crime too.  A fabulous book I read fairly recently was “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis that they made the motion picture out of with Steve Carell.  It’s fabulous.  It went into the whole before the 2008 real estate crash what was going on in real estate in Florida, just as interesting, just as drawing you in, so…

Lauren Martino:  So it’s fascinating because, yeah, you think about [00:01:30] brutal murders and serial killers and…

Carol Reddan:  Nope the broad definition delving into a crime that has – I like the fact that what draws me in is this really happened.  I have a young niece who – when you give her toys or whatnot or books or whatever and she is like five and she is like, “Did this really happen?  Did this really happen?” And that’s the thing about nonfiction.  It adds so much to it.  It really happened.  That’s – it’s nobody made it up.  [00:02:00] It really happened.  That adds…

Lauren Martino:  It’s crazier than anything…

Carol Reddan:  It adds that it gives it this extra, hmm, it happened.

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.  What gets you excited about true crime books.  What makes you pick them up over, say, a mystery or horror books or something?

Carol Reddan:  I'm just drawn to them and part of it I think is I particularly like unsolved.

Lauren Martino:  Unsolved?

Carol Reddan:  That, yeah, unsolved like the zodiac.  It’s just – [00:02:30] it’s a puzzle.  It’s a puzzle to solve, even once that – the outcome is known.  It's fascinating to watch the piecing together of it, the investigators, something happened in exact certain way and we either won’t know about it or maybe we’ll be able to go back.  Investigators will be able to piece it together.  But something happened in exact way.  One act followed another and it’s a challenge of puzzle to piece that altogether and [00:03:00] find out how it happened the layout, exactly how it happened.  It’s basically the thrill of solving a puzzle. 

Lauren Martino:  Because nobody else has solved.

Carol Reddan:  It’s a big question mark.  But a lot of the famous ones are things that have teased and tantalize people for decades and forever.  And Lizzie Borden is technically, we would say, unsolved.  Someone did this.  It happened a certain way.  Someone killed her parents [00:03:30] on this hot summer afternoon and she was found not guilty and people have speculated so many different theories.  It could happen this way.  It could happen that way.  But really on that afternoon it happened one way and we just don’t know what it is and that just drives you crazy.

Lauren Martino:  I guess it’s like the John F. Kennedy assassination where people have speculated and speculated for the decades.

Carol Reddan:  Quadrillions of words written about that and the speculation and the different scenarios and yet on that afternoon there was [00:04:00] one set of events that happened in a certain way and it’s become so convoluted.  We probably never know what that precise sequence of events was, but, yeah.

Lauren Martino:  Do you find that most authors of these unsolved crime books try to come up with their own theory of what they think happened or do they really leave it up to you?

Carol Reddan:  A lot of them tem really do.  I think they do and sometimes I think they feel artificially compelled to do so and it ends up not so great.  I’ve read some things Lizzie Borden [00:04:30] like they come up with that.  Her sister was 20 miles away in another town visiting relatives, but one author took the tact that she came back and she actually did it, not Lizzie Borden.  So sometimes I think they are going out of their way to come up with something novel, something new

Some people, some authors I think are just contrarians.  A really famous case I’ve always followed is the Jeffrey MacDonald case with the Fort Bragg military [00:05:00] physician who killed his wife and two children.  And it is like the most litigated case in history.  He keeps appealing and he is going back and forth.  But initially he had a military trial, which they let him go.  But his wife’s father stayed on it so much that he was brought to a criminal trial and found guilty.

And, yeah, I followed that a lot and a lot of authors like Joe McGinniss wrote one of the first landmark true crime books [00:05:30] Fatal Vision which was also like a miniseries and I remember watching that.  It was just fascinating.  But a lot of authors I think feel compelled to come back and say, “No, he didn’t.”  They will look and they’ll argue for evidence the other way, but I guess it keeps it interesting.

Lauren Martino:  What first got you into true crime?  Is there a book that really sort of lit the flame for you or–?

Carol Reddan:  Well, in third grade, well, this sort of I guess was the start of it for my birthday, my mother gave me my first Nancy Drew book. [00:06:00] Does it sound, well – but she gave me that.  It was the Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion and then just from there out, mystery was like – I love the camaraderie of Nancy and Bess and George going to the mansion everyday trying to figure out what was going on. And I thought it was terribly scary and moaning and screeching coming from the mansion, but that set me on the mystery course.

So then – and I do like mystery also, but mysteries, but then I think it was actually [00:06:30] roughly around the same time Helter Skelter and Fatal Vision came out.  They are both like true crime giants or whatnot and they were just so engrossing and Vincent Bugliosi is the prosecutor who prosecuted Charles Manson and Helter Skelter, I mean, it was just a phenomenal miniseries and book and it was great. 

But Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss I thought was just so wonderful.  He stayed [00:07:00] with Jeffrey MacDonald while he was being tried for the murder and he just like got to know him in such a way in Fatal Vision he just offers such psychological background and input into his personality and what was going behind the cold blue eyes.

Lauren Martino:  The cold blue eyes.

Carol Reddan:  Yeah, yeah.  It’s scary.  And true crime just gives you a window into like you just see people here and there on the street and you never really know [00:07:30] people, what’s behind people.  It’s just fascinating what goes on behind people’s mind sometime. 

Lauren Martino:  What’s the most interesting or unusual crime you’ve ever read about?

Carol Reddan:  One of my favorites and because it stays with you because it’s still one of the unsolved ones and we actually did a book club at Only Library on it a few weeks ago is the murder of William Desmond Taylor.  So this takes place in the roaring 20s and Hollywood [00:08:00] and he is a very respected famous film director and he is shot one night in his bungalow and they have…

Over the years they’ve had so many suspects, so many theories but it’s never been solved and that one has just always fascinated me because it’s just a part of Hollywood history and there are so many different theories and other actresses, famous silent screen actresses were suspected of the crime.  [00:08:30] One actresses mother was suspected of the crime because they were worried – she worried that her daughter was in love with this famous director that she just wanted to quit her career and marry him and have children and that would have stopped the cash flow.  So she has always been a big suspect.  It’s just so quintessential classic silent screen Hollywood with all the different suspects and that one has always fascinated me. 

Lauren Martino:  Do you ever find that some true crime books are just [00:09:00] too scary in light of the fact that the events actually took place that just stopped you from reading it?

Carol Reddan:  No.

Lauren Martino:  No?

Carol Reddan:  No.  I can always read them, but afterwards it does give you the chills a little bit, but, no, I’ll just always keep on reading through.  The one that scares me the most, so one that I think is particularly scary is, it gets me is the Zodiac.

Lauren Martino:  Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Carol Reddan:  Okay.  So the Zodiac was in the mid to late ’60’s in [00:09:30] Northern California or around the San Francisco area and that just terrified that whole area.  He basically stalked couples who were parking kind of in lovers lane situations and he was active from like 1966 through 1969 and he would write letters to the San Francisco examiner like taunting them and you can’t catch me [00:10:00] and all that kind of thing. 

He just sounded absolutely very, very scary.  That one scares me, but they never caught him, but always every couple of years you will hear something like he used to mail letters to the San Francisco examiner.  So now they took the stamps off the back of the letters and they put them through DNA analysis and they got a partial profile.  So the San Francisco police say like every now and again they run it [00:10:30] through the databases to see if they get a hit, but nothing so far.

Lauren Martino:  So far.

Carol Reddan:  And every couple of years for sure someone will write a book saying that my father was the Zodiac or something like that.  But that’s a real tantalizing one that never caught.  But I like the fact that the one I wanted to mention was a new one ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ by Michelle McNamara who was married to Patton Oswalt [00:11:00] and she monikered the Golden State Killer.  There was a lot of rapes and killings going on in California in the ’70’s and it just didn’t for some reason get the attention of the Zodiac.

So her feeling was it’s because there is no great moniker for this.  So she gave him a moniker and she wrote this book and it came out earlier this year and she passed away shortly after she wrote the book.  So detectives [00:11:30] kept running, well, they had some suspects.  And through DNA they have caught.  The killer has now been arrested and he is going to stay on trial through DNA.  So they had their suspects.  So they waited for him to go to a restaurant and then they grabbed his utensils and they put it through DNA testing.

So it gives you hope that a lot of these really like unsolved cases with DNA there is hope that they will be solved and I think they did it through a public [00:12:00] generic database because Ancestry and 23andMe, their information is private.  But a lot of people have uploaded their DNA to more public databases and if can just get a match on one of their distant relatives which I think happened in this case, they can trace it back.  They traced it back to the Golden State Killer.

So it’s just it gives you a lot of hope that a lot of these cold cases that you think, no, they are just never, never, never going to know but maybe [00:12:30] they’ve even tried DNA analysis on a lot of things having to do with Jack the Ripper.  Yeah, but time, the chain of evidence and time makes your evidence that you are getting very suspect.  But someone bought a saw from an auction that was purported to be from one of the Ripper victims and it had blood on it and so they put it through DNA testing.  So who know – if anything will ever come up from that or not.

Lauren Martino:  And it’s just able to do more and more.  [00:13:00] It's more and more chances…

Carol Reddan:  Yeah, if a serial killer in 1969 is licking stamps and sending taunting letters to the newspaper, it’s never on their radar the mere act of me licking the stamp will be my demise in decades from now.  Of course they might be long gone, but the Golden State Killer was really surprised when some cop showed up at his door.

Lauren Martino:  I bet.  Like the serial killers, please use – just a wet wipe or something.

Carol Reddan:  I mean, no, you are going to leave something of yourself, you just are. [00:13:30].

Lauren Martino:  Do you find yourself watching true crime documentaries or movies based on true crime or podcasts based on true crime?  Do you have anything that you’d like to recommend to us?

Carol Reddan:  Oh, yeah.  I watch – I’ll definitely watch true crime.  I love they used to do the miniseries like Fatal Vision and Helter Skelter were great miniseries that were really well done, well-acted and stay true to the books.  Those were great.  Now it’s the podcasts and I [00:14:00] was just like three years ago serial was just like I was obsessed.  I went up to the library.  It was – that was fascinating.  I love the serial podcast.

Lauren Martino:  You went up to the library?

Carol Reddan:  The library that figures into the story, so – Adnan, it’s a group of high school students up in Baltimore County and they go to Woodlawn High School which is – the campus is right across the street from the library.  So after school the high school kids, tons would just like [00:14:30] funnel over to the library. So – and that was just their routine, their habit.

So years after the murder when they are relooking into this and Adnan is accused of killing his girlfriend Hae Lee, a young lady who was at the library said, “No, you couldn’t have done it, because I saw you at the library at that time.”  So they went back and they were trying to go to the library.  Do you have any records of paper being on the computer?  Now take, this was in 1999 and they were asking this in 2015.

Lauren Martino:  Oh, gosh!

Carol Reddan:  [00:15:00] So the answer was, “No, we don’t have any records left of the computer usage for that day.”  But I went to the library, it gives you a weird feeling to be in a place where you know certain things happened.  It’s a ‘ooh’ feeling, yeah. 

Lauren Martino:  So probably let our listeners know that in most cases any kind of library record is very confidential and…

Carol Reddan:  Yeah, they didn’t have anything anyways.

Lauren Martino:  Do you have any special way that you look for these books?  Do you take recommendations [00:15:30] from friends or the library’s resources you use to find them?

Carol Reddan:  Sure.  Yeah, I'm always going through our readers’ café new nonfiction and I’ll be seeing it advertised or on TV or whatnot.  I heard Patton Oswalt was really doing a lot of interviews because he is a widower and his wife who had died while writing her big true crime book which we are carrying now.

Lauren Martino:  Which book is that?

Carol Reddan:  ‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ by Michelle McNamara.  [00:16:00] It’s really, really popular hot right now.  So I heard about Patton Oswalt going on a lot of shows promoting the book.  So I knew that was coming.  Also I got on the odd list early for that and it’s a fascination.  It was really well researched, a great book.  It’s just a shame that she had to die before she saw that it’s a lot of her intensive effort which put attention back on the case, which probably prompted investigators to look at this again and then solve it.

Lauren Martino:  Have you ever had a [00:16:30] situation where a family member or a friend has seen what you are reading and said, “Oh my goodness, we need to get you some help,” because that’s really disturbing.  Why are you reading that?

Carol Reddan:  A little bit.  What that comes down to is like the frequency like you are a consistent true crime reader and they are like ‘What’s with you?  Why?  What is with you?  Why do you find that?’  So you keep consistently going there. ‘I'm like–’ but a lot of [00:17:00] the case is that I'm drawn to if you go online, you will see that there are so many websites devoted to these cases and many, many people are intrigued and obsessed with these same very cases too or there just wouldn’t be that many websites devoted to them.  I mean there are so many websites devoted to finding the Zodiac.

There is Jeffrey MacDonald websites, William Desmond Taylor, when I did the book club for the Tinseltown by William Mann which [00:17:30] takes a fresh look at the William Desmond Taylor murder.  And so apparently somehow there are a lot of fanatics about that particular murder and somehow it got to an author who wrote a book about the William Desmond Taylor case in 1979.

And he called me and he wanted to take part in the book club, but the only problem was he was one of the people who he had a – [00:18:00] he has a very steadfast idea of who did it, which greatly disagreed with the new book Tinseltown and their theory and their conclusion.  And so – and we sort of wanted people to sort of have their own opinion and idea and he was just very biased in favor of one suspect, one person doing it.  So it didn’t work out.

Lauren Martino:  So you have a true crime book club at ‘Ole’?

Carol Reddan:  [00:18:30] We do.  So it’s temporary.  It’s a four-session special book club.  So it is – if it’s Monday, it must be murder.  So our first session was on the William Desmond Taylor murder and we went all into that, which was really good and people we have a display up and people are just always coming by it and reading because we give them a little overview of what we are going to be doing [00:19:00] that time.

People are just really drawn into it.  So we did William Desmond Taylor, Tinseltown first and looked at that unsolved murder.  Secondly we did a teen book.  Actually there is a fairly new teen nonfiction book by Sarah Miller on Lizzie Borden.  It’s called the Borden murders by Sarah Miller.  So that was our book that sort of took us into the whole Lizzie Borden trial and murder and whatnot. And that’s a famous [00:19:30] one that people are just always drawn into really, really famous.

And I had a lot to add to that one because I’ve been Fall River.  This is where my family was drawing the line.  We went to Massachusetts.  We went to Boston.  We went to Cape Cod and I was like we are stopping in Fall River.  This is where she lived and we went to her house.  Her house is now a bed and breakfast.  You can go all through her house and see the exact rooms they’ve tried to replicate them exactly as they were.

Lauren Martino:  Oh my goodness!

Carol Reddan:  In [00:20:00] 1892 when the Lizzie Borden murders of her parents were committed.

Lauren Martino:  Did you stay there?

Carol Reddan:  No.  I did not stay there.  Walked around the town though.  It’s a really interesting town.  Fall River, Massachusetts is a very old factory textile town.  So now I guess we call it working class, but you walk around and it’s like they all know whereabouts this murder.  This is a big part of our history or culture and this is why we are famous.  And so if you [00:20:30] walk around and you will ask someone close to the Lizzie Borden house, they’ll start talking to you and I loved it.  It just really gave me chills.

We were talking to this older gentleman and he said, “You know what, if you just go a couple of blocks down there, they built these apartments over here in the ‘60’s and there are a few old people living in those apartments who were children who remember Lizzie Borden when she was an old lady and they used to go by her house at Halloween.”  So it gave me chills to know [00:21:00] I'm standing right here but over in those apartments are people who are now very elderly who actually saw Lizzie Borden.

Lauren Martino:  Wow!

Carol Reddan:  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  So all I really know about the Lizzie Borden case is the nursery rhyme.

Carol Reddan:  Like a lot of people, right.

Lauren Martino:  Yeah.  Can you tell us a little bit more?

Carol Reddan:  That’s another one that there was a really famous TV movie with Elizabeth Montgomery played Lizzie Borden and just a couple of years ago I think I want to say Christina Ricci did a new [00:21:30] Lizzie Borden movie.

Lauren Martino:  But what exactly happened?  What’s the story?

Carol Reddan:  So this was in August 1892 and it’s in Fall River, Massachusetts.  And Lizzie is a – she is 32-years-old, which for the time she was considered just a spinster. And she lives with her father and her stepmother and her sister in a small house in Fall River.  And the conflict and what is going on is [00:22:00] that Lizzie is upset because she feels her father is going to leave all his fortune to her stepmother and her and her sister will be cut out of the will.

Her father is a very wealthy man, but there is a lot of tension because Lizzie likes and wants the finer things in life.  She wants to travel in nice clothes and her father is tight as a drum.  He will not – they don’t have running [00:22:30] water.  He will not go for any luxury.  So that’s generally what most people will say is at the root of a tension and she did not get along with her stepmother.

And so one morning, one hot morning, in every book you read, the morning gets hotter and hotter, but it was hot.  If you went back and look back at the actual weather records, it was like 88 degrees.  But nevertheless there were rumors that the [00:23:00] Borden family had suffered from food poisoning the night before.  The druggist said Lizzie had been to the pharmacy asking for strychnine, all kinds of little leading up things like that.

But nevertheless on the morning I think it was August 4, 1892, Lizzie calls to her maid and says to come here quick, someone’s murdered father.  And the father was in the pallet room couch and he had been [00:23:30] – his head had been axed like 40 times.  They called the police.  They called neighbors.  Everyone starts flooding to the house and someone says to her, “Where is your stepmother?” And she had a fishy suspicious story, “Oh, she got a note that a friend was sick and she needed to go visit them.”  So they go upstairs and the stepmother’s body is in the guest bedroom.

So both of them have been axed [00:24:00] and the town just went crazy.  It was like the trial of the century and the police I think just a couple of days later charged her with the murder, which was huge, because nobody thought a woman at the time could commit a murder.  And the prosecutor and everybody went after her but the – and her stories were inconsistent and nowadays – it would just be so – we would just think, of course, she did it.

And most people still to this day say, “Of course, she did it.”  But they found her not guilty and most people say because they just [00:24:30] people did not think a woman could, would do that.  A violent – it was a very, very violent crime.  So she became like a pariah in Fall River and her sister stood by her.  So she was found not guilty.  So her and her sister did inherit all the money and she finally got her wish and they moved a couple of blocks over to the nicer side of Fall River and a big house and she had servants and maids and nice cars and [00:25:00] nice clothing.

So she did get all those material things that everybody thought she was after.  But she was like a pariah and kids used to come by the house and taunt her.  Probably one of those kids who was an elderly person in that apartment complex that the gentleman was talking about. And most of Fall River society really wouldn’t talk to them or have anything to do with them.  But she lived – she was like in her late ’60’s into the 1920’s, which was a decent life span for that time.

Lauren Martino:  Do you have any [00:25:30] Pet Peeve Tropes when it comes to true crime, anything that everybody does that just drives you crazy or–?

Carol Reddan:  I guess when I think certain people are being naïve or I think that a writer is writing a book just to take a contrarian stand or a ridiculous take on the crime that everybody knows this is probably not true sort of feel like they are doing it just to get attention or whatnot, come up with a wild theory that you know probably isn’t true just to get attention.

Lauren Martino:  Are there any favorite [00:26:00] true crime tropes of yours?

Carol Reddan:  Well, my favorite is I really – ones that have not been solved, unsolved, that it’s still a question mark.  Jack the Ripper, I guess, Lizzie Borden technically falls in that because she was found not guilty and they don’t know who killed her parents technically.  And the John F. Kennedy assassination too that I read a lot of stuff on that.  It happened a certain way and there is so many different theories.  I'm not a big [00:26:30] conspiracy person on that.  But we don’t know the whole story at least and it’s still – it’s a puzzle to be solved and put together.

Lauren Martino:  Do you have any new favorites you haven’t mentioned, just anything that’s come out recently?

Carol Reddan:  Well, I do like the podcasts.  I really enjoy listening to them, ‘Making a Murderer,’ Keepers I’ve listened to – all those are fabulous.

Lauren Martino:  What are those about?  I'm not familiar with those.

Carol Reddan:  Keepers is local again.  [00:27:00] It takes place up in Baltimore.  It goes into a private school and the murder of a nun. And, yeah, it was really interesting and that is on Netflix.  Keepers is on Netflix, but – and it goes into the hierarchy of the church and whatnot and it was fascinating.

Lauren Martino:  So besides the unsolved mystery and the white-collar mystery, are there [00:27:30] any other sub genres that you feel kind of stand out?

Carol Reddan:  I do like true crime that involves things that have happened locally in this area in the Washington D.C., metro area.  In fact some of the most fascinating ones I think are, what we mention, Baltimore seems to have more than their fair share of these stories, but once they really stick out in my mind that I remember because I lived in Montgomery County very long time.  [00:28:00] An unsolved one that’s really tantalizing is the Bradford Bishop case from 1976.

Lauren Martino:  Okay.  What was that about?

Carol Reddan:  Fabulous family it is mom, dad, and their three great boys and they lived with his, the husband’s mother. And they lived in Carderock Springs in Bethesda and he works for the state department.  He is a Foreign Service officer.  He is very successful, really [00:28:30] good-looking family.  And everybody on their block loved them.  Their boys were very athletic.  They swam.  Everybody thought they are the greatest family.

The bishops are just like the greatest family in the world and they have been living in Bethesda just a couple of years and it’s March 1976 and the story goes –. And I remember I lived here at the time and just hearing this story, it was just like enveloped the news.  He – on the day [00:29:00] of the murders, he had been denied a promotion.  So the story goes that he went home.  He stopped at the Sears at Montgomery Mall and bought a hammer and he stopped at a hardware store in the little shopping center that’s still River Road and Falls Road and bought some more supplies.

And he went home and he basically killed his whole family except his dog.  And the way it came to light was [00:29:30] he didn’t show up for work the next couple of days and it had been a week and the neighbors realize we haven’t seen the Bishops.  Where are the Bishops and at first they thought they were the type of family who would just pick up and go skiing.  So they didn’t think anything about it.

But once seven, eight days had passed, one of the neighbors called the police.  The Montgomery police went and they went inside the house and it was a bloodbath.  They found three boys, his mother, and his wife [00:30:00] slaughtered.  It was with the hammer and there is no dad, no husband.  So at the same time some cops in North Carolina are called to a remote park in North Carolina because there is a forest fire and they went and look in the forest fire, they find the Bishop family.

So the speculation is he had murdered his family, loaded them up in this car, driven to North Carolina and he was going to try to bury them and burn them [00:30:30] but no sighting of him. And so then the FBI, everybody is on it.  They have dogs and they finally found his car abandoned just over the North Carolina, Tennessee state line and he has never been seen again.

Now some people – he spoke like five languages fluently.  He worked for the state department.  He could have access to getting passport.  So the theories about him are endless.  Many people think he escaped to Europe and he is living there and [00:31:00] he is just blended in to European society fine.  Some people feel he would have committed suicide but nobody really knows.  Some people claim to have sightings of him in Europe, but it’s tantalizing because he just disappeared into thin air and he got away with it.  He would be 81 today.

And a couple of years ago the FBI added him back to the 10 most wanted list.  Nothing is ever panned out.  So that was just in Bethesda and he is [00:31:30] mentioned – there is a really excellent chapter the famous FBI agent John Douglas, he writes a lot of books on crime.  He did anatomy of a motive and it has a nice chapter on Brad Bishop and family annihilators like people who killed their family.

Lauren Martino:  Wow! Do you have any theories…?

Carol Reddan:  Well, the profile usually of someone according to John Douglas is a very insecure person or whatnot, but the reason he profiled Brad Bishop was because he fit none of the stereotypes.  He seemingly had a very successful career on the state department.  So he breaks all the – it’s just a huge mystery like why he did this.  But he took the dog with him.  Somebody – actually somebody did see him.  Other dogs picked up on the scent of the dog and him in these remote North Carolina areas, but then they lost the scent.

Lauren Martino:  Wow! I don’t suppose there are any bed and breakfast for the [00:32:30] true crime locally?

Carol Reddan:  Not that I know of.  They have kept track of the Bradford Bishop house and it’s changed hands many times and a lot of times when it changes owners, they’ll go and talk to the owners, ‘Do you know the history of this house?  Is this okay with you?’ And most people are like that was then.  It’s a lovely house.  We love our home and it doesn’t bother us.  It’d bother me.

Lauren Martino:  I think it would bother me too.  And you got to wonder if the FBI just come pocking around that house just to see if there is anything they missed?

Carol Reddan:  I doubt it now.  Another really famous – another local murder that is unsolved, technically unsolved and that’s really famous is and it ties into the Kennedys.  John Kennedy was having an affair as he was well known to do.  But this one was a little different.  This was with a woman who – she was a socialite and a painter in [00:33:30] Georgetown in the early ‘60’s and her name was Mary Pinchot Meyers and it’s significant because a lot of people said that this was like a really important relationship to John Kennedy like most of his other affairs were very superficial or whatnot. 

This was an important person in his life.  And she was married to a very high up CIA official and they were divorced and she was seeing John F.  Kennedy which he was killed in November 1963, [00:34:00] so just 10 months later in October 1964 it was just like a – it was a Monday morning in October.  She is painting in her studio in Georgetown and she set her painting up to dry and then after she would do it, it was her routine she would take a walk along the C&O Canal.

This one morning around 12:30 a car mechanic was working on a car close by and he heard a woman yelling [00:34:30] for help and when he looked over the bridge and he saw a man standing over a woman and then run away.  So he called the police.  The police enveloped the canal.  They tried to shut everything off.  They find her body.

Mary Pinchot Meyer had been shot two times in the head and they are searching around the Potomac River around the – everywhere in the woods and the trees and they find a gentleman, a young laborer Ray Crump who is then arrested [00:35:00] for the murder.  So he goes to trial and he is found not guilty.  He had a really fabulous lawyer, Dovey Roundtree who – there’s been a lot of biographies written about her too. 

She was a really famous black woman attorney and he is found not guilty.  So it’s technically unsolved.  So there is a lot of rumors that they framed him that the CIA really who has had something to do with this murder, but it just remains unsolved.  And there was a very good [00:35:30] biography of her, A Very Private Woman by Nina Burleigh which is a biography of her but it also goes into the murder a lot.

Lauren Martino:  Carol, we like to ask everybody right before we sign off, what are you reading right now?  Is it true crime or is it something else?

Carol Reddan:  I'm reading a book on organizing and decluttering.  It’s important.  That’s what I'm looking at right now.

Lauren Martino:  Which one?

Carol Reddan:  Still nonfiction.  It’s the…

Lauren Martino:  Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Carol Reddan:  Yeah and [00:36:00] that is…

Lauren Martino:  By Marie Kondo.

Carol Reddan:  Marie Kondo, yes.

Lauren Martino:  Did you know they have a graphic novel based on that?

Carol Reddan:  It's funny.

Lauren Martino:  Called the Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up.

Carol Reddan:  That would be great. 

Lauren Martino:  [Indiscernible] [00:36:11] I was like this is so amazing that’s a success.

Carol Reddan:  That’s great.  I like that.  Yeah.

Lauren Martino:  But maybe after you are finished with that one, you can move into this.

Carol Reddan:  Yeah, the graphic novel. 

Lauren Martino:  Thank you so much for your time, Carol and being on our show.  [00:36:30] Listeners, feel free to check our show notes we are going to have titles, authors, any kind of information that you forgot to write down during our show.  Keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcasts on the Apple podcast app or Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.  Also review and rate us on Apple podcasts.  We’d love to know what you think.  Thanks for listening to our conversation today and see your next time.  [00:37:00]

[Audio ends]

Aug 28, 2018

Summary: True crime enthusiast Carol Reddan shares her love of true crime books and recounts some of the better known national and local true crime stories. 

Recording Date: August 9, 2018

Guest: Carol Reddan, Library Associate at Olney Library

Host: Lauren Martino

What Our Guest is Reading: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidyng Up by Marie Kondo. There's a graphic novel based on this book called The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story

Books and Other Media Mentioned During this Episode

The Anatomy of Motive by John E. Douglas

The Big Short by Michael Lewis

The Borden Murders: Lizze Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller 

Fatal Vision by Joe McGinniss

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara 

The Keepers: Who Killed Sister Cathy? (film) 

The Legend of Lizzie Borden (film)

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (film)

Making a Murderer (documentary)

The Mystery of the Moss Covered Mansion by Carolyn Keene

Serial (podcast) 

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer by Nina Burleigh

Other Items of Interested Mentioned During this Episode

MCPL's Privacy Policy

Reader's Cafe, a Virtual Place for Books and Readers

Read the transcript

Aug 15, 2018

Listen to the audio

Julie Dina:  Welcome to Library Matters.  I am your host Julie Dina.  Our topic on today’s episode is English Conversation Clubs.  Have you ever wondered about our widely acclaimed English Conversation Clubs, well today we have two special guests who will tell us all about it.  First, I would like to welcome Nancy Sillcox who is the librarian too from Quince Orchard.

Nancy Sillcox:  Hi.

Julie Dina:  Welcome Nancy.  I would also like to welcome Annie Etches who is our English Conversation Club facilitator for Quince Orchard’s Library.

Annie Etches:  Hi Julie, nice to be here this morning.

Julie:  Welcome.  So let’s just go ahead and dive in.  Can you guys tell me a little bit about yourself so our listeners can know all about you?

Nancy:  Hi I am Nancy Sillcox, I am the Adult Services librarian at Quince Orchard Library since 2008.  And I have also worked as a information specialist at the International Tsunami Information Center in Honolulu Hawaii and also at Childrens Library in San Francisco before I moved to Maryland.  And of course I enjoy hiking, drawing, and of course reading the latest best seller.

Julie:  Sounds interesting, Annie?

Annie:  Hi I am Annie Etches I am from London in England.  I have been here now from 40 years.  My husband and I came with say four children, but three really; one had to go back to England.  We have lived in this Montgomery County area for almost 40 years and he was always interested in library work of all sorts.  We both did volunteer work all our adult lives anyway and there seems to be so much interest in the libraries in this county that we both got, you know, involved.  And so he died a couple of years ago, he used to do the Tuesday morning class and then I was asked if I would like to step in and do it.  And I was very nervous at first because we both, all our lives had our own interests and I somehow felt I didn’t want to sort of step on to his shoes, but I did and I just love it.  It’s, my Tuesdays morning are absolutely fantastic, so I am so happy about that.

Julie:  We thank you for all that wonderful work and thanks to your husband too who led the way.

Annie:  Yeah he was great.

Julie:  So why don’t we just go in and tell out listeners exactly what English Conversation Clubs are and are they in fact classes?

Nancy:  Well for many English speakers or English learners I think the hardest part is speaking, I think that’s the most difficult part of learning a new language.  And so at our Conversation Clubs you know, our facilitators make them very comfortable, make them relaxed and they ask the right questions, so get them you know, talking and speaking, also it helps them with listening to the language as well.  And we depend on our facilitators to help our English learner to develop the speaking skills and I think they do a great job.

Annie:  Yes I think you’re absolutely right; they have told me quite often actually that they like listening to us talking to them as much as they like talking to us which is very good and it’s very interesting, because for me they are hearing English, English.  And they often bring that up and laugh about it that you know, because they are the facilitator that sits on my table and of course she is an American English and therefore it can sometimes be different.  But we get past that usually with laughing and joking about something and they tease me quite a lot about my English, and but that that’s fine.  Certainly, I think for them learning to speak is more important than learning to read and write and learning the grammar.  Not that grammar doesn’t come into it of course as you, you know, because we do a lot of reading, reading and it does, but it is not the focus.  And sometimes we get people who that’s what they want the focus to be is on the grammar and sometimes that’s because of the job they are doing here and they need that more in their job.  So then we can always direct them to Montgomery College and they often go there for English grammar classes as well, so that’s quite good.  But yeah I think they love it, I know they love our class and I do appreciate that every class during the week has a different approach to how they run the things and so maybe mine is a little you know, I don’t know --.

Nancy:  Yes, yeah being the coordinator I do see the difference, your Tuesday morning you guys have a lesson plan?

Annie:  Yes.

Nancy:  They have three tables and each table has a volunteer that helps about five to eight people and they have a lesson plan where everyone talks about the same topic.  And then Thursday Conversation Club each of the volunteer have their own topic that they want to talk about.  So they decide what topic that they want to talk about.  In the Saturday Conversation Club, it’s just whatever the participants want to talk about, if they want to talk about politics, you know, something is happening, they would talk about that or food or anything that was happening in current events. It’s like, it’s the mix and there is no organization to their talk.  And I think they like it that way participants in a Saturday one, they just like this very loose format and then the Tuesday evening I think there is only one volunteer, oh actually I am sorry there is two volunteers and I think they just bring up a topic and then they discuss it.

Julie:  Now would you say the same participants go to the Tuesday, the Thursday, and the Saturday classes?

Annie:  Occasionally, but also I know one or two of my – say students, they also go to Germantown Library, they sometimes go to Gaithersburg Library.  I think that because some of them walk a long way, some of them come on two buses Tuesday morning, they don’t want to drive a car and come like that.  And sometimes they go to another library because I don’t know maybe something was advertised or may be their kids have gone there for some reason or something.  So but I do know I think next week when they are closed Tuesday morning a couple of them did say to me, “Can I go to one of the other classes,” and I said, “Of course you can anytime you want,” so yeah.

Julie:  So I guess depending on what they are looking for and what is convenient at that time?

Annie:  Yes at that time, yes, yes, yes.  And in fact let’s just say, we start, of the three tables okay in our group.  My table and I have tried to encourage the other two they don’t do it quite so much, but we begin with making sure everybody knows who everybody is at the table because we have had some new people in the last couple of weeks and that has been quite fun. So everybody says who they are.  And then I ask them, “Well how was your week, what did you do, anything special?”  So we start with just talking about anything and everything.  And sometimes we don’t even get to the paper work because that goes off at so many tangents as to, you know, sometimes they have a problem they want to talk about.  And because I am also an immigrant, I can align with a lot of what they are going through in their first years here and some are only here for a few years anyway.

And so we start with the talking and then we go to the paperwork and as we get, nobody has to read if they don’t want to; I always say that if you don’t feel confident with your reading that’s fine just listen you know, but everybody likes to read.  And I try to correct their pronunciation as much as my English allows, but I try not to over do that because I don’t want them to be thinking every second word they say I am going tell them how to say it better.  So we ease up on that as we go along.  Everybody else underlines words or phrases that they don’t understand so at the end of every paragraph we will say, “We go back,” and then people will say, “I didn’t understand that, what did that mean.”  So then we go over that.  Sometimes that takes us off onto a completely different tangent of what we are discussing, but that is okay too.  And usually we sort of finish up with everybody saying, “Oh, oh is it over, we got to go now.” And I say, “Yes sorry I do have to.”  So it is a big mix of the paperwork and just general talking and things like that.  I mean somebody got caught going through a red light and --.

Julie:  That’s something to talk about.

Annie:  Yeah, the police car was sitting right there, picked him up and he had a really hard time, you know, and that often happens I know that.  So things like that so I was able to tell him what he needed to do and yes he did need to go the court and all the rest of it.  So there are things like that we can help with.

Julie:  Now how do people get started with a Conversation Club also do they have to register for these classes and where can they find a Conversation Club and how often do they meet?

Nancy:  Well the Conversation Clubs are open to all adult, it’s a drop-in meet up, you don’t have to register and you can attend as many classes as you want here at Quince Orchard, we have four and they are welcome to attend all four if they have time.

Julie:  And there are also others at other branches?

Nancy:  Yes and all the other branches also have Conversation Clubs as well that they can attend.

Julie:  Now this question is for you Annie, why did you decide to become a volunteer coordinator for Quince Orchard?

Annie:  It was my nearest library.

Julie:  That’s convenient.

Annie:  But no, I mean that’s, we live close by and that’s where my husband got involved with things, I, well both of us got involved with the Saturday monthly book sale, so we were busy with that.  I was on the library board for a short while, I don’t know there just seemed to be lots of things there and we would always encourage our kids and grand kids in that to be involved in the library if possible.  I think it’s a great place especially for the teenagers to be able to go to from the high school over there in the afternoons and you know, be over there, I think it’s a good place.

I love the idea that every Tuesday morning I have people from all around the world who are sitting there enjoying each others’ company even if they don’t always understand quite what’s being said you know.  And one day we had a I think there were about 12 people at my table, this is going back to when we were at the church hall during the time we were closed. And a guy from Iran, we had all been laughing and joking about I don’t know what now may be food or something and just before we finished he just said, “Everybody I think it’s so wonderful that we can sit here; we are all different, different countries, different religions, different ideas and yet we all get along and we love meeting together.” And that to me summed up what I want life to be about and it was just great.

Julie:  Wow so you know, you get the privilege to travel around the world in one room.

Annie:  Yes, yes, absolutely, yes absolutely

Julie:  Now I know earlier Nancy mentioned that the classes are for adults and you also mentioned it is a good form for teens to come to, what about kids, can kids attend these classes as well?

Annie:  Yes in the last few years we have had two babies born, not there, I mean you know.  And the mothers don’t come every week it depends on what’s going on, you know.  And we have a young woman from Russia it’s her first baby and she is very conscious that the baby might make a noise or anything so she comes occasionally when she is pretty sure that he is going to sleep the next hour anyway, you know, but no we just love that.  In the last few months, I have had two teenagers who have been visiting this country to be with their father or their mother or whatever. And so they have come with them and their English has been you know, good anyway, but no I think that that is fine and the two little babies we have had have been absolutely fine, no problem at all.

Julie:  No conversation from them?

Annie:  No conversation, no, no.

Nancy:  Yeah as long as children are with their parents, I think we are fine with it but we don’t encourage children coming in by themselves because the conversation would be you know, adult you know, subject matter so yeah --.

Julie:  Now who would you recommend to participate in these Conversation Clubs?

Annie:  Well I would say anybody who is going to live here for more than five or six weeks may be.  There have been occasions and the last time this couple came from Italy they came, because they came to see Richard but it was too late of course and they haven’t been back since.  But I know they used to come once a year they came to visit their daughter who lived locally and they spent two months with her and they came as did a another older couple some while ago because they want to improve their English so that they communicate with their grandchildren because they were finding that you know, their grandchildren just spoke English and they just would not, with it the whole time, they just couldn’t and they wanted the communication to be better so as they came every and so they came.

Julie:  Was that helpful?

Annie:  They said it was very helpful; they loved it so you know.

Nancy:  Yeah there was one woman who was going to have a job interview and she told me that she attended the Conversation Club so she could improve her English for the job interview.  And she said the Conversation Club helped her to be more relaxed and feel more confident in her speaking skills and it helped her with her job interview.  So she mentioned that and I thought that’s good yeah.

Julie:  Those are great feedback.

Nancy:  Yes.

Annie:  Yes.

Julie:  Is there a lot of turnover among participants or do the same people come over a long period of time?

Annie:  Both I have got at the moment on a Tuesday; I would say there are at least half the people have been coming for a long time.  In fact I have two at my table who have been coming for years whereas I have another two people at the table it was his second week this week, he is going to be one more year in this country, so he is going to keep coming he says all that year.  The other person I think she will be only here may be for another few months.  So it is you know, and some people you see like particularly the Chinese people because of their culture, they go back to their own country usually to take care of parents for three, four, five, six months of the year and then they come back again.  So I have several of those that are there for a few months and then gone and then they come back again.  It’s a mix; it’s a good mix I think.

Julie:  So for those who have been coming for a long time and not the ones who go for three months and come back, is it that they are enjoying the conversations or is there a particular upper level and at some point do you say well this has really helped me?

Nancy:  I think for some of them it’s a great social outlet for them you know, I think a lot of them feel a little isolated because of the language barrier. And so when they go to the Conversation Club they get this support.  And our facilitators you know, they would help them kind of maneuver around the neighborhood and tell them where all the resources are.  I think it is a good place for them to connect with the community.

Annie:  And with people from their country too.  There is always a brightness about them when they know someone else at the table is from their country.  And sometimes I have to, when they talk to each other and I have to say English, English only and we all laugh about that later.

Julie:  Oh okay, that is very funny.

Annie:  Yes, no it definitely is a social place for them and you will hear them say something that they saw each other in Giant or the nursery or something you know.  And they were able to meet somebody that they could talk to in their own language probably, but nevertheless it was somebody that they recognized it was a neighbor and I think that is good for them too so.

Nancy:  I think that’s great.

Julie:  So while we are on the topic of them like participants knowing each other, do either of you know your participants well?

Annie:  Several I do know, yes definitely, because when we are having, its amazing how much some of them will open up about what has just happened at home a sadness or may be a very happy thing and want to share it.  I now have a lady who is just a little bit older than me and she is into gardening and she has a big green house so do I so you know.  So we have a lot in common and she brought in the most amazing tomatoes and cucumbers last week and everybody thought this was amazing.  And now she has done this many years running, so I wasn’t surprised, but of course other people were just like, “Wow.”  So on Tuesday this other lady she brings in this big bag of chocolate and spreads it over the table for everybody to have you know, and everybody is just like, “Oh it is so nice.”

Nancy:  Wow.

Julie:  That’s great like a community, yeah.

Annie:  Yes, I feel I do.

Nancy:  I am green with envy.

Annie:  You have to come visit us.

Nancy:  Now I do.

Julie:  So what would you say are the benefits of the Conversation Clubs?

Annie:  I know how I came when I first came to this country and it took me three years before I really felt that this was home. It takes a long while, it doesn’t happen quickly or easily and I think for these people it gives them some sort of backup or some feeling that there are other people out there that I could talk to.  You know, Americans are incredibly friendly, generous people, I mean they just are which is wonderful.  And these people they recognize that very, very quickly.  As we often talk about this and how it’s different in their culture in this way and that way.  So they are very aware of that and they just think that is wonderful that they are accepted.

And I think one of the things is for them is to be accepted although they don’t speak good English and they may be misunderstood.  And it’s just the simple daily things of life when you go to a store.  A lot of them are very, very nervous about traveling on a bus, going into a restaurant and that’s something Richard used to do.  He always had money to show everybody what you know, the money or the coins were and the things and that and he would take in menus and things so that people could see what food was in a certain menu and things.  And sometimes we used to take people out to eat or something so that they could order something and feel confident that they could do that, because they feel very nervous in those situations.  So I think it’s just the daily life things that we can encourage them and I think they feel more comfortable with living.

Nancy:  And the libraries you know, it’s a perfect place to have these conversations clubs, because we have you know, we know have the, we know where the resources are.  We can direct them to where they are and they feel relaxed coming up to us and asking us you know, information about personal things like you know, job hunting or like you know, the bus route you know, which bus to catch.  And we are patient enough to you know, walk them through you know, where to catch the bus, child care services you know, some of them may not know about that, the best place you know, like banking.

Annie:  Banking is a big thing, insurance is another big that they don’t understand and they want to know about and where they can go and find out things yes.

Nancy:  And services like you know, who is a good roofer or lawn service, you know, so being in the library, we have all those information for them, yeah.

Annie:  And also they, I don’t know whether they would actually say this but this is the feeling I get from them, they feel they are in a safe place.

Julie:  At the library?

Annie:  At the library.

Julie:  And no one is going to swindle them.

Annie:  No, no, absolutely.  And they, you know, it is a government building okay, I am considering where some of these people come from that would be a scary thing in their countries to be trustworthy in a government building and yet you just sense it when they come in, that there is a relaxation, they feel safe and that’s very good.

Julie:  Now as a coordinator Nancy, can you tell us what participants have told you about Conversation Clubs that have actually enhanced their lives?

Nancy:  Well earlier yeah I only have one story; it is about the lady who was going to go for her job interview.  And she was very appreciative that the Conversation Club helped her to relax and develop some speaking skills and feel confident in speaking English you know, during the job interview.

Annie:  At the moment I have one person who is going for their citizenship and so I have been there and done that, so I can be you know, I can listen, I know what their worries are and what their concerns are, help them with questions and things.  Green cards, yes same thing, a couple of people going for their green cards and so they you know, so I can help in that way, because they don’t know who else to turn to for those things.

Nancy:  Exactly, right.

Annie:  And one of the things I have found which amazed me at first time, I am used it now, but most of these people have got children in school.  All the children speak perfect English or as perfect just as it is these days and yet will they speak English at home with their mother or their father, no.  And everybody tells me the same thing that oh they can’t be bothered, we are too slow, they don’t want to do it.  And I say look you know, for one hour every evening at the dinner table wherever say I need your help to your kids.  I have been telling you what to do all these years now I need you to help me, tell me how to say these words, just for an hour at dinner or something, you know, speak English it will help you so much, but they always come back and say no they say I am not you know.  There was one lady I remember she was with Richard before me but thirteen years, she had been in this country, her kids had gone through school okay her English was almost non-existent because she said no English is ever spoken with her apart from when she came to the class.

Julie:  Wow that’s amazing.

Annie:  And I was astounded at that.

Julie:  So did she come to that class for thirteen years?

Annie:  I don’t know that, no I don’t know that, but she had come for many years certainly.  But and it was almost as if she wasn’t improving in her English and I think that was partly because I mean I don’t know her home situation but may be speaking English was not allowed perhaps who knows I don’t know, but I was surprised that the children will not be more involved with helping their parents speak English.

Julie:  So having these Conversation Clubs actually are vital?

Annie:  I think so, I think so, yes.

Julie:  Nancy this question is for you, what would you say are Montgomery County Public Library systems top English has a second language resources and services that we provide to our customers?

Nancy:  Oh Montgomery County has a lot of resources, we have this whole collection of literacy resources that anyone that wants to learn English can borrow and some of these include audio books and DVDs.  And a lot of the audio books have instructions in their mother tongue like English for Spanish speakers, English for Farsi speakers or Chinese speakers, so they can understand the English by listening to the instruction in their own language.  And we also have lots of books that talk about you know, English grammar, word usage; we have lots of dictionaries, books on American idioms.  And of course we also have lots of resources in the community like Montgomery College has a lot of English courses that they can take and most of them are free if it is for beginners, they also offer classes for advance learners, but there is a little fee for advance courses.  And of course the Literacy Council has a lot of classes as well as tutors that can meet with English learners one-on-one and MCAEL which stands for the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy also puts out a directory of providers that provide English instruction throughout the community throughout Montgomery County.  And you can get this brochure at the library or you can just go to their website.  And Charles Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center also have lots of classes, they are located at Gaithersburg Library, in Germantown, also in Silver Spring and they have the courses listed on their website.  And if they come to library we can print out the flyers for them.  And Montgomery County College also has the Workforce Development & Continuing Education and they also can take English classes as well as there.

Julie:  So they have a wider ray of resources.

Nancy:  Yes there is a lot.

Julie:  Now do we have Conversation Clubs for other languages and if we do what are there?

Nancy:  Yes we also have Spanish Conversation Club at Quince Orchard, they meet Monday nights every Monday at 6 o’clock.  And the same facilitator also runs a Thursday night at Rockville.  And there is also a French Conversation Club in Germantown that meets at 6:30 every Tuesday night.  And Gaithersburg Library has an advanced level English class on idioms it’s called Easy Does It American Idioms.

Julie:  Now what have you learned from your experiences with the Conversation Clubs and this is to both of you?

Annie:  I think so many things but I think just overall what that man said that day about us all sitting around that table and you know, just being one laughing together.  I think about that when today that seems to be so much downside to our life, sadness to our world and I think about that that comes back to me all the time and it gives me more hope that we are going to get through bad times and we can really do this, we can really do this together, because we are all human beings and we all need each other and we can all give something to each other, it doesn’t matter what it is, but we can all share something and make this world a better place and I just feel that that we do that on Tuesdays.

Julie:  Yeah it seems as though we are more similar than we are different.

Annie:  Absolutely, absolutely without question.

Nancy:  We share a lot of common values.

Annie:  Yes, absolutely.

Nancy:  Friendship, caring for family, education I think and no mater where you are from, we share these values.

Annie:  Yes we do.

Julie:  Well we are talking about wonderful stuff.  Do you have any fun or interesting stories to share from a Conversation Club meeting?

Annie:  Well we do laugh a lot that is for sure about all sorts of things. This last Tuesday a guy, he doesn’t sit at my table he said, “Bobby,” he called me over to that table.  And he said, “Come, come see this” and he had his phone out and he is just well – we were teasing him because he has only just told us, but he has a first grand child and he was so excited about it. But the baby is already five months old and he hasn’t told us before.  So we were really going, “What you think you are doing you know, we need to know this,” you know.  And so again everybody is laughing and the photograph get handed around and everybody was so thrilled for him and things so, you know, it’s just nice, it is good sharing, it is so good.

Julie:  Right more than just conversation.

Annie:  Yes, oh definitely, definitely, but at the same time, I guess what I have done in the past in the court and that, I am very aware that there is a line that I do not cross in giving advice or you know, some things I wouldn’t say to somebody even if I thought I knew the answer or knew where I should guide them.  But there is a line that I shouldn’t get totally involved with issues.

Julie:  Right, but you could stir them in the right direction.

Annie:  Absolutely yes.

Julie:  Now to the really fun stuff, it is customary on this program that we ask our guests what they are currently reading, who would like to go first?

Annie:  My brother is an author and I just received last week, the last thing he had written which won him a prize in England.  And it’s a short story it is the most amazing piece of writing that I think I have ever read in my life.  I just couldn’t believe and it was just so absolutely beautiful and my brother had written it with just outstanding so, yes so.

Nancy:  That’s great.

Annie:  The name of the story is Unforgettable and his name is David Wiseman but I don’t know the prize.

Julie:  We will be sure to mention the name of the prize in the show notes.  Over to you Nancy.

Nancy:  Okay, personally I am reading a mystery by Martha Grimes title Vertigo 42.  So it is a story about a friend of a friend who is convinced his wife was murdered 17 years ago and not by an accidental fall off the tower called Vertigo 42.  So it was gripping, I have enjoyed it a lot.

Julie:  Thank you so much for letting us in into the world of English Conversation Clubs, I want to thank Nancy and Annie for being with us today.  Let’s keep the conversation going by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast app Stitcher or wherever you get your Podcast.  Also please review and rate us on Apple Podcast, we will love to know what you think.  Thank you once again for listening to our conversations today, see you next time.

[Audio ends]

Aug 14, 2018

Summary: MCPL's English Conversations Clubs offer those wishing to practice speaking English a friendly, welcoming environment in which to do so. In this episode, Quince Orchard Librarian Nancy Chiu-Sillcox and Quince Orchard English Conversation Club volunteer coordinator Annie Etches describe the program and share stories from MCPL's English Conversation Club at Quince Orchard Library

Recording Date: July 25, 2018

Guests: Nancy Chiu-Sillcox is the Head of Adult Services at Quince Orchard Library. Annie Etches is a volunteer at Quince Orchard Library who coordinates the English Conversation Club meetings at the branch. 

Host: Julie Dina

What Our Guests Are Reading

Nancy Chiu-Sillcox: Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes

Annie Etches: The flash fiction short story "Unforgettable" by David Wiseman, who recently won the Themed Flash Competition

Other Items of Interest Mentioned During the Episode:

Charles W. Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center: The Gilchrist Center offers a variety of programs, including English classes, citizenship preparation, free legal clinics, technological literacy classes, and more. 

Easy Does It! American Idioms: An advanced level drop-in English language class focused on American idioms. Offered at Gaithersburg Library

English Conversation Clubs: Regularly scheduled volunteer-led gatherings at MCPL branches throughout the county that offer people the opportunity to practice speaking and listening to English in an informal, friendly, and welcoming environment.

English for Arabic (Chinese, Farsi, etc.) Speakers: A series of English language learning resources designed for beginners with instructions in the beginner's first language. 

English Language Learners Guide: Links to and descriptions of local resources for English language learners. 

Friends of the Library, Montgomery County: A nonprofit that supports MCPL through supplemental funding, programs, and materials. 

French Conversation Clubs: Those wishing to practice speaking and listening to French can do so at the French Conversations Clubs at Germantown and Long Branch libraries. 

Literacy Council of Montgomery County: A local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the English language proficiency and literacy skills of adults in our community. The Literacy Council offers a variety of English language and literacy tutoring services and classes. 

Montgomery College English as a Second Language (ESL): Montgomery College offers ESL classes for beginners and advanced English language learners. Some classes are offered for college credit, others are non-credit courses. 

Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL): A comprehensive listing of free and fee-based English language and literacy classes provided by a variety of organizations in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Library Board: The Library Board makes recommendations to the County Executive on matters affecting the public library system, such as the location of new facilities, the adequacy of book collections, services to outlying districts, and the personnel needs of MCPL. 

Spanish Conversation Clubs: Numerous MCPL branches offer opportunities to practice speaking and listening to Spanish. 

 Read the transcript

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