The first year centered around Manzanar and Japanese-American internees, in 2010 it was all about Jill Kinmont Booth and this year the focus will be Native Americans. These have been the various topics of discussion that accompany the annual Community Reads event in Inyo County.
For the third year in a row the Inyo County Superintendent of Schools is sponsoring Community Reads, asking everyone to read one book. This year the book is “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie. A young-adult novel interspersed with small cartoons and drawings, “Part-Time Indian” has won a myriad of honors, including the National Book Award.
The event kicks off this Thursday with movies, workshops and lectures throughout the county through March.
The first Reads event featured the book “A Farewell to Manzanar,” revisiting a controversial era in American history that was used as a vehicle to make connections to modern problems of racism.
“Part-Time Indian” is being described as a way to expand understanding, said Sondra Peterson, Reads coordinator at the ICSOS. “Again the reason for the selection is to bridge some very real issues with our community and start conversations about those issues.”
Peterson said this year’s book will be much more “to the jugular” with issues about the plight of modern-day Native Americans, that are closer to home.
The book is not just about Native Americans, but about someone trying to make a better life for himself. The protagonist is named Junior, a teenaged cartoonist who strikes out and succeeds in life despite his world being against him.
“The book is a young adult book that appeals to young people because of its humor. He addresses many issues like poverty, illness, bullying and alcoholism that all kids can relate to,” Peterson said. “But the book is also great for adults because it so entertaining, a young native boy trying to get an education and the only quality school is off the reservation in an all-white community.”
“Part-Time Indian” is semi-autobiographical, describing Alexie’s own struggles on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Wash.
Alexie is an award-winning author, poet and filmmaker. One of his more popular screenplays was the 1998 film “Smoke Signals,” winner of the Filmmaker’s Trophy, Audience Award and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize that year at the Sundance Film Festival.
Alexie will be in town on Feb. 23-24, speaking to high school students as well as attending more intimate gatherings with local Native American groups.
The Community Reads events will start Thursday, with the Kickoff Event at the Inyo Council for the Arts from 5:30-7 p.m. The event will include Paiute art, photos, music, Indian tacos, native tea and pinenut mush.
From 7-8:30 p.m., Tuesday Jan. 18, local Lucy Parker will be giving a demonstration on Native American basket weaving of the Sierra, including a talk, film and book signing at Inyo Council for the Arts.
“Contemporary Issues and Native Americans” lecture and discussion with UC at Los Angeles Professor of American Indian Studies Duane Champagne happens the next Tuesday, Jan. 25, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the ICA.
In February the comic film “Smoke Signals” will be shown from 7-8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 1 at Inyo Council for the Arts and from 7-8:30, on Wednesday Feb. 2, at the Museum of Lone Pine Film History.
An Elders’ Night panel discussion on “History of the Paiutes in the Valley” will be from 7-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 3, at the Community Center, 405 N. Barlow Ln., Bishop.
A walking/car tour called “History of the Paiutes in the Owens Valley” will be guided by local educator Gerald Howard, from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday Feb. 5. Those interested are asked to meet at the west side of the Kmart parking lot that morning.
The film “Homeland” will be shown from 7-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at Inyo Council for the Arts and on Wednesday, Feb. 9 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Museum of Lone Pine Film History. “Homeland” is a collection of four stories on how reservations face environmental threats.
Master basket weaver Parker will be teaching her art from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 10 at the Cultural Center, 2301 W. Line St., Bishop. Class size is limited to 20 people and will cost $30. To register, call the at ICA (760) 873-8014.
“American Outrage” is a documentary of two Western Shoshone sisters who put up a heroic fight for their land and human rights. The film will be shown from 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the ICA and on Wednesday, Feb.16 in Lone Pine.
Another documentary film will be shown from 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at the ICA and from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 23 in Lone Pine. “In Whose Honor” is about American Indian mascots in sports.
Events for March begin with another film by Alexie, “The Business of Fancy Dancing.” The film, written and directed by Alexie, will screen from 7-8:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 1, at the ICA and from 7-8:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2 at the Museum of Lone Pine Film History.
A book discussion of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian” facilitated by Sandy and Chris Langley will be from 7-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, at the ICA and from 7-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17 in Lone Pine.
The events conclude with the film “Pow Wow Highway,” a comedy/drama about Native Americans understanding the past, and fighting for their future, will be shown from 7-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8 at the ICA and from 7-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 at the Museum of Lone Pine Film History.
For more information, go to the ICSOS website at http://www.inyo.k12.ca.us/home.aspx .