EPL hosts panel on book centered on identity, injustice


Samantha Handler/The Daily Northwestern

Panelists speak at Evanston Public Library’s discussion on identity and injustice. The panel was the first event in a 10-week program called “Evanston Reads: Citizen.”

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Evanston Public Library kicked off a community reading program with a panel discussion about identity and injustice on Sunday, building off the themes in the book “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

EPL partnered with the Center for Inclusivity, which seeks to create and sustain diverse communities, to host the first event in the 10-week program “Evanston Reads: Citizen,” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. EPL will put on similar discussions and events around Evanston about Claudia Rankine’s book, including film screenings, poetry readings and lectures.

Library assistant Kim Hiltwein said during the event that EPL applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to create a program around “Citizen” because of the book’s timeliness. They hope the library will be a place that fosters discussions throughout the community, she said.

“The book has themes of inclusivity and race and gender,” Hiltwein told The Daily, “and reaching out to the Center of Inclusivity in Chicago just felt like the right way to kick off the event in terms of tone, important conversations and the themes the book really raises.”

The panelists — social worker and community organizer Jes Scheinpflug and activist and church worship leader Darren Calhoun — discussed the book’s themes of invisibility, bias and belonging.

Alicia Crosby, the executive director and co-founder of the Center for Inclusivity and moderator of the discussion, said one of her biggest takeaways was that people live “whole lives” that cannot be broken down to just one identity.

“Yes, Rankin’s book is about race, but it’s also about class and her experience in the world as a woman,” Crosby said. “It’s about all of these identities that intersect and interconnect.”

Calhoun said talking about pain is an important starting point for more difficult conversations as it helps people recognize the “core fears” that others may have.

Some of those fears, he said, are rooted in the different ways society treats people of different genders, races and classes.

“I often don’t have to think, unless I choose to, about the ways women are oppressed, marginalized, experience violence and so forth,” Calhoun said.

Hiltwein said that though this program does not comprise EPL’s only events and discussions centered around diversity, the Evanston Reads series helps create a safe place for the community.

Hiltwein said she hopes programs like these will give the library patrons ways to learn and speak about ideas that they may not have been able to on their own.

“We’re trying to be part of the community here,” Hiltwein said. “The library should be and we’re trying to be one of those places you think of as a safe place you can go to be exposed to different things.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the association that sponsored the panel on a second reference. EPL applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Daily regrets the error.

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