Years that Ask Questions

Years that Ask Questions

Finally. We approach the end of a wild year. We’ve lost track of time and space and can barely remember hugging a friend (let alone kids or parents who live far away). Far too many have lost loved ones and livelihoods as an unrelenting virus continues to wield disproportionate outcomes. 

As this year comes to an end, like you, I breathe a sigh of relief. But I also look to 2021 with a generous dose of gratitude and hope.  

2020 was a learning year. When the pandemic hit in mid-March, we transferred the majority of our programs to virtual platforms as organizations moved to remote working. We have used facilitated story-based discussions to connect people virtually from anywhere and everywhere. Although we hope to recapture the in-person conversation once COVID is no longer a threat, this much is clear: the virtual session is here to stay. 

Books@Work is a powerful way to boost the quality of relationships among individuals separated by geography or pandemic. 

Although our workplace programs changed form, our community work has been harder hit. Where many businesses could pivot quickly to virtual work, the traditional centers for community gathering – libraries, classrooms, residential center lunchrooms – were off limits and much harder to replicate online. But not impossible. 

We were especially proud to partner with the Cleveland Literacy Cooperative and the City of Cleveland Department of Aging to pilot a special program with home-bound senior citizens isolated by COVID. Eleven women read and discussed Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room, a novelized biography of the irrepressible actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr. With limited bandwidth or access to computers, they met on the telephone. A charming NewsChannel 5 report captured the impact of this pilot .

One participant told us “it was great to be able to hear everyone’s voice.” Another said that Books@Work “gave me something to focus on and pulled me out of a slump and allowed me to use my mind. It was invigorating, renewing, and refreshing.” Facilitator Alexis Baker, Assistant Professor at Kent State University, noted, “The unifying factor, of course, is their age. They all said, ‘We are an amazing generation of women.’ It was inspiring.”

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God. 2020 asked a lot – about what matters most in our workplaces and communities. May 2021 hold answers to these pressing questions and the strength to rebuild! 

The entire Books@Work team joins me in wishing you Happy New Year!

Image: Gerard Dou, Old Woman Reading, c. 1631 – c. 1632 via Rijks Museum

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Ann Kowal Smith

Ann Kowal Smith

Ann Kowal Smith is the Founder and Executive Director of Books@Work.