When the third book of my Chaucer trilogy was about to be published, my friend Virginia Hamilton Adair, the poet (Ants on the Melon, et al), suggested I contact our Claremont city library to arrange for a reading and book signing. It had never occurred to me before.
I proposed the idea to Mr. Kaufman, the head librarian. He accepted the idea immediately, thinking books on the Canterbury Tales would be well received in our college town. I didn't realize how far his enthusiasm woud carry. Artsy flyers about the event were printed and given to every book borower. He also contacted the local high school to promote attendance.
I arrived half an hour before the presentation was to begin. In the multi-purpose room 60 chairs had been set up (maximum capacity 100). I spoke with a few people who were already there and gave each a handout I'd prepared. A steady stream of people kept coming. When Mr. K saw this, her told a couple of library aides to rustle up more chairs--and then more chairs.
About ten minutes before the event was to start a buzz went through the room as Virginia (with the aid of a companion) arrived. She rarely attended public functions. Her age and blindness made her uneasy in crowds. A few minutes later half a dozen high school students arrived. They appeared glum but determined. I was probably an extra credit assignment. The glummest but most determined of the bunch, a boy I'll call Rodney, with pencil and notepad in hand, took a seat in the front row.
At precisely 7 p.m. a beaming Mr. K came forward to introduce me to the capacity crowd. I recognized half the faces as friends; the other half were new to me. I'd given the 60 copies of the handout to the first arrivals and asked them, now, to share with others. During my introductory explanation, a man on the center aisle took notes, and so did Rodney. Then I introduced the game printed on the handouts. It involves clues that Chaucer embedded in the descriptions of the Canterbury pilgrims. For example, one can knock a door off its hinges by running into it with his head; there is a pair of brothers; another character rides "very high" on a horse. I asked that the listeners allow their imaginations to run free, to accept pictures that came to their minds. Rodney began to show interest.
After the pilgrim descriptions were reveiwed, I asked if anyone "saw" something in particular when they thought of the door crasher. The note-taker on the aisle said he saw a bull. So I asked what bull existed when Chaucer lived and still exists today? Rodney erupted from his seat and burst out "Taurus!" The audience laughed and then applauded. He looked proud, and I think he was glad he'd come. After Taurus, the two brothers had to be Gemini. Checking through the zodiac the crowd identified the high horseman as Sagittarius. And so it went.
When the presentation was over, many people were eager to buy my books and have me sign them. It was truly a night to remember.
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Habitat for Humanity
The Smile Train