It’s Fresno County Library Big Read Time!

Jan 29, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Books & Tales, Lorie Lewis Ham, Tales of Diversity

by Lorie Lewis Ham

It’s that time of year again, time for the Fresno County Library’s Big Read! This is a fun time where the library features a specific book and has a lot of great programs! I interviewed Tiffany Polfer, who is Teen Programming Librarian with the Fresno County Library, about this year’s Big Read!

KRL: For those who don’t know, what exactly is the Big Read?

Tiffany: According to the website, the Big Read is a program that broadens our understanding of the world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Informally, the Big Read is a community-reads event with programming surrounding a single book, in this instance – Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

We develop and create programs designed to further our understanding of the themes and topics discussed in our chosen books – with the intent to entertain AND inspire conversations within our community in Fresno County. For Citizen, we are focusing on the themes of diversity, race, and identity as well as the poetry aspect of the book itself.

Our programs are designed to start conversations, as well as create opportunities for our community to explore their identities and history.

KRL: How do you pick the book that is to be featured?

Tiffany: As with The Latehomecomer, we decided that our Big Read selection should be a book that inspires tough conversations, and Citizen is an excellent book for this community. Fresno, though incredibly diverse, has a long history of segregation with over 40% of Fresno’s black residents living in poverty – an issue discussed at length by The Atlantic as well as several conversations published by The Fresno Bee.

Event from “Latehomecomer” Big Read

We hope that we can use this book to start a dialogue among Fresno County residents to bring about transformative change – especially by focusing on the book’s themes of identity, self-identity, and the reality of race relations in America. In addition to these themes, we are also tapping into Fresno’s incredibly vibrant poetry scene by choosing a book that perfectly balances poetry and prose.

Read-a-thon from past Big Read

KRL: Please tell us about this year’s book and author?

Tiffany: Citizen was the first work of poetry that became a New York Times bestseller in 2015. In addition to that honor, Citizen also won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry (2015), the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry (2015) and was the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry (2014). Citizen: An American Lyric combines prose, visual art, and lyrics to highlight the everyday racism the author, and her friends, encounter.

Claudia Rankine, Jamaican-born and raised in the Bronx, has written five volumes of poetry, two plays, and several essays. She graduated from Williams College and Columbia University. From 2013-2018, she served as the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and as of 2016 – she is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. A number of her other works also touch on race relations in America as well as straddling the line between the written word and visual art.

KRL: When is the kickoff and what will be happening at it?

Tiffany: The Kickoff will be on February 8 at 2:30 pm at our Central Library located in Downtown Fresno. It will feature a performance from the King Elementary African American Dance Troupe, a performance from Fresno Poet Laureate S. Bryan Medina, as well as readings from the book and personal stories from local leaders.

KRL: What kind of events are planned for this Big Read?

Tiffany: We have a wide variety of events planned for our Big Read. After the kickoff on February 8, we are welcoming author Claudia Rankine as she is flying in to present about her book and her life on February 13. This is a special event that will be held at Fresno City College’s Old Administration Building and is first-come, first-serve. She will be signing at this event – with books on sale after the talk.

On February 29, we are holding a Let’s Talk conversation with a panel of local community members and leaders about race and racism in America. In March, we are holding several different poetry programs – from an evening with past Fresno Poet Laureates James Tyner, Bryan Medina, and Lee Herrick on March 11 to a slam poetry event with Fresno teens on March 27. Bryan Medina will also be holding a workshop on how to write a poem on March 18.

Performance by historical re-enactors at the Kick Off of Big Read for “Tom Sawyer”

Our Big Read events wrap up in April with a special two-night presentation of the staged reading of Citizen: An American Lyric by Fresno State students. All of the programs are free and open to everyone, and more information is located on the web at

KRL: How do you find and choose the events you want to do?

Tiffany: We knew that we wanted to create programs that start conversations around this tough topic while also creating safe spaces for people to explore their identities and histories – so a lot of programs focused on creating an open dialogue within our community. We also knew that Fresno has an incredibly vibrant poetry community, and the book does an excellent job of straddling the line between prose and poetry – so we designed programs that celebrate and highlight that community.

Event from “Great Gatsby” Big Read

KRL: Anything else you want to add?

Tiffany: I’m very excited about all the programs we have planned and the book that we chose. It is incredibly relevant for our community and our society, and it continues our decision to be more intentional in our programming through our Big Read book selections. We are given this fantastic opportunity to engage our patrons as well as providing a spotlight on some fantastic American literature. Citizen: An American Lyric is a tough but excellent read and I think our programs perfectly balance between entertainment and education.

Above all else, we hope our libraries are a place where people can come and engage with each other – with this book as the starting point. If anyone would like more information on the planned Big Read programs, visit

Keep an eye on KRL’s Fresno County Library event page to keep up with their events as well!

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.


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