Library commemorates WWI anniversary with WestportREADS 2018

Regeneration by Pat Barker is the January 2018 WestportREAD's book choice.
Regeneration by Pat Barker is the January 2018 WestportREAD's book choice.Contributed Photo

WESTPORT — When World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918, with the signing of the U.S.-Allied armistice, an impromptu parade broke out in Westport. This month, the Westport Library will commemorate the 100th anniversary of “the war to end all wars” with a WWI-inspired town reading challenge and related programs.

Since 2001, the goal of the library’s WestportREADS program has been to bring the town together through the shared experience of one book each January. This year’s book, “Regeneration,” by Pat Barker, is a historical fiction novel that follows the experience of soldiers during World War I.

“‘Regeneration’ features many topics that are as relevant to soldiers now as they were during World War I,” said WestportREADS co-chairwoman Mary Lea Brown, a reference librarian. “Healing and perseverance are humanizing themes. The story helps nonveterans better understand the experience of a person who has been exposed to warfare.”

Although World War I is now a century past, memories of the conflict are still deeply embedded in the town’s history.

“The war effort galvanized the whole town,” resident Woody Klein wrote in a history book on the town, which notes 238 Westport men and women were sent abroad to fight in the war, with seven killed in action and many others wounded.

Throughout January and into February, a series of programs have been organized to commemorate the war as part of WestportReads, which is funded by the estate of Jerry A. Tishman.

Saturday kicks off WestportREADS 2018 with a Digitization Day. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., residents are encouraged to bring in old photos of family members who served in the war to be added to an online WWI collection and to the Connecticut Digital Archive, where they’ll be preserved for future generations.

Brown said she’s most excited about the Jan. 27 panel discussion at the Westport Veterans of Foreign Wars, “Reflecting on ‘War Stories: A Veterans Project.’”

More Information

WestportREADS events

Jan. 24: "Johnnie Get Your Gun": American Artists Respond to World War Iat the Westport Historical Society from 7 to 8 p.m. Robin Jaffee Frank will explore American artists' responses to WWI.

Jan. 27: Reflecting on War Stories: A Veterans Project at the Westport VFW from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The panel discussion brings together veterans and the creative team that created the performance work, "War Stories," to discuss the process and integration of veterans back into society.

Jan. 28: West Point Glee Club with Music of WWI from 2 to 3:30 p.m at Saugatuck Congregational Church. The glee club, one of the U.S. Military Academy's most visible cadet organizations, will perform music and writings from WWI.

Feb. 1:Poetic Inspiration - Readings and Reflections at the Westport Arts Center from 7 to 8:30 p.m. An evening of poetry and art responding to our times and the challenges we all face.

The stage production, created by Peter Van Heerden, executive director of the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University, along with artist Nina Bentley and writer Sonya Huber, was informed by the creator’s work with a group of homeless veterans.

“Veterans discuss what led them to join the military, as well as life afterwards, with a focus on the struggles of integration back into civilian society. The entire production process was a practice in creative healing,” Brown said. “It’s going to be an enlightening experience for veterans and civilians alike.”

Throughout WestportREADS, attendees of events — or simply those stopping by the library to check out a book — are being asked to write letters to servicemen and women. Besides the “Support our Troops” letter-writing campaign, the library is also collecting gift cards — Visa, MasterCard or American Express, not store-specific cards — that will be given to deployed troops to provide WiFi and satellite phone access to keep in contact with loved ones.; @SophieCVaughan1