Project Aims To Turn All Cambridge to Same Page

Steven C. Rose

Co-Program Coordinators of “Cambridge Reads” ELLEN KELLY, left, and GAIL WILLETT discuss their proposed Cambridge-wide book club.

Four Cambridge organizations want to start a book club—for 100,000 people.

Last night they kicked off a literacy project at the city’s main library that centers around an initiative to get all Cambridge residents to read the same book.

The Cambridge Center for Adult Education, the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library, Mayor Michael A. Sullivan’s Office and Harvard Book Store joined together to promote the reading and discussion of James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. Book talks will take place throughout the city over the next six months.

Leaders of “Cambridge Reads: Cover to Cover,” the umbrella group coordinating the campaign, said they hoped it would promote literacy among residents and connect the diverse Cambridge community.

“This is the beginning of what I believe to be a great start in this community of bringing family literacy into play,” Sullivan said.

Cambridge follows the lead of more than 50 cities across the country who have started citywide book clubs in the last five years.

Project leaders said they chose McBride’s book both because of its emphasis on diversity and education and because it is given as a graduation gift to all Cambridge students upon completion of the eighth grade.

“It’s a perfect choice for a book,” said program coordinator Gail Willett. “It talks through James McBride’s story about where our society is going.”

Willett also said she thought discussions of the book would unite Cambridge’s diverse residents.“This is really to start some conversations with people you might not have contact with,” Willett said.

Residents concurred, lauding the plan for its ability to bring the city together.

“Without calling it a discussion of race or class, we’ll be having that,” said Cambridge resident Renae Gray, who attended last night’s reception.

The project aims to provide all Cambridge residents access to the book.

The Color of Water publisher, Riverhead Books, has donated 500 copies to the city, and the Cambridge Public Library has ordered 50 copies in addition to its existing collection.

At last night’s reception, The Harvard Book Store sold about ten copies of the book.

Planners said they hoped that both planned events and impromptu discussions would become fora for discussing the book.

To aid in this effort, they supplied attendees of last night’s event with brightly colored Cambridge Reads buttons to identify themselves as members of the book club.

—Staff writer Claire A. Pasternack can be reached at