The first community read book was The Return of Gabriel by John Armistead.

The 2006 fall selection was
 The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War by Howard Bahr

Author John Armistead Helped Launch ‘Starkville Reads' First Community Wide Book Project


By EMILY JONES/Starkville Daily News

Starkville's first citywide book club project began with a March 7, 2006, reception featuring the author of the premier book selection.

Some 100 book lovers attended the opening night reception of “Starkville Reads” held at the Starkville Public Library. John Armistead, author of “Return of Gabriel” was on hand to sign his book and present a reading from the compelling novel which is staged during the 1960s. It is the tale of three young teenagers whose lives are irrevocably changed as a result of racial unrest which accompanied desegregation in the South. He delighted those in attendance with his wit and his serious comments.

Starkville Reads committee members Nancy Jacobs and Harry Freeman pose with John Armistead, (r.) author of The Return of Gabriel. Armistead appeared March 7, 2006, at the Starkville Public Library to kick off the event for the first ever citywide book club.


A  highlight of the evening was the Readers' Theatre written and produced by Dr. Clyde Williams and presented by a small troupe composed of Dr. Robert Anderson and four Starkville High School students: Charles Jefferson, Trequon Tate, Sam Pote, and Cooper Kennard.

The actors, playing key roles from the pages of the book, captured the essence of the novel while incorporating humor to describe events that unfold. Dr. Anderson helped set the stage as “Father Time.”

Set in the fictional Chelosa, Miss. (near Tupelo), “The Return of Gabriel” is an historic account of events that occurred across the country to varying degrees during a tense period in American history. The themes of loyalty, compassion, intrigue and violence are woven throughout the story line.

First place essay winner Catherine Feng, shows Ginny Holtcamp and Julie McAlpin her certificate. She also received $100.

As part of the “Starkville Reads” project, middle and high school students were invited to participate in an essay contest which addressed the major themes of the book or analyzed the plot. The essays were judged and cash prizes were awarded. Catherine Feng received $100 for her first place essay The Return of Courage, which was an analysis of the main character Cooper Grant. Second prize went to Faniah Jamerson in the amount of $50 for her plot analysis of The Return of Gabriel.

Small discussion groups were held around the community to provide readers of Armistead's book an opportunity to share ideas. Emily Jones led the first group. Harry Freeman, Clyde Williams, and Noel Polk also led discussions. An early morning discussion group was held at Starkville High School and was led by Earlie Fleming and Alveria Crump.

Nancy Jacobs, chairman of Starkville Reads, said the citywide project will be repeated in the fall. The fall book will be announced in June. “We selected The Return of Gabriel for our first book because it appealed to all ages from young teenagers to senior citizens. It also generated meaningful discussions,” Jacobs said.

"Starkville Reads” is part of a national movement sponsored by the Library of Congress to bring communities closer together by having citizens read and discuss a compelling literary work. It is believed Starkville is the second city in Mississippi to offer such a program.

Faniah Jamerson (r.) was the second place winner in the amount of $50 for her plot analysis of The Return of Gabriel.

For more information about Starkville Reads first author John Armistead, go to the Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project: John Armistead.

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