VALDOSTA -- Hundreds of people of all races and ages are expected to gather for the 14th annual African American Read-In Chain, which officially begins at 4 p.m. Sunday at Southside Library.

Sponsored by the Circle of Friends Book Club and the Southside Library staff, the focus of this event, Valdosta's third, is on reading works authored by novice and professional African American writers.

Jennifer Copeland, book club president and founder, said there will be a variety of activities, including refreshments, available for participants.

"We will have storytellers, poetry readings, children's groups, adult groups, and lots of other things going on," Copeland said. "We want everyone to come out and take part in this celebration."

African Americans, she added, have a long, proud tradition of literacy excellence in all genres.

In November 1989, the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English agreed to sponsor a nationwide African American Read-In Chain on the first Sunday of February at exactly 4 p.m. EST. At that time, it was envisioned that such read-ins would become a traditional part of Black History Month celebrations.

In 1990, the National Council of Teachers of English joined in the sponsorship of the African American Read-In Chain. The campaign has also been endorsed and supported by the International Reading Association.

Anyone can host a read-in Sunday afternoon, Copeland said, including churches, clubs, groups of friends, or family members if they desire. They can share a book, read poetry, or conduct any presentation that features African American writers.

The Southside Library event, of course, is open to anyone who wants to attend and is offered free.

The African American Read-In Chain will conclude Monday, a day designated for participation by educational institutions at the request of educators. Copeland said she hopes local schools will participate by offering sustained silent reading sessions, allowing upper grade level students to read to lower grade level students, or inviting guest readers. The possibilities are endless.

Valdosta Mayor James H. Rainwater recently signed a proclamation recognizing the African American Read-In Chain as "one of the longest running, publicly supported literacy campaigns in the nation" and urging all local citizens "to support this most worthwhile effort to make the celebration of literacy a traditional part of Black History Month activities."

Anyone hosting a read-in Sunday or Monday needs to report the number of people who attended to Copeland at 293-9189. Nationwide, organizers spent the past decade working towards an initial goal of 1 million participants. They have achieved this goal but are now pushing to exceed it.

Copeland said a reported 1,500 Valdostans participated last year.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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