by Shannon Rae Gentry
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

 Nan Graham, from left, Mary Bradley and Annie Gray Johnston hang The Big Read exhibit at WHQR’s McErny Gallery on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

This weekend marks the beginning of The Big Read Greater Wilmington, celebrating F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, “The Great Gatsby” and the Roaring Twenties era. 

The Big Read, a national program, attempts to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment. The Big Read Greater Wilmington has developed community-wide reading programs, which include book discussions, art exhibits, lectures, film screenings, theatrical performances, music and dance related to “The Great Gatsby.”

While the Cape Fear Literacy Council (CFLC) agreed to apply for and administer the grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest to fund The Big Read in Wilmington, it has partnered with WHQR, New Hanover County Public Library, University of North Carolina Wilmington, New Hanover County Public High Schools, Cape Fear Community College, Cameron Art Museum, YWCA, the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, Old Books on Front Street, Pomegranate Books, Two Sisters Bookery and Barnes and Noble.

Each organization has invested staff and volunteer time, along with a variety of in-kind contributions to make the upcoming activities possible. Linda Patton Lytvinenko, executive director of CFLC, played an intricate role in the collaboration and organization of upcoming events for The Big Read, and said it was surprisingly easy to bring all of these players together.

“I attribute this to the great community-spiritedness of our local organizations, their ‘can do’ attitude, and the shared goal of giving something meaningful back to the community,” she said. “I think that this is what makes our area nonprofits and educators absolutely phenomenal, day in and day out.”

Among the various activities offered now through March, Lytvinenko said that diverse activities surrounding the 1920s and “The Great Gatsby” offer something for families, children and adults of all ages.

Friday evening’s “Great Gatsby and All That Jazz” opening at WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery will kick-off The Big Read. Featuring music, art and fashion of the era, complimentary food and beverages, and special guests from the community, including curators of the exhibit, WHQR commentators Annie Gray Johnston and Nan Graham. 

As a teacher, Graham said she was often asked how she could make a story written and based on a different era relevant to readers of today.

“It’s a story of adultery, which is very much in our world today; it’s about celebrity, wealth, greed, materialism, fast living, excess, fashion and music,” she said. “All of these things speak to today, just a slightly different format.”

Along with Johnston, WHQR’s Mary Bradley and Michelle Crouch, Graham said the featured pieces have been handpicked to illustrate the 1920s, while depicting the Wrightsville Beach and Cape Fear Region areas as well. 

With an authentic raccoon coat and white dress not unlike the one worn by Mia Farrow in the 1974 film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” Graham said she is excited about the fashion displayed.

“I was very interested in the apparel,” she said. “I am taking my mama’s wild red and gold, with a fur hem dress she wore when she met my father, despite its 1926 decrepit age.”

Though Graham used “The Great Gatsby” for more than a decade while she taught literature at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, she said she was introduced to the culture early on by her mother, who was a 1920s flapper in Livingston, Ala., just hours away from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic wife, Zelda Fitzgerald’s home in Montgomery.

“Zelda Fitzgerald was just the ultimate flapper and every girl in Alabama looked to her for example,” Graham said. “So I kind of cut my teeth on Zelda Fitzgerald and all her antics and adventures.”

The Zelda Fitzgerald Exhibit is currently featured at the Cameron Art Museum and will welcome her granddaughter Eleanor Lanahan to discuss her famous grandparents.

“I grew up with mementos of their past stored in our attic: shoeboxes of letters, two feather fans, lead soldiers and portfolios full of art. Zelda’s paintings also brightened our house,” Lanahan said in a statement about her upcoming talk. “Whether she painted New York, Paris, landscapes, fairy tales, paper dolls, or ballet, Zelda’s art is a form of autobiography. … Also, I hope to explore some myths, inspire young lovers and excite artists of all sorts.”

For a complete list of upcoming Big Read Wilmington events, visit 


Want to go?

Great Gatsby and All That Jazz

Friday, Jan. 25 from 6-9 p.m.

WHQR - MC Erny Gallery

The Big Read: Dance Like Gatsby

Saturday, Jan. 26 from 6-8 p.m.

Northeast Regional Library

Eleanor Lanahan Lecture and Reception

Sunday, Feb. 3 at 3 p.m.

Cameron Art Museum

Cinematique screening of “The Great Gatsby” (1974)

Sunday, Feb. 3 at 7: 30 p.m.

Thalian Hall

Lumina Theater Film Screening and Discussion

Monday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.

UNCW Lumina Theater

Book Discussion

Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 4 p.m.

Northeast Regional Library

Zelda Fitzgerald Exhibit

Now through March 10

Cameron Art Museum

The Fitzgerald Letters

Sunday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.

Old Books on Front Street

Book Discussion

Monday, Feb. 11 at 11 a.m.

New Hanover County Library - Main Branch

Prologue with Ben Steelman and Nan Graham

Monday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.

MC Erny Gallery at WHQR

Book Discussion

Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.

Northeast Regional Library

Book Discussion — Feminist Perspective

Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 11 a.m.

UNCW Randall Library

Jazzy Strings: Children’s Program

Saturday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m.

New Hanover County Library - Main Branch

Forward Motion Dance Company Performance

Thursday - Friday, Feb. 21 - 22 at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb 23 at 3 p.m.

Cameron Art Museum

Book Discussion

Monday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m.

New Hanover County Library - Myrtle Grove Branch

Book Discussion —  Fitzgerald Biography

Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 11 a.m.

Thursday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m.

UNCW Randall Library

Grenoldo Frazier Performance

Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

Cameron Art Museum

Elliot Engel Lecture with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Tuesday, March 12 at 6 p.m.

UNCW Warwick Center

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