SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Writer David Samuel Levinson is a big fan of big reads, during which communities come together to read and discuss a single book.
So when he was brainstorming about possible collaborations during the COVID-19 crisis between Gemini Ink and Writing Workshops Dallas, literary organizations the San Antonio native works closely with, he suggested a statewide big read with virtual discussions. They immediately started figuring out how to make it happen.
“We realize, at this time, people need literary communities,” Alexandra van de Kamp, executive director of Gemini Ink, told the San Antonio Express-News. “We came up with the idea of the Big Texas Read.”
They wanted to select a book by a Texas writer. It wasn’t Levinson’s intent to kick off the series with one of his own novels: “ I pitched them some other books, but they said, ‘Let’s use yours. It’s kind of perfect,’” he said from Little Rock, Arkansas, where he is writer-in-residence at the state university there. “It’s not about a virus, but it is about a dystopia.”
The book is his 2017 satiric novel “Tell Me How This Ends Well.” The Big Texas Read officially kicks off April 15. Readers can sign up to participate for free at geminiink.org or writingworkshops.com.
“Tell Me How This Ends Well” is set in the United States in 2022.
“There is kind of a despot as president, and things are quite terrible in the United States because Israel has been disbanded and there’s an influx of Israelis who move into the country, and it creates a problem, just as migrants from any country moving into a predominantly homogeneous culture such as America would have issues with,” the Churchill High School grad said. “America undergoes a rise in anti-Semitism the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
“It’s a serious take on the current moment,” said Blake Kimzey, founder and executive director of Writing Workshops Dallas. “It also has levity and humor and satire.”
The climate in the country is the backdrop for a story about a Jewish family gathering for one last Passover with the matriarch, who is dying of a terminal lung disease. The children, believing that their father is doing things to speed up her death, come up with a dramatic plan to protect her by taking him out of the picture.
“It’s kind of a crazy plot,” Levinson said.
Though the setting for the story has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, he started working on the book - the follow-up to his debut novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence,” and the short story collection “Most of Us Are Here Against Our Will” - in 2015.
“I have always been curious about hatred and why certain people hate other people, and why, especially, the world kind of focuses that hatred on the Jews,” he said. “I’ve run into it, being a Jew. I don’t get it. So I wanted to explore it in this book and take it to its logical conclusion, in a time when hatred is sort of unbound.”
The book runs about 400 pages, depending on the format. Rather than having a single virtual get-together in a month or so to discuss the entire book, the Big Texas Read will include Zoom chats every two weeks covering about a quarter of the book at a time. The first one will be April 29.
Levinson will take part in those sessions, which will be moderated by either van de Kamp or Kimzey.
“We’re going to keep you literary company while you’re reading this book,” van de Kamp said.
In addition to the discussions, there will be raffles for free writing workshops from both groups, as well as a consultation with Levinson on the first 50 pages of a manuscript. There also will be some contests and other activities along the way.
“I think people will have fun with it,” Kimzey said. “That’s what we want is just something where we can allow people to have fun with literature.”
That’s Levinson’s hope, too.
“It’s nice to draw people away from their devices,” he said. “I’m so oversaturated with the doom and gloom. My novel is basically a black comedy, so I hope people find the humor and the humanity and the love that these siblings have for their mom.”
The organizations are partnering with independent booksellers in each city - The Twig in San Antonio and Interabang Books in Dallas - for the series, to encourage readers to support them during this difficult time.
“They play a crucial role of supporting local authors, so, of course, we want to support them,” van de Kamp said.
The plan is to keep the series going throughout the crisis, with the possibility that organizations in other cities will join, too. And if it has legs, it will continue beyond that. Van de Kamp and Kimzey have a long list of Texas authors to draw from for future reads.
“A lot of times, people think literary culture is based in New York, but I love the literary tradition in Texas,” Kimzey said. “We love our authors here, and so we wanted to do something that would feature Texas authors or authors that have a connection to Texas.”
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