2020 Community Read

For 2020, Centre County Reads/CALS Community Read is partnering with Creative Writing at Penn State to celebrate Alice McDermott, author of Charming Billy. Our programming this year will explore questions related to care, immigration, and Irish-American culture, and will include a roundtable discussion and a writing contest before we welcome McDermott herself to campus on April 16. Details for these and other events will be posted below as they are determined. Be sure to check out the Centre County Reads website for additional info. All events are free and open to the public.


We chat with three members of the Centre County Reads committee — Schlow Library's Head of Adult Services Maria Burchill, retired teacher Ellen Coffman, and Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for American Literary Studies Sean Goudie — to find out about the selection process and preview next year's Centre County Reads events. Episode 69: Centre County Reads 2020 with Charming Billy.


Kickoff of the "Careful Writing" Writing Contest | All entries due March 27, 2020

This contest is part of the 2020 Centre County Reads/CALS Community Read of National Book Award Winner Alice McDermott’s novel Charming Billy, in which various characters try to figure out the best ways to show care for the titular Billy as he battles with his ultimately fatal alcoholism.

Tracing the experiences of an extended Irish-American family across the twentieth century, the novel invites us to consider to whom we show care and how we show that care. As Billy navigates relationships with friends, family, and lovers, we as readers might also consider how to show care in ways that sustain ourselves and the objects of our care. Inspired by this ongoing negotiation of human connection, enter your best example of writing—7,500 words or less—in which someone or something receives care in one of the following categories: Best Short Fiction, Best Nonfiction, Best Poetry, and Best Entry for a Writer under 18.

Winners will receive a $200 grand prize. Please send entries to cals@psu.edu and include a cover letter with your name, address, contact information, a brief biography, and contest category. Winning entries will be displayed at Schlow Centre Region Library and on the CALS website.

Congratulations to all of our winners! Read the prize-winning writing contest entries here.


Centre County Reads Concert featuring Callanish |Saturday, February 8, 2-3pm | The Green Drake Gallery and Arts Center, 101 W. Main St., Millheim

Join us for an educational Irish concert with central Pennsylvania Celtic band Callanish!  Band members include Patty Lambert, Betsy Gamble, Holly Foy, and vocalist Louisa Smith. The band’s repertoire includes lively jigs and reels, haunting airs, and rollicking songs from Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere in the British Isles.   

Waves Across the Ocean: The Background of Several Irish Migrations to Central Pennsylvania | Saturday, February 15, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM | Holt Memorial Library, Philipsburg

What would it take for our ancestors to pick up their lives and sail to an unfamiliar land to begin a new life? Join us at Holt Memorial Library as local historian and genealogist Justin Houser describes waves of immigration of Irish and Scots people to the United States, and into Central Pennsylvania.


**CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC** "American Dreams: Romance & Reality" |

In Alice McDermott’s National Book Award-winning novel Charming Billy (1998), second-generation Irish American cousins living in Queens, NY inherit the dreams—and the American dream—of their immigrant parents. At a wake held in the 1990s for the title character Billy Lynch, a tight-knit community of mourners meditate on the romantic underpinnings of, and the darker lived realities often belying, hopes and dreams passed on from one generation to the next. In this roundtable discussion, three invited panelists will use McDermott’s novel as a touchstone for a broader discussion about how, why, and to what end immigrant dreams are passed on, taken up, and transposed across generations in American literature and history.

Featured Panelists:

Mary Paniccia Carden is Professor of English and Chairperson of the Department of English and Philosophy at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in American literature. She is the author of Women Writers of the Beat Era: Autobiography and Intertextuality (U of Virginia P, 2018) and Sons and Daughters of Self-Made Men: Improvising Gender, Place, Nation in American Literature (Bucknell UP, 2010). She is co-editor of Doubled Plots: Romance and History (UP of Mississippi, 2003). Her research has focused on literary responses to American narratives of freedom, progress, and self-determination in texts by authors such as Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Sandra Cisernos, John Edgar Wideman, and Alice McDermott. She was recently recognized as Edinboro University's 2019 Scholar of the Year.

Jennifer Van Hook is Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography at the Pennsylvania State University, and non-resident fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. Her research focuses on the socioeconomic integration of immigrants and their children. One strand of her work uses demographic methods to estimate the size, characteristics, and dynamics of the unauthorized foreign-born population. Another strand of her work focuses on how health, education, and well-being change across generations for immigrants and their families.

Andrew Sandoval-Strausz is Associate Professor of History at the Pennsylvania State University and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar and a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians. His current research analyzes people's homes, neighborhoods, places of work and play, and use of public space in order to see how human beings reveal themselves most through their built environment. His most recent book Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City came out in November of 2019.

Following the panelists’ opening statements there will be ample time for questions and answer with the audience. Light refreshments will be served.

Re-Viewing History: Centering The Stories of Immigrants | Tuesday, March 3, 6:30 - 7:30 PM | Schlow Centre Region Library, Community Room

Are we really a Nation of Immigrants? What does that phrase mean to each of us? Using personal and historical examples, writer, educator and speaker, Dr. Nalini Krishnankutty will discuss how our views of the past and the present can profoundly shift when we focus our lens on immigrant experiences and contributions.


**CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19 PANDEMIC** An Evening with Alice McDermott |

Join us for the culminating event. National Book Award-winning novelist Alice McDermott will visit the Centre Region to discuss and read from her works.

Book Signing to Follow

Free and open to the public; no registration necessary.