Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read

Thanks to all who helped make the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read a success!

The Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read, a first-of-its-kind in the Commonwealth, engaged thousands of participants (we estimate around 6,000 overall) in a wide range of events that brought Thoreau’s writings and relevance to people throughout Massachusetts in 2017. The Walden Woods Project, University of Massachusetts Lowell Honors College, Massachusetts Center for the Book, and Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area came together to offer the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read in celebration of the 200th birthday of the great American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau.

More than 150 Massachusetts cities/towns confirmed their participation in the Statewide Read (45% of all municipalities), having offered at least 200 distinct events (several towns held more than one). Hosting organizations included libraries, land trusts, book stores, non-profits, historical societies, high schools, congregations/faith communities, universities, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, a private company, and a Conservation Commission. These partners made the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read possible by providing programs that were timely and relevant to their specific community.

To see pictures from and find more information about some of the specific events that took place across the Commonwealth, go here!

Our partners amazed and delighted us with their ingenuity, dedication and passion, hosting a variety of programs, including:

  • open mic nights where patrons shared their favorite Thoreau quotations;
  • birthday parties in Thoreau’s honor;
  • book club discussions;
  • a walking challenge that ended with the creation of art projects;
  • nature walks and interpretive hikes;
  • Thoreau-themed reading and craft programs for kids of all ages;
  • virtual reality presentations by high school students that were shared with the entire school community;
  • a public, all-day reading of Walden on a college campus;
  • a Simplify! Simplify! challenge to declutter, donate, and recycle items;
  • a bean-themed pot-luck dinner and planting of beans in the library garden after reading "The Bean-Field";
  • lectures by Thoreau scholars, college and university professors, and authors about Thoreau’s writings and his notions of social justice, environmental ethics and deliberate living; and
  • presentations on and discussions about “Civil Disobedience,” as well as remarks from people whose experiences today embody the ideas from this essay.

In addition to the hosting sites, many others contributed to the program’s success. The Thoreau

Bicentennial Statewide Read was funded in part by support from the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area. The Walden Woods Project was able to provide up to 10 free books to host sites that requested them, thanks to generous donations from Eagle Hill School and Fulcrum Publishing. Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, Massachusetts, donated 140 copies of a Signet Classics edition of Walden and “Civil Disobedience” and Fulcrum Publishing donated 500 copies of Thoreau on Freedom. The Walden Woods Project also supported our partners by finding speakers, offering program ideas, and helping advertise the many events held for the Statewide Read.

We are ecstatic that so many people took the bicentennial as an opportunity to engage with Thoreau’s ideas and words and to come together as a community to consider the current relevance of Thoreau’s legacy. We look forward to continuing the conversation with audiences across the Commonwealth.

Here are some of the extensive resources that were created for the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read that might still be useful to a school or organization that is planning an event around Thoreau's work:

The Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read is funded in part by support from the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area.

Working Committee for the Thoreau Bicentennial Statewide Read:

  • Maud Ayson, Freedom's Way Heritage National Area
  • Sharon Bernard, Fitchburg Public Library
  • Lindsay Blount, UMass Lowell
  • Kale Connerty, UMass Lowell
  • Jeffrey S. Cramer, Walden Woods Project
  • Susan Licher, Walden Woods Project
  • Whitney Retallic, Walden Woods Project
  • Sharon Shaloo, Massachusetts Center for the Book

For more information about the Read, please contact Whitney Retallic, the Director of Education at the Walden Woods Project or call 781-259-4721.

Sponsoring Organizations:

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