A Publication of WTVP

The Big Read Peoria Reads 2009 aims to restore reading to the center of Peoria’s culture.

What would happen if everyone in the city of Peoria read the same book and talked about it? That is the question the Peoria Reads committee began asking in 2002 when they held the very first Peoria Reads program. The lead partners, Common Place and the Peoria Public Library, formed a committee that pulled volunteers and funding from all sectors of the community, and for the past seven years have selected books, planned programs and encouraged everyone to “read the book and get involved.”

The local program was modeled after the “One City One Book” program launched by the Library of Congress Center for the Book in 1998. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts launched a grant-funded program, “The Big Read,” and gave matching funds to the Peoria Reads Committee. With the extra funding came boxes of materials for the public and, for the first time, the committee could freely distribute readers’ guides, audio guides on CD, teaching materials and copies of the year’s book selection.

Some Peorians may not know that the city has its own mysterious falcon. The Peoria Falcon is an embossed copper sheet shaped as a peregrine falcon that a Native American warrior circa 1200-1500 AD would have worn on a headdress during ritual ceremonies. It was found along the Illinois River in East Peoria in about 1856 and currently resides at Lakeview Museum. On March 8th at 2pm, Kelvin Sampson of the Illinois State Museum will talk about this artifact in a free program open to the public.

The Peoria Reads book is chosen by a committee that is open to anyone in the community who would like to participate. Communities who apply for Big Read funding choose from a provided list of 23 books. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, is one of those books and is this year’s selection. Peoria is one of 208 communities to receive a grant to host The Big Read.

The Big Read Peoria Reads committee picked The Maltese Falcon because of the community’s focus on crime prevention. One of the project’s goals, besides increasing literacy, is to discuss social issues in our community, making this is an excellent choice. Great literature can bring communities together, and the discussions that will center around The Maltese Falcon will also allow citizens of this area to consider how crime impacts our community. It is also the first time the community has explored the mystery genre.

This year, The Big Read Peoria Reads offers an even richer selection of events that will help the community enjoy and understand The Maltese Falcon, which was written in 1929. On February 15th, a kickoff was held featuring an original drama, The Mystery of the Missing Manuscript, by local author and historian Norm Kelly. I converted his short story to a screenplay and Comcast Cable generously agreed to shoot and televise the program. The well-known local actor Harry Williams, with media personalities Vic Burnett, the Journal Star’s Steve Tarter, and Denise Molina of WCBU, donated their time and talents to perform as old-time live radio players. They were costumed circa 1943 by the Peoria Players Theatre and performed the script as a live radio play on a set resembling the radio studio of yesteryear, created with help from Cornstock Theater and Bob Meismer of Peoria Public Library. It was a true community effort, and the production may be shown again on Comcast Cable Channel 22 or at other local venues.

In addition to numerous book discussions being held around the area, this year’s event features a variety of programs and visits from two authors and Hammett’s granddaughter, Julie Rivett.

Many are familiar with the movie The Maltese Falcon, but most people don’t know there were two versions. Both were shown at the Apollo Theatre in February, with experts discussing the movies beforehand. On February 13th, the 1941 edition was moderated by Craig Shurtleff of Illinois Central College, and on February 21st, the 1931 edition was moderated by Norm Kelly.

Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise grew up in Peoria and now write and illustrate the “Regarding” series of children’s mysteries. Regarding the Fountain, for example, is a mystery about where a community’s water has gone. On February 24th, Kate Klise spoke at several schools and to the public about her books and about writing mysteries for children at Lakeview Branch Library.

Julie Rivett comes to town from March 9th through March 11th. One of Hammett’s four grandchildren, Rivett has helped edit several memoirs and curate exhibits dealing with Hammett’s work. She will talk about her grandfather, the author of The Maltese Falcon, on March 9th at the ICC Performing Arts Center at 9am, at Bradley University’s Neumiller Hall at 2pm, and at the Peoria Public Library’s Main Street Branch at 7pm. All of these events are free and open to the public. A more intimate opportunity to meet Julie Rivett will be at a luncheon at Lakeview Museum at noon on March 11th. Tickets are $15 and may be obtained by calling (309) 674-3315.

The Friends of Peoria Public Library will bring internationally-known, award-winning mystery author Sara Paretsky to town for a grand finale event on March 14th at 2pm at the Peoria Public Library Main Street Branch. With V.I. Warshawski, the first female detective to use her wits and her fists, Paretsky is said to have created the first female Sam Spade. Paretsky, like Hammett, spent time in jail during the McCarthy era, and is very concerned with civil rights. She includes references to Hammett in some of her works and her biography. To reserve a spot for this free event, call (309) 497-2186, as it is expected to be a capacity crowd.

Visit for complete local event information and for information about the national program. a&s

The Maltese Falcon is a detective novel written in 1929 by Dashiell Hammett and adapted several times for the big screen. According to Wikipedia, the book’s main character, Sam Spade, is “widely cited as the crystallizing figure in the development of the hard-boiled private detective genre.”