Whatcom READS invites you to read the book, join the conversation at free online events

Whatcom READS, Bellingham and Whatcom County’s annual countywide book club, kicks off 2021 with a thought-provoking slate of programs inspired by this year’s featured title, Washington Black by award winning author Esi Edugyan. The online events are free and open to the public; pre-registration is required. See whatcomreads.org for more information.

“Inspired by the book, events and discussions will examine the themes of race and belonging and illustration and the natural world,” says Ann McAllen, adult programming coordinator for Whatcom County Library System and chair of the Whatcom READS committee. “We hope to get neighbors talking to each other about the book’s themes and sharing their love of reading as we anticipate author Esi Edugyan’s virtual presentations on March 4 and 5.”

The book selection was announced in March 2020. “Much has changed in our world since then,” McAllen says. “We believe the empathy, imagination and complicated truths of Washington Black make it an ideal shared read for this time that will spur meaningful community conversations.”

Like other local arts groups, the Whatcom READS committee has responded to COVID-19 health guidelines by transforming its programming to succeed in an online setting. “We’ve learned a thing or two about hosting virtual events this year, so we are building in ways to create the rich experiences our community has come to expect from our annual gatherings,” McAllen says. This includes creating resources for book groups such as a Speaker’s Bureau of librarians who can facilitate book discussions and community members who can share social justice efforts underway in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Whatcom READS Events

Learn more about Whatcom READS programs and register at whatcomreads.org/events.


Like Edugyan’s other richly imagined and impeccably researched stories, Washington Black illuminates complicated truths about race. Honor the voices and stories of Black writers and examine the enduring impact of systemic racism at these special events.

Poetry Reading with Robert Lashley

Local poet Robert Lashley has connections to the deep South and is a survivor of the Hilltop gang wars of the early ‘90s. His poetry makes sense of the multitude of voices that have surrounded him over the years.

Thursday, Jan. 14, 7-8 p.m.

Angel in the Outhouse: Stories of the Civil Rights Movement by Kathya Alexander
Through stories based on her own experience growing up in the segregated south, award winning Seattle storyteller Kathya Alexander makes this time in history come alive. Made possible through a Lift Every Voice Grant.*

Saturday, Jan. 23, 7-8 p.m.

Let’s Talk About Race with author and professor Clyde Ford

With warmth and openness, author and professor Clyde Ford leads a discussion on race in America with emphasis on audience participation. Meant for people of all races, participants will gain tools to engage in honest, transparent and meaningful conversations about race. A Humanities Washington program.

Monday, Jan. 25, 6-7 p.m.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song Poetry Reading

Dr. Bill Lyne, coordinator of African American Studies at Western Washington University, moderates a discussion on African American literature that invites us to rise up and honor these voices.  Made possible by a Lift Every Voice Grant.*

Friday, Feb. 5, 7-8 p.m.

Technology and Social Justice with Clyde Ford

Author, scholar, and activist Clyde Ford shows how the issues his father faced as the first black software engineer in America are present in high-tech today, and what concerned citizens must do to advocate for human and civil rights in the modern technological age.

Thursday, Feb. 11, 7-8 p.m.

I’ll Fly Away: A Sojourn Through Poetry and Spirituals

Award-winning poet, performer and distinguished scholar Gloria Burgess explores the rich heritage of spirituals and poetry from the African-American tradition in a spirited sojourn through words and music. Made possible by a Lift Every Voice grant.*

Thursday, Feb. 25, 6-7 p.m.

*Lift Every Voice is a year-long, nationwide celebration of the 250-year tradition of African American poetry. Learn more at africanamericanpoetry.org.


The title character, George Washington Black, is a talented illustrator who uses his skill to explore the natural world. His experiences include an inspiring encounter with an octopus.

The Smart Skin and Amazing Brains of the Octopus
The octopus has fascinated investigators since Aristotle (and sparks innovation for Washington Black). Join Dr. David Gire on an exploration of the neuroscience behind how octopuses think and behave.

Saturday, Feb. 13, 1-2 p.m.

What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Sleeping—What Birds are Doing, and Why

Renowned ornithologist David Allen Sibley will discuss his latest book with a focus on nature illustration. He is the author and illustrator of the series of successful guides to nature that bear his name, including The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Saturday, Feb. 20, 4-5 p.m.

Author events with Esi Edugyan

March 4-5

The award-winning author visits Whatcom County via live video events to discuss her creative process and her powerfully beautiful book.


Create art inspired by the book for display at Allied Arts during the month of March. Visit alliedarts.org/whatcom-reads-art-challenge for details.

  • Submissions due: March 2-3, 2021
  • Opening reception: Friday, March 5, 2021
  • Exhibition: March 5-27, 2021


Listen as local writers share their work inspired by the theme, “Reconciliation.”

Feb. 21 and Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.

Online from the Village Books virtual Readings Gallery


Join the conversation: Discuss Washington Black with a book group. Check whatcomreads.org for book group discussions and resources, including special events with Whatcom READS partner Evolve Chocolate + Café. Details will be added in the months ahead. Email whatcomreads@gmail.com for information.

About Whatcom READS: Now in its 13th year, Whatcom READS is presented by all the public and academic libraries in Bellingham and Whatcom County and community partner Village Books. Funding sponsors are Friends of the Bellingham Public Library, Whatcom County Library Foundation, Bellingham Technical College Foundation, and the Equity Fund of the Whatcom Community Foundation. Whatcom READS is generously supported by numerous community collaborators.  Check out Washington Black or download the eBook or audiobook at the library or purchase it from Village Books, which donates 10% of all sales to Whatcom READS. Learn more at whatcomreads.org.

About the 2021 Selection: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan “is an enthralling meditation on the weight of freedom, wrapped in a rousing adventure story stretching to the ends of the earth.” (Renée Graham, Boston Globe)

Canadian author Esi Edugyan writes richly imagined and impeccably researched stories that illuminate complicated truths about race and belonging. She is only the third writer to twice win the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. Washington Black, her third novel, was included in numerous best books of the year lists when it was published in 2018. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of the Giller Prize, in addition to being a beautifully written adventure story, Washington Black will amplify community discussions regarding racism and social justice.