Checking Out 

The Richmond Public Library's new director and a plan for reviving the library.

Harriet Henderson thinks books.

Well, to be fair, the newly appointed Richmond City Library director is always thinking books. As a result, starting in April, the Richmond Writers Series, in existence since the late '90s, is becoming a part of First Fridays. It will feature Virginia authors leading readings, poetry slams and discussions at the Franklin Street Library.

Nancy Wright Beasley, Howard Owen and Oprah book club starlet Sheri Reynolds are just a few of the Virginia authors that will do readings. Reynolds, who received her masters of fine arts in fiction at Virginia Commonwealth University and teaches writing and literature at Old Dominion University, found nationwide attention for her novel "The Rapture of Canaan."

Reynolds says she's excited to be a part of this series because the Franklin Street Library was one of her greatest Richmond haunts. "I love libraries in a general way," she says. "Whatever job I have has to be near a library. I don't need to know everything, but I want access to it."

On Friday, May 5, Reynolds will read from her newest novel, "The Firefly Cloak," a story of three generations of Southern women, who as different as they are, are each a component of Reynolds herself.

"There are pieces of my personality that puzzle me, that I want to explore," she says. "These characters show lives that I could have had if somewhere along the line I had made a different choice." Also that day, Reynolds will be speak at the annual Friends of the Library meeting, which is also open to the public.

The move for the Richmond Writers Series represents one component of a five-year strategic plan to revamp the city's public libraries and bring them closer to the community. This outline for 2005-2010 provides a blueprint for improving pre-existing services, implementing new ones and creating adequate staffing and funding at the main library and its eight branches. Henderson, who has been at her new job for less than a year, has taken off with a running start.

"This strategic plan is very focused on the community," says Henderson, former director of Montgomery Public Libraries in Maryland. "We want to say yes, the library has a place in the city's cultural realm. Our mission is to be part of both education and recreation in the community."

One of its focuses is on improving programs for children and youth, as well as supplementing adult literacy. To call attention to the importance of reading for children of all ages, the library has formed "Reading Rules in Richmond" in conjunction with the Read Center and the Virginia Literacy Foundation. This project will kick off April 24 at the main library with events for children and programs for their caregivers at different libraries through June.

A major overhaul of the library Web site, however, is one of the first orders of business. "Our Web site is not a good representation of current thinking," Henderson says. "Yes, people read, but they really use electronics. The major piece we need to highlight is online information." In addition, she says, "we know that our buildings need to be brought into the 21st century. Our buildings really are small, and there is a lot that people want from them." S

The Richmond Writers Series will be held in the special collections room from 7-8 p.m. each First Friday from April to July, followed by a light reception. For more information, call 646-4256 or visit www.richmondpublic library.org.


April is Poetry Month

If you wonder why mixed metaphors and surreal similes are falling from the sky, it's because National Poetry Month has taken Richmond by storm once again. What better way to cultivate your literary garden than to fertilize it with poetry by Richmond's own published this year:

"Behind the Cane" ($15.95, Dragon Rider Press) by Sorcha Duncan, combines Duncan's original poetry with artwork and photography by select artists, making for a stimulating collaboration of image and word. Readers of "Behind the Cane" are not only supporting local poetry, though. Half the profits will be donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

"Ornithologies" ($14, Anhinga Press) by Joshua Poteat is not for the birds. This expansive and intimate award-winning poetry will be read by the poet himself at the Fountain Bookstore April 27 at 6:30 p.m.

If spoken word is more your style, audition to be one of five spots on the SlamRichmond Poetry team that will compete in Austin, Texas in August. Tryouts will be held at Comedy Sports Improv Theatre April 17 and May 1 at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/slamrichmond.

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