Keller Citizen

Opera singer's story of redemption is choice for this year's Keller Reads

The city's Keller Reads! One Book, One City! program is back for a seventh year with its usual goal of getting the entire community inspired by a single book. The book chosen this year is "Sing For Your Life," by biographer Daniel Bergner.
The city's Keller Reads! One Book, One City! program is back for a seventh year with its usual goal of getting the entire community inspired by a single book. The book chosen this year is "Sing For Your Life," by biographer Daniel Bergner.

The city's Keller Reads! One Book, One City! program is back for a seventh year with its usual goal of getting the entire community inspired by a single book. The book chosen this year is "Sing For Your Life," by biographer Daniel Bergner.

The book chronicles the unlikely journey of opera singer Ryan Speedo Green from solitary confinement to stardom and the family, teachers and complex realities of race in America that impacted him along the way. It's an expansion of a profile piece Bergner wrote for the New York Times Magazine.

"I was inspired by the Richardson Reads, One Book event last year, which featured Daniel Bergner and this wonderful story," said Keller Public Library Director Jana Prock. "We considered many authors this year and worked with our event committee to make a final selection, and this was the unanimous winner.

"We also saw a great opportunity to work with the education community by choosing 'Sing For Your Life,' as Ryan Speedo Green’s teachers play such an integral role in his biography."

One Book, One City programs started in the late 1990s, when Nancy Pearl at Seattle Public Library tried the idea of expanding a book club discussion to an entire city. Pearl is a frequent guest on National Public Radio.

"One Book, One City programs are a way to encourage not only lifelong literacy, but community discussion and engagement," Prock said. "Just like with a traditional book club, the goal is hearing different perspectives and connecting with others through a shared love of reading."

Previous featured authors in the Keller program include Steve Berry, Marcia Clark, Deborah Crombie, Richard Russo, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and S.C. Gwynne.

Bergner, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, was raised in Brooklyn and Seattle, and went to college at Brown. He is scheduled to be in Keller May 22 at the library, 640 Johnson Road, for a free discussion and book signing. Fans are also invited to attend an evening with the author at 6 p.m. at The Bowden, 1775 Keller Parkway.

We caught up with him by phone ahead of his visit. A few of the topics he touched on:

On his angle:
"Above all, I want to talk about Speedo's story. The story I'm trying to tell is about human possibility. Here's a kid who was locked up, put in a solitary cell, and he rose up to succeed in an art form that is incredibly demanding. Speedo's will and the teachers in his life are a powerful story. They were dealing with a kid who was totally out of control."


On Speedo's biggest inspiration:
"In the case of this one magical woman, Mrs. Bette Hughes (one of his teachers) had unwavering faith in this kid. She will move everyone to tears with her dedication. When he sang in his first major role at the Met (in New York), Mrs. Hughes was there in the fall of 2016."


On his book and him being the focus of Keller Reads:
"It's an amazing honor. It's a chance to be read more widely, to have a series of conversations on the issues it raises, and it's a chance to get to know people."


Prepaid tickets to the dinner, remarks and evening book signing are available at www.kellerfriends.org. Tickets for the evening event are $35 per person.

The One Book, One City program is sponsored by a local invitation-only grant foundation and hosted by the Friends of the Keller Library, a nonprofit that supports library materials and programming throughout the year. The event is a fundraiser for the library.

"I look forward to this event every year and am delighted that the committee selected this compelling book of redemption and perseverance. Everyone I’ve spoken to has found it to be a powerful read,” said library board member Karen Hibbs.

Prock said the biography is inspirational to all ages. "It may especially connect with some of our younger readers, as his story demonstrates that the struggles of your childhood don’t need to define the rest of your life," she said. "He went from solitary confinement to center stage. It is never too late to turn things around.

"Intrinsic to this story are issues of race and class, family problems, school environments, the juvenile detention system. I believe this book, more than any other we’ve read as part of this program, will also give us the chance to acknowledge, explore and respect the diversity in our community."

  Comments