The literary, historical and environmental heritage of America's rivers will be examined and celebrated in "Rivers of America," a new Library of Congress educational project that will continue through the year 2000, when the Library marks its bicentenary.
Aimed primarily at the general public, teachers and students, the project's purpose is to stimulate public interest in reading, literacy, history and the environment. It is being organized by the Center for the Book; other Library of Congress participants include LC's American Folklife Center and, in the future, the Geography and Map Division and the National Digital Library Program. Historical and environmental organizations outside the Library of Congress also are being asked to assist.
"The project was inspired by the 'Rivers of America' series that we celebrated at the Library of Congress on April 9 and 10," said Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole. "This remarkable book series, which included 65 volumes about individual rivers published between 1937 and 1974, combined good writing, regional and local history, and a concern for place and community. The new project also will incorporate environmental issues. We will encourage the reprinting and updating of previously published volumes and the publication of new 'Rivers' books -- particularly, a new series for young people. Many of our 32 affiliated state centers for the book will become involved through partnerships at the regional and state levels."
Mr. Cole also noted that with the help of former Poet Laureate Robert Hass and the International Rivers Network, the new project "hopes to inspire young people to become directly involved with the land, landscape and environment in which they live." The first step in this direction, he said, is the Center for the Book's co-sponsorship of the `River of Words' national environmental poetry and art contest for young people in grades in K-12." (see story this issue).
The new 'Rivers of America' project was announced on April 9 at a dinner during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the original Rivers of America book series (see story this issue). The 80 guests included more than a dozen authors, illustrators and editors of the original book series, along with many of their family members, as well as several descendants of the authors and illustrators. Speakers during the dinner program included John Cole; "Rivers of America" books collector Carol Fitzgerald and Muriel Caplan of Henry Holt & Co., which supported the event through a contribution to the Center for the Book. The evening concluded with performances of "music from the 'Rivers of America'" by fiddle player Alan Jabbour, director of the American Folklife Center, and vocalist Joe Hickerson, folklife specialist in the AFC. The American Folklife Center is interviewing the authors, illustrators and editors, and adding the resulting audio and video tapes and photographs to its collections.
A highlight on April 9-10 was an exhibition of Rivers of America books and related research materials from Ms. Fitzgerald's private collection. Two exhibit cases featured first editions, often signed, of books written or illustrated by symposium participants: The Allagash, The American, The Chagres, The Cuyahoga, The French Broad, The Kentucky, The Merrimack, The Minnesota, The St. Croix and The Yukon. These volumes were supplemented by first editions of other books of special interest to the guests, including The Brandywine, The Everglades, The Genesee, The Kennebec, The Potomac and Rivers of the Eastern Shore.