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World Without Genocide to launch book clubs

In January 2010, the Twin Cities-based nonprofit World Without Genocide will launch book clubs throughout Minnesota aimed at deepening understanding of genocide past and present and encouraging intercultural dialogue on human rights.

World Without Genocide, which began in 2007 as the Minnesota chapter of the Genocide Intervention Network, is now an independent nonprofit working for anti-genocide education and advocacy.

“These will be book clubs with a social conscience, a mission,” says Dr. Ellen Kennedy, executive director of World Without Genocide.

Kennedy, who is also interim director of the U of M’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, hopes the community initiative will raise awareness of Minnesota’s refugee populations and increase outreach.

Minnesota has the highest proportion of refugees (compared to total legal immigrants) of any state in the U.S., many of whom have fled genocides in Burma, Rwanda, Sudan, and Cambodia.

The state has the largest Somali population, second-largest Hmong population, and one of the largest Liberian populations in the nation. Hennepin County is the major resettlement destination for newly arriving sub-Saharan African refugees, receiving more refugees than many states.

The Reading for a World Without Genocide (RWWOG) program is intended to provide a safe, welcoming environment for sharing stories related to genocide and discussing positive change.

“The clubs will be reading a variety of genres dealing with genocides both past and ongoing,” says Kennedy. Prospective titles encompass historical nonfiction, memoir, journalism, and drama.

Reading material will switch focus to a new conflict or genocide every four months. The opening four-month block will be devoted to the Jewish Holocaust.

“Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” will be the first book selection. “Most of us read this book as kids,” explains Kennedy, “but we’ll be approaching it as adults, with fresh eyes.”

The diary of Anne Frank will be followed by Francine Prose’s “Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife,” which explores the enduring impact of Frank’s story and chronicles its many transmutations. In addition to analyzing all three versions of Frank’s diary, Prose examines the controversies surrounding the film and Broadway play.

The book selection for March will be “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing” by social psychologist James Waller.

Using testimonies from perpetrators of the Holocaust and the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, Dr. Waller develops a four-pronged theory to explain how so many everyday citizens became involved in the deliberate extermination of more than 170 million people during the twentieth century.

Robert Skloot’s one-act play, “If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide,” will conclude the first four-month block in April.

The drama depicts an imaginary meeting between Anne Frank, Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term “genocide” in 1944), and Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire (who gave 3,211 speeches on the Senate floor urging ratification of the UN Convention on Genocide).

The book selections for May through August will highlight the Rwandan genocide and the crisis in Darfur will be the topic from September through December.

After each four-month reading block, RWWOG plans to host an event to bring to life the themes and issues discussed in the book clubs. Whenever possible, events will feature talks by one or more authors or a survivor of the particular tragedy.

A statewide conference is already scheduled for May 1st, featuring Dr. Waller and a production of “If the Whole Body Dies.”

“We have close to 100 people signed up already, which is pretty exciting,” said Dr. Kennedy.

RWWOG book clubs will meet once a month. The number of clubs and meeting locations will be determined in December based on initial registrations.

In addition to its face-to-face clubs,  RWWOG plans to have at least one online book group.

To sign up for a RWWOG book club, send an e-mail (subject: “Reading”) to world.invite@gmail.com. Be sure to include your city and zip code.

Participants must be 16 or older.

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