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First Lady McCray and Gracie Mansion Conservancy Announce Season Two of "Gracie Book Club"

October 4, 2017

Kicks off with Ann Petry’s “The Street” to be discussed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

New Yorkers can sign-up to join the Gracie Book Club at 

NEW YORK — First Lady Chirlane McCray and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy will kick off the second season of the Gracie Book Club with a discussion of Ann Petry’s “The Street” on Monday, October 16 at 6 PM at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Last year, in its first year, the Gracie Book Club attracted 1,300 active members, welcomed close to 900 participants to in-person book discussions and over 9,000 viewers to the live-streams.   

Selected by First Lady McCray, the four books chosen for season two of the book club focus on themes mirrored in the “New York 1942” exhibit unveiled in March in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Gracie Mansion serving as New York City’s Mayoral residence. The exhibit and accompanying book club selections offer a glimpse into the texture of life in the city during a time of dynamic change and examine issues of migration, labor and creative innovationagainst the backdrop of the Second World War. New Yorkers of all ages are encouraged to sign up for the Gracie Book Club at

"For the second season of the Gracie Mansion Book Club, we are excited to dive into one of the many fascinating periods of NYC’s history – the 1940s. Our newest selection of books offers a taste of our city’s jambalaya – highlighting the spicy mix of people, a multitude of journeys and rich traditions," said First Lady Chirlane McCray.

First Lady McCray and Dr. Anthony Marx, President of the New York Public Library, will welcome guests and introduce distinguished panelists, Dr. Farah Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University and novelist Dr. LaShonda Barnett, author of the 2016 Lambda Literary Award finalist “Jam on the Vine”. Schomburg Center Director Kevin Young will moderate. Published in 1946, The Street traces the life of the unforgettable protagonist Lutie Johnson, a young black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of Harlem in the late 1940s.

“With this new season of the Gracie Book club we are excited to explore the themes that began with the “New York 1942” exhibit, capturing the spirit, challenges and triumphs of 1940’s New York City,” said Gabrielle Fialkoff, Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, which oversees the Conservancy. “The voices in this season’s book selection explore the origins of the modern city we live in today, and the diverse actors who shaped it.”

“The New York 1942 exhibit gives us an opportunity to take a closer look at what it has meant to be a New Yorker at a critical point in history,” said Cultural Affairs Commission and Chair of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy Tom Finkelpearl. “The Gracie Book Club is a wonderful opportunity to come together and discuss works of literature that bring our shared history alive. I’m excited to read the First Lady’s selections for the second season of the book club, and invite all New Yorkers to join us,” said Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Chair of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy

“The Gracie Book Club provides a forum for New York readers eager to share their discoveries and perspectives with others. Thanks to this common literary bond, the solitary act of reading yields a community of informed citizens united by civic engagement. The titles selected by the First Lady in the second season fit this bill ideally. The selected texts include classic fiction and new historical perspectives, which together enliven and highlight the advent of modernism in a 1940s New York emerging from the Depression and leading the global war against Fascism,” said Paul Gunther, Executive Director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy

"For over 100 years, The New York Public Library has welcomed all those who want to learn, share ideas, think, and discuss the issues of the day, making it the perfect partner for First Lady Chirlane McCray's Gracie Mansion Book Club. We are proud to join the First Lady on this important initiative for a second season, and encourage all New Yorkers to participate,” said Anthony Marx, New York Public Library President

“Although she remains under appreciated, Ann Petty is one of our nation's most important writers.  Her prescient observations about urban life, about race and gender, about the promises and failures our our democratic project are as significant today as they were when she first wrote them decades ago.  That she did so in such powerful and eloquent prose is testimony to her ability to successfully marry her social vision and her artistry,” said Dr. Farah Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies at Columbia University.

“Discussions of urban realism in African American literature pivot on Richard Wright, Chester Himes and Ralph Ellison, often eclipsing the significant oeuvre of Ann Petry, whose inclusion of the role womanhood plays as an analytic category, in this school of literature, is unsurpassed.  In Lutie Johnson, Petry's heroine from THE STREET, black womanhood teeters on the fulcrum of modernism, negotiating identity in old and new worlds of (im)possibility. As mother, as domestic, as singer, as Harlemite, Lutie's journey is at once an expedition of the always precarious nature of black gender in the context of urban life,” said Dr. LaShonda Katrice Barnett, author of “Jam on the Vine: A Novel” and “I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters On Their Craft”.

The 2017-18 Gracie Book Club Season Features:

“The Street”, by Ann Petry

Ann Petry’s magnificent best-selling novel The Street centers on the life of single black mother Lutie Johnson and her young son, Bub in 1944 Harlem. This great American character struggles to balance a career, parenthood, and the often-stifling circumstances and people who thwart her efforts to escape poverty and injustice. The Street was Petry’s first novel and has sold over one million copies, but remains little-known to modern readers.

“City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York”,by Mason. B. Williams

Historian Mason B. Williams’s City of Ambition is brilliant account of the collaboration between President Roosevelt and Mayor La Guardia during the New Deal and build-up to World War II. Williams demonstrates how such forces shaped not only the post-war City as global capital of modernism but also the New York of today in terms of shared core values, expectations, and aspirations.

“Invisible Man”, by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece of American fiction was published in 1952 and set in 1945, when the author served in the wartime Merchant Marines. With Harlem as its backdrop, Ellison described the intent of his pioneering, improvisational style as, “revealing the human universals of one who was both black and American.” The novel’s unnamed narrator emerges “less angry than ironic,” and takes his place as one of the essential fiction characters in American literature.

“Helluva Town: The Story of New York During World War II”, by Richard Goldstein

Scholar Richard Goldstein’s engaging 2010 historical account of the extraordinary economic, social, and cultural shifts across New York’s five boroughs in the 1940’s. World War II serves as the backdrop of broad upheaval and overdue redress of inequality and exclusion in many interconnected professions and ways of life.

Founded in 2015 by First Lady McCray and Gracie Conservancy Advisory Board Member and National Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith in 2015, the Gracie Book Club is part of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy’s new programming under the de Blasio administration. The Book Club highlights New York City stories while making Gracie Mansion more accessible to more New Yorkers.

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