Wilmette, Community

Wilmette library to welcome Arshay Cooper — a member of the first all-Black high school rowing team — for first virtual author event

The Wilmette Public Library is preparing for something it has never done before. 

With its virtual programs now operating at full capacity, the library recently announced it will welcome noted writer Arshay Cooper for its inaugural virtual author event. 

Cooper will discuss his memoir, “A Most Beautiful Thing: The True Story of America’s First All-Black High School Rowing Team,” via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21. The event is open to the public and free, but registration is required. 

Sarah Beth Brown, head of community services for the library, said the initial response from the community has been great so far, adding more than 200 guests have already signed up as of Friday, Oct. 2. 

“We have space for more, so we’re looking to accommodate as many people as are interested,” she said. “We’ve already received just a really nice response. We’re really excited and it sounds like the Wilmette community is as well.” 

There is no limit on how many guests can partake in the virtual event and those interested in attending can register here. Audience members will also be invited to submit questions to Cooper during the program. 

The library has conducted author events for years, Brown said, all of which have been “really popular and successful.” So, library officials weren’t going to let a global pandemic stop them from providing the community with programming opportunities. 

“Now that we have our virtual programs up and running — and they’re going great, we’ve had really good attendance and people seem to really enjoy them — we thought there’s no reason to let this stop us from bringing a really great author talk to the Wilmette community,” Brown said. “We were going to figure out a way to do it and make it possible for people to still hear from authors despite these unusual times.” 

In addition to the author event with Cooper, the library will also be holding two virtual book discussions. Wilmette librarians will lead the discussions, which will both take place prior to the event with Cooper, via Zoom. The discussions will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13 and 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 15. Registration is available online or by calling the library.  

“We love providing an outlet and a forum for our community to talk about something that we’re experiencing together,” Brown said. “So when we invite an author to come speak with us, it’s really nice to say, ‘you can speak with the author, but we also want to give you an opportunity to speak with each other and to speak with our librarians about what you took away from the book.’”

“And especially right now because the format in the meet the author is a little different. … While it is live, it doesn’t have that same give and take that you have in person, so we really wanted to give people a chance to talk about it and discuss it with each other and get that back-and-forth conversation with each other.”

Cooper’s book details his life growing up on Chicago’s west side in the 1990s, according to a release from the library recapping his text. During his teenage years, Cooper attended Manley High School, where less than 50 percent of the senior class graduated and only 10 percent matriculated to college, the release says. 

Arshay Cooper’s memoir tells of his experience as a member of the first all-Black high school rowing team in the country. | Photo submitted

The book details how Cooper’s life changed when a Chicago-based coach began recruiting Manley students for a new rowing team. Cooper and several of his classmates, some from rival gangs, joined the team, all rewriting their futures and changing the sport by becoming the first all-Black high school crew team in the country.  

“I didn’t think we could get along with people who didn’t look like us, but rowing changed that for me,” Cooper writes in his book. “Crew changed our mindset, lifestyle, work ethic. … The experience was never just about rowing, it was about bridging the water.”

A feature-length documentary on Cooper’s memoir is now playing on the streaming service Peacock and will be available on Amazon Prime later this fall. 

Brown said the moment the library shut down in mid-March, library officials started to think over ways to provide program opportunities for all ages. She added the first thing the library did was figure out a plan to stay in touch with its patrons. 

The library is working on more author events and lectures for the future, including the return of its “One Book, Everybody Reads” series. 

“We’re looking forward to bringing another author to the Wilmette community this spring and supporting it with programs just like we have in previous years,” Brown said.

For more information about the author event visit wilmettelibrary.info or call the library at (847) 256-5025. 

martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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