Book clubs abound in Las Cruces
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
No matter your age or interest, the City of the Crosses has a book club for you.
The City of Las Cruces Museums are a great place to start for the interested and engaged reader. Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Railroad Museum and the Las Cruces Museum of Art offer regular monthly book clubs.
At 2:30 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month, the Las Cruces Museum of Art holds the Reading Art Book Club. Dedicated to exploring the connections between art and literature through reading and discussing art-centric books, the Reading Art Book Club selects, whenever possible, literary works that in some way relate to, echo or enhance the Museum of Art’s varied monthly exhibitions. For more information on the Reading Art Book Club — or about upcoming selections — contact Exhibitions Curator Joy Miller at 541-2221.
Each month at Branigan Cultural Center, just across the patio from the Museum of Art, the Cultural Connections book club joins to read and discuss works dealing with the myriad cultures and histories of the Southwest. The Cultural Connections book club meets from 2 to 4 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month. For more information, call 541-2219.
On the western edge of Downtown Las Cruces, the Las Cruces Railroad Museum, 351 N. Mesilla St., hosts Rail Readers Book Club from 11 a.m. to noon the third Wednesday of the month – giving you plenty of time to make the Cultural Connections book club at BCC. Each month, the Rail Readers read and discuss a different train-related novel each month. The club is free and open to the public, and new readers are always welcome. For more information, contact Joanne Beer at 647-4480.
For younger readers – especially those wanting to hear a story told, rather than read – Las Cruces has plenty to offer.
The city’s longest-standing reading group, the Storytellers of Las Cruces, hold a weekly storytime at 10:30 a.m. at both COAS books locations – the Downtown location at 317 N. Main St., and the newer University Park location at 1101 S. Solano Drive.
The Storytellers began nearly 80 years ago, founded in 1927 by Jennie George Curry “to pass along the enjoyment, cultural heritage and moral teachings of storytelling,” said current storyteller Douglas Jackson.
The Storytellers’ “service through storytelling” is carried out each week by one, sometimes two, of the storytellers at each COAS location, among them Pat Gill, Louise O’Donnell and Sharlene Wittern, veteran members who have been involved for many decades, dating back even to the Curry years.
Storytellers of Las Cruces began its weekly storytime program a decade ago at COAS, which Jackson calls the Downtown institution and its sister store “home – a regular meeting place where lovers of stories of all ages can find us. A book store is the ideal location for these meetings.”
The storytellers don’t just read stories, though – they tell them, elevating their tales to true performance art. The work of its members reaches much farther than just the weekly storytime, though — Storytellers Judith Ames, Gloria Hack, Florence Hamilton, Nancy Banks — each dedicate a few hours a week to sharing stores at local retirement facilities; Jean Gilbert teaches storytelling through the Boys and Girls Club; Terry Alvarez is a professional storyteller at venues and locations throughout the area. Loni Todoroki, Grits Wrangler and Sarah Addison have performed alongside Jackson at a number of events at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, and Jackson himself presents a story each month at the Howling Coyote open mic, held the first Friday of the month, along with teaching Children’s Literature classes at New Mexico State University.
In addition to the weekly storytime program and their individual storytelling ventures, the Storytellers of Las Cruces convene each February for a storytelling festival held in honor of founder Curry.
The Storytellers are culled from all over – many, according to Jackson, are current or former teachers and educators. Sonya Weiner taught in New York for many years. Dorris Hamilton, as an undergrad, integrated her university in 1950s Arkansas, soon to become principal. Addison works at Memorial Medical Center, and is active in the statewide storytellers group.
The storytellers incorporate their diverse backgrounds into the stories they tell. Jeff Porter, a fall and winter resident of the Mesilla Valley, captains ships in Michigan during the spring and summer months, bringing those experiences into the fold in the tales he tells. Jean Gilbert’s active involvement in local animal rights groups is reflected in the stories she tells. Alvarez, an avid dancer and dance teacher, weaves that passion into her stories. Todoroki’s fascination with Native American flutes brought her to incorporate the instrument’s use in hers. Grits Wrangler has memorized literally hundreds of poems and stories, adding them into his own storytelling schedule.
Selections vary each week, from storyteller to storyteller, and stories are “adapted to their audiences – particularly the ages of their audiences,” said Jackson. “Stories should be visual and engaging, and they should