For six weeks beginning Sunday, Skokie becomes a cradle of civilization as its fourth annual Coming Together in Skokie festival focuses on Greek culture. Local libraries, schools, colleges, museums, churches and other locations will host cultural events such as movies, poetry and performances in celebration of all things Greek.
Coming Together in Skokie is an outgrowth of the Skokie Festival of Cultures, a village tradition for more than two decades. That two-day event is something of a crash course in diversity, an exhilarating goulash in which dozens of cultures are represented through dance, performance and food.
When Coming Together in Skokie was first conceived in 2009, it was proposed that literature be added.
"Spending a weekend eating food and watching dance is fun and it sets a certain tone, but we needed something that would help people really learn more about other cultures," said Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie Public Library, one of the event's sponsors and organizers. "Reading individually engages you personally, and, through discussion, allows people to engage each other. Coming Together in Skokie features books and authors representing a specific culture, but it's not just for them. This is done with them to engage other people as well."
Three age-appropriate books have been selected for this year's Coming Together in Skokie:
→"The Green Shore," recommended for adults and high school students, is a coming-of-age novel by Natalie Bakopoulos set against the backdrop of the 1967 military coup in Greece.
→In Audrey and Akila Couloumbis' "War Games," for middle-school readers, World War II hits close to home for 12-year-old Petros when the Germans invade Greece.
→"Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories" by Aliki Brandenberg, for primary grades, chronicles a young girl's assimilation to a new school that allows her to share with her classmates the story of her family's journey to their new country.
In previous years, Coming Together in Skokie has spotlighted Indian, Filipino and Assyrian cultures. "Whatever culture is being featured, those people feel affirmed, and (it) gets them involved as a group," Anthony said. "But they have also remained involved."
At the press conference announcing that Greece would be the subject of this year's festival, Assyrian leaders also attended, Anthony said. "That's what we hoped would happen, that each year we would bring each group along with us so everybody is learning more. It's not just a question of 'When is my culture going to be featured?'"
Bakopoulos agrees that reading should be a vital component of the festival. "I believe so much in reading and writing," she said in a phone interview. "Encouraging a community to read anything is fantastic, but to understand the world, you need to read about people who are like you and people who are not like you. That's how you build empathy."
Bakopoulos teaches writing at the University of Michigan. She and Audrey Couloumbis will make appearances at libraries and schools during the festival, reading from their books, answering questions and discussing the creative process. Bakopoulos said she especially looks forward to interacting with high school students.
"The sooner we get kids involved with literature and in love with literature, the more important it is," she said. "With high school students, we sometimes forget to talk about books in the way that inspires love for them ."
One of the festival's goals is to find common ground. At one event last year, Anthony said, young Iraqi refugees who are now students here shared their experiences, prompting an older woman who is a longtime resident to relate her experience being a displaced person from Vienna at the end of World War II.
"She was relating how similar it was to feel like you've lost everything, that you didn't have a country, and you didn't know what was going to happen to you," Anthony said. "That's the kind of thing we're trying to achieve; to foster connections between longtime residents and newer residents and establish points of commonality."
If you go
What does Come Together in Skokie have on the books? Here's a sampling. Events are free unless otherwise noted. For complete information, visit tinyurl.com/yequjma.
→Opening celebration: Jane Monzures, host of "Living Healthy Chicago" on WGN-TV emcees an evening of skits, music, dance and refreshments. 3 p.m. Sun., Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton St., Skokie
→"The Birds": A performance of the play by Aristophanes. $10; 4 and 7 p.m. Feb. 12; 7 p.m. Feb. 13, Niles North High School, Drama Performance Center, 9800 N. Lawler St., Skokie; 847-626-2122
→A discussion of "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey": David Bender, director of library services at Sanford-Brown College, leads a discussion of Homer's epic poems. 7 p.m. Feb. 20, Sanford-Brown College, 4930 Oakton St., Skokie
→Discussion/dinner with Audrey Couloumbis: The author will read selections from "War Games" and answer questions. Advance registration is mandatory. 6:30 p.m., Feb. 21, Niles Township Schools ELL Parent Center, 9440 Kenton Ave., Skokie; 847-568-7617. Advance book readings and reviews will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Feb. 21 at the parent center.
→Plato and Aristotle on the good life: Oakton Community College faculty members Peter Hudis and Mark Samberg will appear in character for this really old-school philosophical discussion. 12:30 p.m. Feb. 13, Oakton Community College, Des Plaines Campus, Room 1606, 1600 E. Golf Road; 7 p.m. March 1, Oakton Community College, Skokie Campus, Room P103, 7701 N. Lincoln Ave.
→Meet Natalie Bakopoulos: An evening with the author of "The Green Shore," and performances by the Dionysos Dance Troupe. 7 p.m. March 5, Skokie Public Library Petty Auditorium. Bakopoulos will also discuss her book and the writing process at 10:30 a.m. March 6 at the Niles West High School Auditorium.