ART BEAT: 'Duluth Reads' returns featuring author Jack Riggs

The popularity of last year's "Duluth Reads" encouraged a return of the well-attended literary celebration for 2012. This year, "Duluth Reads" will include two separate happenings: a Book Talk on March 13 and a Meet the Author event on March 16.

The author in question is Jack Riggs, and the book featured is his award-winning novel "When the Finch Rises," which was published in 2003. Riggs is a writer in residence at Georgia Perimeter College, where he is also an associate professor of English. He has also published a second novel, "The Fireman's Wife." Both books are set in the South of the 1960s and '70s.

The "Duluth Reads" events will offer participants an opportunity to explore "When the Finch Rises" and also meet Riggs. On March 13, the Book Talk will take place at 7 p.m. at the Strickland House, hosted by the Duluth Historical Society with Riggs in attendance. The Strickland House is located at 2956 Buford Highway. Another opportunity to meet Riggs comes on March 16, again at 7 p.m., at the Duluth Festival Center in the Towne Green. There will be a book signing and a wine and cheese reception at this event.

"When the Finch Rises" is a compelling novel with two memorable characters who leave the reader not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Riggs' examination of the sometimes painful nature of ordinary life is set against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s. This book is on the list of "25 Books All Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for Books.

Other recognition follows Riggs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called "The Finch Also Rises" one of the top Southern Novels of 2003. The American Library Association recognized it as a "Top Ten First Novel." Riggs was also given the award of "Georgia Author of the Year in Fiction" for 2009.

The book has sometimes been compared to "A Separate Peace" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Riggs' novels and characters are closely tied to their geography. The protagonists of "The Finch Also Rises," Raybert and Palmer, live during the civil rights movement, a pivotal time in American history.

"Duluth Reads" co-chairperson Peggy Smith said, "I enjoyed the novel so much because of the realistic portrayal by Riggs of characters who have to deal with the harsh realities of growing up in an unstable environment in an uncertain time in America's history. The main characters were so endearing to me because Riggs creates so much pathos for them. I think anyone who has grown up in the South would appreciate this novel."

Co-chairperson Dianne Loring added, "I think bringing an author to Duluth is exciting because the readers have an opportunity to find out what the thoughts of the author were as he put his words to paper."

For more information about "Duluth Reads," visit the website at www.artsduluth.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.