Staff book recommendation: Ready for a Brand New Beat… by Mark Kurlansky

brian platt

Brian Platt

Recommended by Brian Platt, Director of Annual Giving

So tell us, what should we be reading?

Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America by Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky is a masterful storyteller, lighting up every corner of his chosen subject (see Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World for another example). With this book, Kurlansky vividly details the social, historical and artistic context for the creation of this iconic Motown song, then shows the myriad ways the song was perceived and received – as a party song, as an anthem for the civil rights movement, as a moneymaking hit, and even as a danger to society.

I found surprises in every chapter. I chose it more for the author than the topic, and got ReadyForABrandNewBeattaken on a journey through the music industry (how were session musicians paid in the 60s? How did Berry Gordy choose songs and songwriters? Whatever happened to Little Richard?), the 20th century black migration (how quickly did Detroit become a majority black city? Why Detroit as a destination? What did those who relocated from the South find when they got there?), racial tensions and beyond-tensions (what kicked off the urban “race riots” of the 60s? Were they really riots, or just covered that way in the media?), and the lives of those involved in the creation of the song itself (Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, The Funk Brothers).

With the current and ongoing conversations about race and social justice, this book about just one song resonates with me because it provides an eye-opening perspective about where we’ve been as a society, where we’re going, and how art can be a vital part of the journey – whether the artists intend it or not.

About the Book Festival:

The event is coming to the Walter Jones Library on Thursday, April 30 and Friday, May 1. Started more than thirty years ago as a fall event in lower school, the Book Festival is now an all-school event for both students and parents. This year, the Parents’ Association has worked with the English department and the school librarians to merge the long-standing tradition of the book fair with the Moses Brown Poetry Initiative. Throughout the spring, upper school students have worked with both middle and lower school students to read, explore, and write poetry as a discipline that asks us to observe, decode, analyze and, ultimately, to think differently about the world around us. These months of cross-divisional work will culminate in a reading by Mark Doty, the New York Times bestselling author of nine books of poetry, and winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. This reading will be held in Alumni Hall on May 1 at 7 pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP:

The book fair will be open in Walter Jones from 11:00am to 4:00pm on Thursday, April 30, and from 11:00am to 6:30pm on Friday, May 1. Books will be provided by Providence bookseller Books on the Square. There will be faculty-recommended titles for parents and students in all three divisions, as well as journals designed by Proceeds from the Book Festival will benefit the Walter Jones Library.

Full schedule:

April 30

Book Fair
Walter Jones Library, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day
School-wide, led by third grade

May 1

Book Fair
Walter Jones Library, 11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Visiting Author/Illustrator – Tad Hills
Nursery & Pre-Primary: Pre-Primary Classroom, 8:45 – 9:15 a.m.
Kindergarten & First: Kindergarten Classroom, 9:30 – 10:15 a.m.
Second: Second-grade Classroom, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Visiting Author/Illustrator – Lucinda Landon
Third: Laura Hunt’s Classroom, 8:45 – 9:45 a.m.
Fourth & Fifth: Carolyn Garth’s Classroom, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
Culmination of Cross Divisional Poetry Initiative
All-day, All Divisions
Book Festival/Poetry Cocktail Party
Walter Jones Library, 5 – 6:30 p.m.
A Path of Light and Poetry
Walter Jones Library to Alumni Hall, 6:30 – 7 p.m.
Visiting Poet – Mark Doty
Alumni Hall, 7 – 8 p.m.


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