Salem Reads 2020 gets underway Feb. 5 (Courtesy/Salem Public Library Foundation)

The Salem Public Library might be temporarily closing its doors, but book lovers will still have plenty to do in February as the city’s annual Salem Reads event gets underway.

Now in its fourth year, the Salem Reads program encourages residents to read a book and discuss it through a variety of community events over the next month, including movie screenings, guided conversations and an art exhibit.

The program is put on by the Salem Public Library Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization that supports library and literacy programs.

Activities centered around this year’s pick, “Piecing Me Together” by Renee Watson, kick off next week.

The young adult novel is about Jade, a talented artist and black student in Portland who’s seeking to find her place in the world while feeling like an outsider at the wealthy private high school she attends.

Kate Van Ummersen, executive director of the Salem Public Library Foundation, said the Salem Reads committee looks for books with broad appeal that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike and spark conversation.

She enjoyed how the book uses art to speak about finding identity.

“I really like the idea of how all the experiences of a person's life create a collage of who that person is. It was interesting to think about what makes up my personal collage,” Van Ummersen wrote in an email.

“Piecing me Together” was one of three finalist books picked by a selection committee. For the first time this year, citizens got to vote on their top pick, selected last May.

“The community loved being able to vote on the title and it also got the enthusiasm for the book started earlier,” Van Ummersen said.

In the months leading up to Salem Reads, the foundation buys hundreds of copies of the selected book. Many were given away for free to library cardholders at a December events. The rest go into circulation at the library and into local classrooms so high schoolers can discuss the material in class.

Watson, the author, will speak Thursday, Feb. 6 at Salem’s Historic Grand on 187 High St. N.E. starting at 7 p.m., with a book signing following her lecture.

Though Watson now lives in New York City, she grew up in the Portland area, Van Ummersen said. The local connection was among the reasons the Salem Reads committee considered “Piecing Me Together.”

“A lot of the places in the book are familiar for people here,” she said.

Local artists have created pieces inspired by the book, which will be on display at the Elsinore Fine Art Gallery, 444 Ferry St. S.E., from Feb. 5 to 26.

Oregon Humanities is organizing two free community conversations around themes in the book as part of its Conversation Project, which encourages Oregonians to discuss important issues across differences in belief and background.

The first focuses on the vulnerability of sharing oneself through art and will take place Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the Salem Art Association Annex in Bush Pasture Park from 7 to 9 p.m. The second, about how bias affects kids, will be at Bush Elementary School from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Other events include discussion groups over beer or coffee, open mic nights and lectures about black history in Oregon.

The downtown Salem library is closing Feb. 2 for seismic upgrades and will re-open in its temporary location at 1400 Broadway St. N.E. on Feb. 18.

Van Ummersen said that posed a challenge because Salem Reads events are typically held at the library, but early outreach led to many local businesses, theaters and other venues opening their doors.

 “The community really stepped up,” she said.

A full schedule of Salem Reads events is available on the library foundation website.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.