Big Read Events

An Evening with Maury Yeston and William Whitener

Maury Yeston
Maury Yeston performed at the
Central Library in January 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

Two-time Tony Award-winning composer Maury Yeston performed at the piano and discussed his latest work, Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts, commissioned by Kansas City Ballet. Serving as the inspiration for this Big Read, the ballet is based on the classic Mark Twain novel and made its world premiere in October 2011 as part of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ grand opening.

Yeston composed the Broadway productions of Titanic and Nine, which both earned Tony Awards for Best Musical. He also wrote the score for Phantom and contributed to the score for the Broadway stage version of Grand Hotel. Well-versed in a variety of styles, he has written cello concertos for Yo Yo Ma, a choral symphony for the National Symphony Orchestra, and songs for Gloria Estefan and Barbara Streisand.

Yeston holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and is author of The Stratification of Musical Rhythm, a seminal music theory text.

KC Ballet Artistic Director William Whitener, who has choreographed the production, joined Yeston onstage.

Presented in partnership with Kansas City Ballet.


Where the Twain Meet: The Enduring Cross-Generational Appeal of Tom Sawyer

Robert Hirst
Robert Hirst spoke at the Central
Library in November 2010

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Plaza Branch

Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in such a fashion that his first novel simultaneously addressed two divergent audiences: the young and the formerly young. At times, his story ridicules boyhood fantasies (such as finding buried treasure and rescuing a damsel in distress) and later grants these same ridiculous hopes and dreams. In creating a text that speaks to two age groups, Twain appears as the literary forerunner of Pixar Animation Studios.

Twain scholar Robert Hirst detailed how the author maximized the appeal of his book for both young readers and adults – including changes he made to the text in order to preserve the necessary "proprieties," which can be rather mysterious to readers 135 years later.

Hirst is the general editor and official curator of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California – Berkeley, where he is currently developing the second volume of the bestselling Autobiography of Mark Twain.

Presented in partnership with Park University.


Meet the Past: Mark Twain

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

The Library’s popular series Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper III launched its second full season with a conversation with Mark Twain, as portrayed by veteran Chautauqua performer George Frein.

Born Samuel Clemens (in the “almost invisible village” of Florida, Missouri), Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) worked on steam boats and in newspapers before publishing his first novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His many other books – including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi – and acclaimed wit established him as one of the great American writers, while some accounts (like that of Ernest Hemingway) cite him as the source of American literature.

George Frein is professor emeritus of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Dakota as well as founder and artistic director of Greenville Chautauqua in Greenville, South Carolina.

This event was filmed by KCPT for later broadcast. Major funding for this season of Meet the Past was provided by the Courtney S. Turner Charitable Trust (Daniel C. Weary and Bank of America, trustees) and Ken and Cindy McClain.


Hal Holbrook Tonight

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

Renowned stage and screen actor Hal Holbrook visited the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 for a public conversation about his beautifully moving new memoir, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain.

Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain recounts Holbrook's troubled boyhood - and how he found a refuge onstage, eventually starring in the one-man Broadway show "Mark Twain Tonight." The role earned him a Tony Award in 1966 and opened the door to television and film stardom, including Emmy Awards for his roles as President Abraham Lincoln (in Lincoln) and Senator Hays Stowe (in The Bold Ones: The Senator) and an Oscar nomination for Into the Wild (2007).

This public conversation with Holbrook was hosted by Library Director Crosby Kemper III.

This was the finale event for The Big Read celebration of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - coordinated by the Kansas City Public Library and Kansas City Ballet.


Other Big Read Events

The Glorious Whitewashers: A Community Fence-Painting Event
Friday, September 9, 2011 at 4:30 p.m.
Community Garden, 51st and Main

Families got a chance to whitewash a Community Garden fence. Before the whitewashing, the Coterie Theatre presented a dramatic reading from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


Thomas Hart Benton on Tom Sawyer: Re-envisioning Twain in the 20th Century
Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 2 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Art historian and exhibit curator Joan Stack discussed how Thomas Hart Benton responded to the challenge of illustrating this classic Twain novel.


Read It / Watch It Discussion Group: Tom Sawyer (1973)
Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 2:00pm
Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

Big Read discussion facilitator Kaite Stover led a lively conversation comparing the written word to its dramatic interpretation after this screening of Tom Sawyer (1973).

Susan Harris: Mark Twain and the Philippines
Tuesday, October 4, 2011 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Susan Harris, the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature at the University of Kansas, examined the rarely seen political side of Twain, who was actively interested in world events – and deeply patriotic.



Mark Twain and Tom Benton: Pictures, Prose, and Song
September 3 – October 30, 2011
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

The Kansas City Public Library united Missouri’s most renowned author and its most prominent artist with this exhibit.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. For more information about The Big Read in Kansas City, visit