Literary activist and publisher discusses upcoming One Book, One Bronx book club series

One Book One Bronx book club meeting_1
One Book One Bronx book club meeting
Courtesy of Literary Freedom Project

Lifelong Bronxite Ron Kavanaugh fell in love with reading and literacy at a young age and has dedicated his life to books.

As executive director of the nonprofit arts organization Literary Freedom Project, Kavanaugh, 58, has devoted more than 20 years to connecting contemporary writers of the African Diaspora with the Bronx community. His quest to bridge the literary arts gap began in 1998 with “Mosaic,” a literary magazine he founded and ran for 18 years, which tackled the lack of diversity and platforms for covering Black writers.

Today, Kavanaugh continues to build community and conversations through the Literary Freedom Project’s Mosaic Literary Conference, an annual convening of artists and writers for literature-focused panel discussions and events, lesson plans and workshops for secondary school educators and One Book One Bronx, a weekly book club series that fosters a supportive environment for readers and has hosted more than 600 individuals.

It began in 2018 and in addition to talking about books, One Book One Bronx engages young people through lesson plans about Black identity and Black culture. Since its inception, the group has garnered quite a following and usually has between 20 and 60 people at each discussion.

“Our goal has always been to connect the community,” he said. “What I always try to convey to people is that this is a free and open space.”

With the next season of One Book One Bronx approaching on Sept. 16, Kavanaugh spoke with the Bronx Times about the series and literacy in the borough.

“Many people don’t have a place to discuss issues and books,” he explained. “I’m trying to give readers a place they can come together.”

While each month they meet to discuss a book, more often than not, the attendees, who are mostly women, chat about relationships, violence and communities.

Due to COVID-19, the group has been holding virtual sessions, which include readers from the Bronx and also individuals throughout the city and in other states.

Since the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the conversations have shifted to race and the protests. In fact, after the murder of Taylor, the group read “All About Love: New Visions” by bell hooks.

“For a lot of people the book club has been an outlet for people to discuss the issues affecting their lives,” Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh recalled how growing up in Morrisania, he was always drawn to books. He used to frequent the local library and spent many hours there.

According to Kavanaugh, while many people have smartphones or computers, thousands in the Bronx do not have Wi-Fi and there is only one bookstore in the borough. Therefore, even in the digital age, he stressed that reading actual books is still essential.

He hopes more bookstores open in the Bronx.

“Libraries play an important role in communities like the Bronx,” he said. “Reading is very important to who you are and who you become.”

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