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“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”

Famous New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast was an only child who had to help her elderly parents navigate the end of their lives. She did it, and after they died, took her professional talents and wrote a graphic memoir in 2014 filled with cartoons, handwritten commentary, family photographs, and her mother’s poetry and drawings. She derived the book’s title from her parents’ refusal to discuss their advancing years and infirmities. It received numerous awards and was a number 1 New York Times Bestseller.

Now, thanks to a recent “Big Read” grant award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Athens will enjoy a series of literary and artistic events this spring. UGA professor Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, who won the $15,000 grant, will launch a series of readings, lectures and events inspired by the book.

“Being on a college campus, the focus generally tends to be on younger citizens,” said Cahnmann-Taylor, who works in the College of Education’s department of language and literacy education. “I’ve noticed very few conversations about what it means to age well. If anything can unify us, it’s that we’re all aging every second of every day. Chast’s memoir gives Athens an opportunity to focus on populations of all ages, and to look at aging with humor and art.”

Cahnmann-Taylor says there will be various readings and book discussions and partnering organizations will sponsor a variety of events. These will examine aging through expressive dance classes, art lessons, lecture, special Mother’s Day tour at the Georgia Museum of Art (GMOA) and a studio workshop for caretakers and their parents at the museum, poetry readings and family gatherings.

“We want to trigger community interest in readings and book discussions,” she said. “But we will do so by also coupling the book with other art forms,” Cahnmann explains.

The “Big Read” events will take place April 15 – June 17, appropriately between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to follow the narrative of the book. Four book clubs from the Athens-Clarke County Library and two private book clubs will participate in reading the book. If your book club wants to get a copy of the book, there are limited copies at the ACC Library, GMOA, and the Athens Community Council on Aging.

To see the entire month-long schedule of events, go to In addition, upcoming virtual events include:

  • Seat in the (Pleasant) Shade: poetry reading featuring Athens’ Inaugural Poet Laureate on Tuesday, April 27, 6 p.m. Attend virtually via the College’s YouTube Channel.
  • “On Not Aging Gracefully: A Poet’s Journey” by Alicia Ostriker on Thursday, May 13, 7 p.m. Attend virtually via the College’s YouTube Channel.

Additional funding and support comes from Congregation Children of Israel, Athica Gallery, UGA’s Willson Center, Torrance Festival of Ideas, Athens-Clarke County Library, Nimbl Dance Studio, the Athens Community Council on Aging, and the UGA College of Education.

Since 2006, more than $21 million in grants have been awarded to more than 1,500 Big Read programs in every district in the country. The 13-year history of the NEA Big Read program boasts a staggering $50 million in local funding to make these programs a reality, with over 5.7 million Americans in attendance, over 91,000 volunteers, and more than 40,000 community partner organizations.

View the full slate of events!


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