WNIJ launches ‘Community Read’ project

Book cover of “Snakewoman of Little Egypt”Through a recent NPR News story, listeners to WNIJ (89.5 FM) got a taste of the world of snake handling in Appalachia’s Pentecostal churches.

WNIJ’s new “Community Read Project” delves deeper into this culture through an upcoming radio feature and interactive discussion online.

In the NPR story, Preacher Coots says, “We sing, we preach, we testify, take up offerings, pray for the sick, everything like everybody else does. … Just, every once in a while, snakes are handled.”

Knox College professor and novelist Robert Hellenga paints a similar scene in his most recent book, set in southern Illinois.

“Snakewoman of Little Egypt” puts religious snake handling at the center of a story about love, death and the search for freedom. Hellenga’s book also happens to be one of five works selected for local radio features this December as part of WNIJ’s “Winter Book Series.”

Morning Edition® host and book series editor Dan Klefstad was so taken with “Snakewoman of Little Egypt,” he decided to involve listeners and other local readers in a broader conversation about it through social media. Interested participants are urged to Tweet questions and comments using the hash tag #readwithWNIJ, post them to WNIJ’s Facebook page or email them to ReadWithWNIJ@gmail.com.

“As you read,” Klefstad says, “use #readwithWNIJ to engage in conversation with WNIJ staff and fellow readers.”

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, WNIJ will host a virtual book discussion with author Hellenga, drawing from questions and comments collected through WNIJ’s email and social media platforms.

WNIJ is this area’s NPR News station, a broadcast service of Northern Illinois University.

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