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Kiwanis Club and Oceanside Library’s gazebo readings go virtual

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The 14th season of Oceanside Library and Kiwanis Club’s annual gazebo readings will go on this year — first, virtually, and hopefully in-person by the end of the summer, said Tony Iovino, who leads and founded the program.

During a typical year, the weekly event draws more than 100 people to the Schoolhouse Green to listen to authors and poets read their pieces as light turns to dusk. However, the space is Oceanside School District property, and use of it depends on when New York decides to open schools to the public while preventing spread of coronavirus.

Iovino, the library’s assistant director for community services, said that while the “magic of the gazebo readings is the outdoor and social part of it,” he hopes residents view the event online when it starts up again July 13.

Selected poets or authors will initially read from their homes each Monday to a virtual audience. Then, Iovino hopes readers will at least be able to share their works from the gazebo and have it live streamed via social media.

By the end of August, he would like to have the community back on the green, socially distancing with their lawn chairs and blankets. There would be no food or beverages offered like in past years, however.

“The green is so big and the sound system is so good that people would be able to social distance easily,” Iovino said. “We would just require them to spread out a little more.”

The gazebo readings usually have sponsors from the community and collect donations to send Oceanside children to Kamp Kiwanis. Since the summer camp is canceled this year, the event will put funds toward other causes and accept individual donations of no more than $20. All sponsors from last year have been given free sponsorship.

When Iovino first launched the event 14 years ago, he did not expect it to grow as large as it has. While it mostly attracts Long Island writers to read, there have also been authors and poets who travel from across the country and even England to the Oceanside gazebo.

“Readers typically bring their A-game and keep material light,” Iovino said. “It's a very enjoyable, pleasant way to spend an evening.”

Usually there are 200 to 300 reading requests, and only 52 people are chosen to read throughout the summer. About four people read for around 12 minutes per evening.

The gazebo readings usually ran from June through August, but organizers held off this year and are starting in mid-July. There would also be a Fourth of July barbecue in early July, but that was canceled this year, as well. In light of these circumstances, Oceanside Library has been including other poetry and literature readings as part of its virtual programming since March.

For more information, visit oceansidelibrary.com or email ocl@oceansidelibrary.com.