South Dakota Humanities Council Unveils 2020 Common Read Selections

'Unfollow' and 'Bink and Gollie' Series Unveiled During Dec. 3 Giving Day Celebration

The 2020 One Book South Dakota is a tale of reinvention, of a person who changed her mind and her ways and left her family — her infamous and outspoken family, known nationwide for raucous protests at funerals of U.S. soldiers — for a quiet life in rural South Dakota.      

"Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church" by Megan Phelps-Roper was announced Tuesday as the 2020 One Book South Dakota during a celebration at the Brookings office of the South Dakota Humanities Council, a statewide non-profit whose mission is to bring humanities programs to South Dakotans. Phelps-Roper met readers and signed books after the unveiling, which also included a reveal of the humanities council's 2020 Young Readers selection: a bind-in of three books from the "Bink and Gollie" series by 2020 Young Readers One Book author Alison McGhee (co-written with Kate DiCamillo).

Since 2003, SDHC's One Book program has encouraged people across South Dakota to read and discuss the same book through the year, while the Young Readers One Book program began in 2014 to encourage youth reading and combat summer reading loss. Readers around the state, including those participating in SDHC-funded book club programs, will read and discuss Phelps-Roper's book leading up to the Oct. 2-4, 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books. South Dakota second-graders will receive copies of McGhee's book this spring and meet the author as third-graders during Young Readers events at the 2020 Festival.

2020 One Book South Dakota author Megan Phelps-Roper signs copies of her book,

2020 One Book South Dakota author Megan Phelps-Roper signs copies of her book, "Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church" after it was revealed as the 2020 One Book South Dakota Dec. 3.

Phelps-Roper Excited to Share the 'Power of Civil Dialogue'

The granddaughter of infamous religious zealot and Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, Phelps-Roper grew up protesting funerals with messages like "God Hates Fags" before leaving the Westboro Baptist Church — and by extension, most of her family — behind in 2012 and eventually moving to Clark, where she lives with her husband Chad and daughter Sølvi. "Unfollow" chronicles her life in Kansas from childhood through adulthood, her departure from the church during her mid-20s, and the unlikely series of events that led her to South Dakota.

Phelps-Roper said after the unveiling that she's eager to share her story with fellow residents of the state she now calls home.

"It was actually six years ago yesterday that I made South Dakota my home and I'm so, so excited to share with the beautiful people of this state how the power of civil dialogue changed my life for the better," she said to the audience members who attended the celebration. "So, thank you again so much for this opportunity and I cannot wait to get started."

2020 One Book South Dakota author Megan Phelps-Roper speaks at the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books. Her book

2020 One Book South Dakota author Megan Phelps-Roper speaks at the 2019 South Dakota Festival of Books. Her book "Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church" was named the 2020 One Book on Dec. 3.

'Unfollow' Featured by National News Outlets

Having been featured on "Good Morning America" and excerpted in People Magazine, "Unfollow" is on the national radar. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which said, "Phelps-Roper's intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ... She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self."

Now an educator on topics related to overcoming ideological extremism and improving communication across religious and political divides, Phelps-Roper has spent much of her life in the national spotlight, from appearing on national news programs like "The Tyra Banks Show" during her protest days to performing a Ted Talk with more than eight million views after leaving the church.

"We're pleased to feature such an inspiring story of national significance, and we're especially excited that it's told by one of our state's own residents," said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Festival of Books, which hosted Phelps-Roper as a presenter in October as the book debuted. "This book will lead to valuable conversations about civil discourse and the miraculous ability of humans to change their minds and habits. Exploring what it means to be human is the cornerstone of our mission."

'Bink and Gollie' Author McGhee Popular Among Adults and Young Readers

Young Readers One Book author Alison McGhee is another past Festival presenter who's found incredible popularity as a writer for all ages in differing formats.

Bink and Gollie, the two characters she created with DiCamillo — a Newbery medalist and past Festival presenter— are "precocious little girls—one tiny, one tall, and both utterly irrepressible," according to the summary of the early chapter book, which won the Theodor Geisel Award in 2011.

"Setting out from their super-deluxe tree house and powered by plenty of peanut butter (for Bink) and pancakes (for Gollie), they share three comical adventures involving painfully bright socks, an impromptu trek to the Andes, and a most unlikely marvelous companion. No matter where their roller skates take them, at the end of the day they will always be the very best of friends."

2020 Young Readers One Book author Alison McGhee leads a workshop at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

2020 Young Readers One Book author Alison McGhee (second from left) leads a workshop at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

McGhee 'Thrilled' to be Chosen

Widman said McGhee brings a broad perspective due to the variety in her work. "As a versatile writer and a generous mentor for aspiring authors, Alison has been a popular Festival of Books presenter. We're excited to have her back as our 2020 Young Readers One Book South Dakota author."

McGhee's Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel "Shadow Baby" was a "Today Show" Book Club pick, and her picture book for adults, "Someday," was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Her honors include four Minnesota Book Awards, the Geisel medal, a MacDowell residency and several American Library Association awards. A professor of creative writing at Metropolitan State University, McGhee has three grown children and lives a semi-nomadic life in Minneapolis, Vermont and California.

"I was thrilled to hear that the Bink and Gollie books are the Young Readers selection for 2020! My marvelous collaborators Tony Fucile and Kate DiCamillo and I had so much fun making the books together, and I can't wait to laugh over Bink and Gollie's antics with kids in South Dakota next year," McGhee said. "From all three of us, thanks for choosing us!"

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