One Book One Valley continues creating community conversation with ‘Underground Airlines’ |

One Book One Valley continues creating community conversation with ‘Underground Airlines’

Daily staff report
Ben Winters, author of the 2018 One Book One Valley selection "Underground Airlines," stopped by local schools during his time in Vail to help promote conversations about reading, writing and the messages in his book.
Photos Special to the Daily

What would happen if the Civil War never happened? Instead, what if the country decided on a compromise leaving four states in the modern U.S. with legal slavery? “Underground Airlines” is an undeniable page-turner and a necessary book for today’s readers.

Ben Winters, author of “Underground Airlines,” delighted the Vail Valley as the 2018 author for One Book One Valley. Winters’ national bestseller was chosen earlier this year as the title for the seventh One Book One Valley program.

His genre-bending alternate reality follows Victor, a bounty hunter of fugitives from the four slave states. As a former slave himself, every mission Victor fulfills complicates his own reality.

“I had reservations every day, up to the present day, because the subject is so fraught, and rightfully so,” Winters told The New York Times. “It isn’t as if this is ancient history in this country.”

“Underground Airlines” quickly rose to the top of the list in the early stages of choosing a book. Members in the local library community felt this work of fiction amplified our communities, communities across America and political systems with an approachable scenario.

“A challenge for the OBOV committee each year is always choosing the title,” said Lori A. Barnes, town librarian of the Vail Public Library. “A good book for discussion is not always a good book to read. Good books to discuss tend to be well written and raise universal themes with which readers can identify.”


Since the beginning of the year across the Vail Valley, colleges, high schools, book clubs and readers have picked up Winters’ book and participated in programming leading up to the finale. The book has been a topic of conversation overheard on the Vail in-town bus, at dinner tables in Avon and coffee spots in Edwards. This year’s involvement spread from the casual reader to leaders in our community.

Winters was “honored and excited” to be the chosen author, and he spent his trip to Vail in April giving presentations to various groups. One Book One Valley brought Winters to Eagle Valley High School, Battle Mountain High School and the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, concluding at Colorado Mountain College for his finale presentation of the program.

School presentations ranged from assembly rooms to intimate conversations with Winters. The students were able to have open conversations about the book, the characters as well as the story and writing process.

At the finale presentation at CMC, Winters delighted readers with a passionate presentation regarding our current perception of slavery, American history and being an active citizen in today’s political environment.

Without the support and excitement of the community, One Book One Valley would not be the program it is today.

“I am especially proud of the continued enthusiastic support we have enjoyed from our community including local politicians who really value what we are trying to achieve with the OBOV program,” Barnes said.

Kevin Foley, of the Vail Town Council, publicly recognized the 2018 chosen One Book One Valley title at a Town Council meeting earlier this year, saying “Underground Airlines” is a “thought-provoking book. It speaks a lot about relations in America right now and is a good read.”

Join the Circle

As large as the program has grown in seven years, there is always potential for additional engagement from local businesses that could grow with the 2019 chosen title.

“I’d like to see us look at our community through the lens of reading and consider how we can bring the joy of reading into local businesses, agencies and organizations,” Barnes said. “I want to see the entire community read the chosen title, but also I want the community to see the connection a particular title might have to them while they rediscover or continue a love of reading.”

Each year brings new readers into the One Book One Valley circle and Barnes knows that this interaction with the community will only grow in future years, especially with outstanding presentations given by each chosen author.

“I want to see OBOV continue to encourage a love for reading throughout the valley, bringing local residents together, reaching underserved populations, making readers out of non-readers,” Barnes said.

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