Angela Hanshaw | January 27, 2011
With the 2011 Big Read application deadline just days away, I thought it would be a good time to review what a few libraries did for last year’s Big Read. For the one or two of you who may be unfamiliar, here’s what the Big Read website has to say about the program:
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment. … Each community event lasts approximately one month and includes a kick-off event to launch the program locally, ideally attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (panel discussions, author reading, and the like); events using the book as a point of departure (film screenings, theatrical readings, and so forth); and book discussions in diverse locations and aimed at a wide range of audiences.
The Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library chose Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping as their 2010 book. The events opened with Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda introducing as well as offering his tips on reading and appreciating the book. A highlight was a conversation with the author with Angela Elam of New Letters on the Air, which was recorded for future broadcast. The library also offered a regular serial reading on KKFI that brought Housekeeping into the home, workplace, or car; an extensive network of book discussions; and a special webcast discussion hosted by morning news anchor Donna Pitman to engage readers online.
Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories was chosen by the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. A unique aspect of their Big Read was a service-learning opportunity for in students rhetoric and composition classes; they read the book and were trained as discussion leaders for sessions throughout the region. In addition, university theater students in performing arts wrote and helped direct a performance based on one of the stories in the book as another service learning project. In addition, Michael Aakhus, an artist and professor of art who focuses his work on Mexican and Central American cultures, organized an art exhibit of Mexican art; the Hispanic Folk Dance and Sabor Latino groups performed several times; a mariachi band entertained at the concluding event; and children’s activities, including arts, crafts, and readings, were offered to encourage families to attend at many sites, and parents were introduced to the book and provided a reader’s guide and schedule of additional Big Read events.
Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God was selected by Wichita (Kans.) Public Library. The Big Read was launched with a dramatized reading from the book, with Southern blues music to set the mood. “Mondays with Zora” was a four-part series the gave readers the opportunity to view, read, learn, and discuss the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston. It included a viewing and discussion of Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun and discussions of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s short stories, and Jonah’s Gourd Vine. Other events included “The Difficulties of Dialect,” which discussed why Hurston used dialect in the book; a screening of the film adaptation of the book starring Halle Berry; and lectures on the Harlem Renaissance.
To see other Big Read happenings, visit the Big Read’s events page.
Angela Hanshaw is Program Officer/Web Editor for the ALA Public Programs Office.