July 24, 2013

The NEA announces new grants for The Big Read


NEA Big Read programming involved a Poe-inspired cake contest at a library in Missouri.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts that is “designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.” This year, NEA Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced that 77 nonprofit organizations—libraries, arts centers, museums, historical societies, theater companies and universities—will receive grants to host a Big Read initiative between September 2013 and June 2014. The grants total $1 million dollars.

Among the books that will be discussed and read in communities across the country are Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. As the NEA Big Read blog has documented, programming around these titles can involve very creative contests. For example, Springfield-Greene County Library held a cake-decorating contest as part of their Edgar Allan Poe Big Read. The winning cake was “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Stacey’s Sweets. And Cromaine Library in Hartland, Michigan held a Poe-inspired Victorian dress competition using duct tape. The winners were Emmaline Verschure and Katherine Verschure-Morrisey, who made a dress for two year old Kensie.

We’re hoping that this year’s Edgar Allan Poe grantees choose to read the new edition in Melville House’s classic Art of the Novella series, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The book might inspire ship-making contests or races to the South Pole!

Other Big Read events involve lectures and discussions about the book’s author. For Fahrenheight 451, Sam Weller, author of Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews has given talks as part of programming at Oberlin College and in Texas high schools. On one occasion he described Bradbury’s cluttered study:

“I like to call it his laboratory of his imagination. I mean his basement office is just a wreck of ideas, toy rocket ships, rubber Godzillas, symbols that he would look at, metaphors he would tell you that ignite his imagination?he could look at them. Symbols from his past, nostalgic remnants. His father’s hat, his old Stetson hat, hangs above his desk. Masks he’d collected in Mexico while on a trip there in the 1940s, gifts he’d received from fans. Every letter he’s ever been sent from fans are kept down there and you can go through. And I found a letter I wrote to him as a child down there in a book.”

According the press release for this latest round of grants, recipients proposed activities like community clean-ups, bi-lingual discussions, and film screenings.



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.