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Posts Tagged ‘National Endowment for the Arts’


By Teri Blair



The Big Read, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Have you heard of The Big Read?


I found out about it completely by accident. I was perusing the CDs at my library, and saw one entitled The Big Read: An Introduction to My Antonia by Willa Cather. I took it home, and was enraptured by the 25-minute program. Ted Kooser talked about the significance of Cather to Nebraska, Garrison Keillor read excerpts from her book, and Colin Powell talked about the immigrant experience. What was this? The Big Read?


The Big Read began in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts, and is the largest reading program in American history. Their mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture. Communities all over the country can apply for grants to explore one of the 31 Big Read titles. In addition to reading the book, related events are planned to last approximately one month.







When I plugged my zip code into The Big Read’s website, I was happy to find there was an event within an hour of where I live. On a Saturday in February my friends and I jumped in my Subaru and headed east to the small river town of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. As Thornton Wilder was from the Badger State, this community had chosen Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey. We walked into a packed house at the Scenic Riverway Park building. The local organizers of the program spoke, a representative from the National Endowment talked about what is happening with The Big Read across the country, and we heard from Wisconsin author David Rhodes. He read excerpts from his book Driftless, talked about Thornton Wilder’s writing, and led a group discussion about what Wilder accomplished in his work. At the end of the program, we were all given two new books, a CD audio guide (just like the one I had found at the library), bookmarks, and a reader’s guide.


We were invited to join book discussion groups, and to come back for follow-up events. Wisconsin Public Radio will be performing a reader’s theater, and the local community playhouse will present Our Town.


I love to read, but like most readers, I get worried about the future of books and people to enjoy them. A faster and faster world makes a luxurious afternoon with a good book harder to claim. I am happy to support a program that is doing something tangible…something to bring reading back to the people.


To find out more about The Big Read (and to plug in your own zip code) go to:

http://www.neabigread.org.


Thornton Wilder, David Rhodes, From The Big Read Series, all photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.




About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine. Her first guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb early this year and wrote a follow-up piece published on red Ravine in March, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time.

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In a cultural moment when we are hearing nothing but bad news, we have reassuring evidence that the dumbing down of our culture is not inevitable.

~Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts


Good news from the National Endowment for the Arts. According to a report it released today, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” fiction reading increased for adults for the first time after a quarter-century of decline.

A New York Times article about the report stated that for the first time since 1982, which is when the US Census Bureau started collecting data on public participation in the arts,

…the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

Wooo-hooo! People are reading again.

Fiction accounts for the new growth in adult readers (unfortunately, reading of poetry and drama specifically has continued to decline) and online book reading has gone up (something I personally can’t get into). Also up is reading among younger adults (ages 18-24) and Hispanics. ¡Viva!

Mr. Gioia attributed the increase in part to programs the NEA has underwritten, such as the “Big Read,” which is a library partnership to encourage communities to champion particular books, like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

He also attributed the increase to things like Oprah Winfrey’s book club and the phenomenon of young adult fiction like Harry Potter or the Twilight Series. (I read the first five Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters and then got hooked and had to finish up the last two on my own.)

Not to put too much of the credit on our shoulders, but I think blogs that encourage reading (see our post “Book Talk – Do You Let Yourself Read” as one of many examples, and “The World According To Mr. Schminda (et al.)” for a list of about 100 must-read classics) have also played a small but vital role. Just peruse some of the links on our blogroll and you’ll see several fellow bloggers reviewing classic works of fiction or otherwise touting books and reading. And these are just a handful of the thousands of literary-minded blogs that have cropped up over the past couple of years.

I know I’m doing my part in countering the dumbing down of America. Right now, I’m reading the first Stephenie Meyers book in the Twilight series outloud to my youngest (one could argue it’s not exactly high literature nor age-appropriate for a nine-year-old, but hey, it took us more than three months to finish The Hobbit last year, and already in four nights we’re one-fourth of the way through Twilight).

Then on my own, I’m reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. (And yes, it is hard to switch between a 17-year-old in Forks, Oregon Washington who’s falling in love with a vampire versus a pair of Jewish escapists/cartoonists in 1930s Prague and Brooklyn.)

What about you? What book or books are you reading in this new year, and have you consumed more fiction of late than in the past? If so, what has compelled you read more?

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