NEA Arts Magazine

The NEA and Literature

Nurturing the Love of Language

This edition of NEA Arts focuses on the National Endowment for the Arts's continuing support and nurturing of American literature. Since its creation in 1965, the Arts Endowment has played an important role in the development of American creative writing. The NEA began a formal program to support writers in 1967 with grants to such noted authors as Hayden Carruth, Robert Duncan, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Richard Yates, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. From that time to today, the NEA has been committed to aiding the individual writer.

To celebrate this invaluable investment in American creativity, the NEA produced a publication on the program: NEA Literature Fellowships: 40 Years of Supporting American Writers, which includes the names of all the writers and translators who have received grants to advance their art.

The Arts Endowment also funds nonprofit literary institutions for activities such as publishing by small presses and literary journals, reading series, book festivals, author residencies and workshops, book distribution projects, and more. Today, more than 100 literary organizations receive approximately $1.5 million from the NEA annually to support American literature.

The NEA supports American literature not only with grants to writers and literary organizations, but also through National Initiatives aimed at developing a new generation of readers. Poetry Out Loud encourages the nation's youth to learn about poetry through memorization and performance. The Big Read was developed to revitalize the role of reading in American public culture, which, according to the 2004 landmark NEA research report Reading at Risk, has been in decline over the past 20 years. Both of these initiatives are featured in this edition of NEA Arts.

Literature provides a cultural text of a country's life and history. Just as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provided an extraordinary glimpse into post-slavery 19th-century America that few history books could achieve, today's emerging writers provide a compelling view of the diverse American culture in the 21st century to future readers. It is necessary, however, that there actually be future readers. To that end, the NEA is dedicated to stemming the decline in literary reading and encouraging citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.