Sometimes Bigger is Better

The Big Read Expands in 2008


Eileen Mason leads a training session

NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Eileen Mason (second from right) leads a training session on the Big Read for visiting Russian representatives. Photo by Chloey Accardi

The Big Read's getting even bigger! With nearly 200 communities hosting Big Read programs in 2007, the NEA and its Big Read partners plan to double that number in 2008. The Big Read library is also expanding to 21 titles with the addition of nine novels that reach back into the 19th century and forward into the 21st.

Four new titles will be available in spring 2008: A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick, and for a cross-cultural Big Read, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. Five additional titles will be added in fall 2008: Washington Square by Henry James, The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and Old School by Tobias Wolff.

The Big Read goes international with Big Read Russia -- U.S. communities applying for a 2008 grant will have the opportunity to participate in a cross-cultural Big Read by celebrating Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The NEA and the U.S. Embassy in Russia plan to coordinate cultural exchange activities as part of Big Read Russia, including visits by Russian writers, scholars, and cultural specialists to participating Big Read communities.

The Russian regions of Saratov and Ivanovo also will host Big Read programs to celebrate Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird. Through a partnership with the Open World Leadership Center and CEC Arts Link, representatives from the two regions visited the NEA in April for a day-long training session on organizing a Big Read. Hosted by NEA Senior Deputy Chairman Eileen Mason, the training spotlighted issues such as setting a timeline, building successful partnerships, and designing appealing events. The Russian delegation then traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, and Huntsville, Alabama, to observe two Big Read programs in progress and visit local historic literary sites, including the Carl Sandburg Home and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

The NEA is also welcoming a new Big Read partner: The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The Pacific Northwest-based foundation will partially support program activities for communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington as well as support the development of the resource materials for The Call of the Wild.