Art Works Blog

Big Read Spotlight: 7 Stages

"[Literature] records our greatest triumphs and failures and entreats us to use creative thinking and imagination in all our endeavors." -- Heidi S. Howard and Michael Haverty

Since 1979, 7 Stages Theater, a theater company based in Atlanta, Georgia has, in the words of Artistic Director Heidi S. Howard and Co-artistic Director Michael Haverty, focused on "the social, political, and spiritual values of contemporary culture." As part of its mission, 7 Stages focuses on international work as well as support for new plays and playwrights. A critical value of the company is collaboration, a value that was at the forefront of its Big Read participation. With the help of local partners, 7 Stages led its community in a celebration and exploration of Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. We spoke with Howard and Haverty via e-mail about why a literature project was a good fit for 7 Stages, how McCullers' novel resonated with the company and with their community, and why literature matters.

NEA: Why did 7 Stages want to participate in The Big Read? 

7 STAGES: We often produce new adaptations of classic literature, to bring timeless stories to today’s audience. The Big Read fits into our overall education strategy of using the arts, literary arts included, to touch people’s lives and engage them in dialogue on contemporary themes that span the globe. The Big Read also bolsters our ability to pay a fair wage to teaching artists from our professional network of artists who engage with students, teachers, and the public with literary discussion and creative response. 

NEA: Why did you choose the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for your community?

7 STAGES: Themes of loneliness, otherness, and human interaction are focus points throughout the book, all of which tie to our mission. The author is a prominent LGBTQ figure in Georgia history, and throughout our history, we have created performances with and for the LGBTQ community as well as for many local artists. We were also attracted to Sarah Gubbins’ play fml; how Carson McCullers saved my life about a young queer girl who is able to address loneliness and deal with bullying behavior through engagement with [The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter] and an influential teacher. We presented this production along with outreach and creative response events. Further, the themes tie into our multi-year bullying behavior prevention program while our activities addressed such issues while dealing with loneliness, judgment and interacting with those that are different than ourselves.

NEA: What was the most successful activity you did as part of your TBR project? Why do you think it was successful? 

7 STAGES: Our solicitation of artistic responses to the novel engendered an enormous community response. We received over thirty paintings, songs, stories, photographs, and performance pieces which we displayed/presented in our lobby during the run of ‘fml’. Each response showed a true engagement with the novel and its themes, and added greatly to the experience of the production. People put their hearts and minds into the responses, and it brought them to a greater appreciation of the novel. It was a true pleasure to experience artists, students, patrons and the general public coming together in discussion and appreciation for connecting everyday life to the creative process. 

NEA: What surprised you most about hosting a Big Read project?

7 STAGES: The large turnout of literary fans for our events!

NEA: Partnerships are an important part of the Big Read experience. What do you think makes for a good partnership? What's one thing you learned as an organization from your partners? 

7 STAGES: Good partners are those who bring ideas to the table, who encourage one another and challenge one another to increase audiences, expand minds, and engage with the community’s concerns. We learned the importance of rallying multiple partners within our Big Read projects to ensure high turnout and engagement. 

NEA: What did you want participants to take away about the act of reading? About the novel itself?

7 STAGES: Ultimately it was our goal to connect everyday life to the creative process, while discovering the joy of reading and engaged discussion with peers. We wanted all to gain a greater understanding of the author’s life and how their own life can be empowered by art making. By creating from inspired reading, discussion, and connection we expected that participants would understand the nature of bullying behavior, judgment, and communication as it is portrayed in the novel, and thence apply this to their daily lives, empathizing with those different from them. 

NEA: Literature matters because...

7 STAGES: It contains the soul of humanity. It records our greatest triumphs and failures and entreats us to use creative thinking and imagination in all our endeavors. 

To learn more about the Big Read and how your community can participate, visit


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