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The Big Read Spotlight on Fishtrap

Literature matters because it is essential to help us understand human relationships and give us opportunities for a global view.” - Elizabeth Oliver, The Big Read school liasion and Fishtrap board member

Enterprise, Oregon, home to roughly 2,000 people, is the largest city in Wallowa County, Oregon. When combined with its neighboring towns, Joseph and Wallowa, the three cities welcome about 7,000 residents in total. What makes this small community special is that despite its size, it stood alongside with big cities such as Miami, Minneapolis, and Buffalo, New York as one of the first ten grantee organizations to participate in The Big Read’s pilot year in 2006. Since then, Wallowa’s Big Read host organization, Fishtrap, has been on the reading map and today, celebrates 10 years of hosting the program.

The Big Read is the biggest local program in the county, which is tucked away in the far end of the state. Elizabeth Oliver, The Big Read school liaison and Fishtrap board member, explains how there is strong support and a big commitment to the program from local colleges and schools.

“It's very popular,” said Oliver. “Everyone says it wouldn't be the winter without the Big Read.”

This year alone, more than half the students read the book and its companion novel (a novel separately selected for the elementary audience). Oliver says with the program, students are exposed to other viewpoints and experiences. Yet at the end of the day, the goal, says Oliver, is to engage with all members of the community.

The Big Read committee for Fishtrap is dedicated to involving all of its community members when deciding which Big Read novel to read next. They survey school administers and teachers, and have community members on the board as well. This year, Fishtrap chose to read Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and his stage drama Our Town.

“We went with what the schools wanted to do and we also thought this would be a good opportunity to bring in our spiritual community into the Big Read,” said Oliver.

A visit from Amos Tappan Wilder, Thornton Wilder’s nephew, proved to be an exciting event for the small town and Oliver also recalls it being one of her favorite Big Read moments yet.

“We have less than 7,000 people in our whole county so when folks hear about that [invite], that's a pretty big deal.”

Mr. Wilder standing in front of a class speaking to students.

Tappan Wilder speaking to students at Enterprise High School. Photo: Fishtrap Staff

Some of the other events from this year’s Big Read program include a kick-off event, film screening of OT: Our Town, a panel discussion focused on spirituality, a theater production, and a finale featuring student artwork.    

Oliver has been active with the Big Read since 2006, witnessing the ups and downs of hosting programs like this. While one might think a challenge for this community is its small population size, Oliver points out, it’s actually the community’s remoteness. At the same time she says, she can’t imagine hosting a Big Read with a bigger community.

“I think we're the most fortunate Big Read community,” she said. “We're small and we're cohesive.”

Even with a tight knit community, there is much to learn about its inhabitants. Oliver says one thing she has learned about her community is how curious and dedicated to reading they are.

“For a community our size, it blows people away how much we offer,” she said.

Ultimately why does Oliver think literature is so important? Simply put she said, “Literature matters because it is essential to help us understand human relationships and give us opportunities for a global view. Literature is essential to the living of our lives.”

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