Art Works Blog

Giving Thanks: Big Read edition

Tis the season to be thankful. We’re thankful that we can dip into the NEA Big Read library to find something stirring to read while we digest the turkey (and cranberry sauce and stuffing and, well, you get the picture). In this spirit of gratitude we asked several of our Big Read authors to tell us which of their fellow Big Read writers they were especially grateful for. We encourage you to let us know your favorite Big Read authors in the comments or on our Facebook page. Happy Thanksgiving!

Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies

I'm thankful for the Big Read program, for each and every one of the titles on its diverse, simpatico list. (Did they pick my brain or what?!) I'm especially thankful for Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, a moving memoir of two brothers: her father who leaves for the States and her uncle whom she lives with in Haiti before reuniting with her family years later. Beautifully written in Danticat's serene, deceptively simple style, this is a story of the losses that come with exile, the divisions that occur within families, the heartbreak and heartache that ensue. But there's another reason why Edwidge's work is so meaningful to me. We share a home island with a troubled history between our two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Every time I read her work, I am hearing the stories I never heard growing up. As sister storytellers in our new language and country, we are living and writing proof that we are all ultimately citizens in the homeland of the imagination. 

Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow

Ron Carlson was my teacher when I was a very young writer working on my very first book.  He told me, “Write about people and their problems, not problems and their people.” He also taught me that every story must start from compassion—before plot, before characters. Compassion is the foundation of our craft. I take his advice with me wherever I go. If you look at my work, you will find his fingerprints everywhere.

Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

I'm so thankful that Claudia Rankine wrote CITIZEN, a book that proves itself more potent and necessary with each passing month. It is a work of art, a mirror for reflection, a call to action, and a growing tabulation of the black lives lost due to police violence in our supposedly post-racial nation. Early in the presidential election, a woman pointedly read it on-camera at a political rally: that instantly recognizable cover and the blazing, fearless words within it, held up as a counter to all the hate and bigotry rising up around. Here's to more books like it, until we change enough hearts to change the world.

Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer

I'm thankful for Louise Erdrich.

Mr. English held his copy of Love Medicine in the air. He said, "Louise Erdrich is a Native-American writer from Minnesota. This is what she has been able to do." I didn't say a word that day. I was a poor Hmong girl on the east side of St. Paul, a selective mute in a classroom of mostly white kids. That night, I started reading the book. Surrounded by the talk of my grandmother, my mother and my father, my brothers and sisters, Louise Erdrich opened up a world for me to dream, a place where our ancestors can guide us, our cultures can clothe us, our languages can lead us far beyond the limits others have set for us. 

I'm also grateful for Jhumpa Lahiri.

I was dizzy in the cloud of blue Columbians, proud graduates, sitting in the bright spring sun. Jhumpa Lahiri was on stage. She had been presented with an honorary doctorate from the university. I couldn't see my parents in the throng of people, but I saw Jhumpa standing before all of us. I knew she was where they wished I could one day be. I focused on Jhumpa Lahiri and the dizziness went away. In that moment, I, too, knew where I wanted to one day be. In Jhumpa, I find the places where the ambitions and aspirations of my refugee parents and my own meet. 

Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy's Life

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried has achieved monumental status among readers and writers alike. Like The Great Gatsby, it has entered the national consciousness, and will persist there, by virtue of its peculiar, vivid music, and its scalding, heartbreaking,  darkly funny, furious portrait of young Americans at war. But try to recall the moment when it was not a monument, when it was just another book you hadn't read, and you opened it, and began to read. I remember the moment, the night, well. I had known these young men, I had served with them, but never had their stories been told like thisso truthfully, so fiercely, so free of cant, of phony uplift and phony moralizing. It was not only the story of men killing and being killed for no good reason, it was also a lesson in how such a story should be toldhow any story should be told. That first encounter with the book had for me the power of revelation. I took it to heart, and it remains there still.

Interested in bringing the NEA Big Read to your community in 2017-2018? Visit neabigread.org for information on how to apply.

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