The Big Read Blog (Archive)

READ BETWEEN THE LINES: A Q&A with ArtsWestchester

Washington, DC 

Westchester County Legislator Vito Pinto and students at Westchester Community College post comments on the college?s ?Wall of Reflection? as part of The Big Read 2010.

ArtsWestchester in White Plains, New York, is no stranger to The Big Read. After leading the Westchester community in reading Their Eyes Were Watching God and A Lesson Before Dying, it turned to one of the newest Big Read titles, The Things They Carried, for its 2010 Big Read. ArtsWestchester Deputy Director Joanne Mongelli took some time to tell me about the effects of Tim O?Brien?s tour de force on her community.

NEA: How did ArtsWestchester choose The Things They Carried?

JOANNE MONGELLI: ArtsWestchester surveyed community groups that participated in the 2009 program to develop a short list of recommendations. Then, we met with several representatives of Westchester Libraries System to discuss the recommendations, having agreed to select a book that might not have been read by a large segment of the population;would appeal to a broad audience, from reluctant readers to avid readers, e.g. a book that is relatively simple to read, but is layered; and provides rich opportunities for civic dialogue on significant social/community issues.

NEA: What has been your favorite Big Read moment?

MONGELLI: This year, there were two: having Dr. Marilyn Young provide insight into the roots of the U.S.?s involvement in the Vietnam War, dating back to choices the government made immediately after World War II; and hearing a high school student, inspired by The Things They Carried, read a poem she wrote, as part of a public program.

NEA: What were some of the unique activities that your organization planned for The Big Read?

MONGELLI: I?m not sure ?unique? is the appropriate word, but probably a writing-from-experience workshop exclusively for veterans would be the most particular to the 2010 program and somewhat unusual.  Also, presenting American Place Theatre?s production of The Things They Carried was powerful.

NEA: What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

MONGELLI: How many participating groups ask us if we are going to do it again the following year.

NEA: Why should other communities participate in The Big Read?

MONGELLI:  The Big Read provides a great opportunity to strengthen community partnerships. For arts groups, it showcases literary arts?a discipline that doesn?t get as much attention generally as performing arts and, also, tends to be experienced individually rather than enriched by a public/community component.

NEA: In what ways has your community benefitted from The Big Read?

MONGELLI:  I?d have to say the opportunity to think more deeply about a book and its themes through the public programs.

NEA: If you could meet any of our Big Read authors, who would it be and why?

MONGELLI:  Truly, Carson McCullers, a personal favorite. Of the living authors, I?d have to say Julia Alverez, because I did see an interview with her on YouTube and she seems amazing.

NEA: If you could meet any character from a Big Read book, who would it be and why?

MONGELLI: Mick Kelly of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  Because my heart goes out to her.

Visit The Big Read website to find out who else is reading, discussing, and celebrating The Things They Carried near you.

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