The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: A Q&A with the Fuller Craft Museum

Brockton, MA

Massasoit Community College students create collaborative word collages and graphic poems inspired by Emily Dickinson's poetry at Word-A-Palooza!, one of the Fuller Craft Museum's Big Read events. Photo courtesy of Fuller Craft Museum

The Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts, is New England?s only museum of contemporary craft. This fall, the museum hosted its first Big Read and expanded beyond the world of the visual arts, inviting audiences to explore not only the world of craft, but the world of great literature through the poetry of Emily Dickinson. We spoke with Noelle Foye, education director at the Fuller Craft Museum, to learn more about Brockton?s Big Read.

NEA: Why did you choose to focus on Emily Dickinson?s poetry for your Big Read program?

NOELLE FOYE: As I thought about what resources might be available to help me implement a successful Big Read project, I realized community partners would be important contributors to making things happen. Brockton is fortunate to have an active and established poetry group, The Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts, and a wonderful public library. Being able to draw on these groups for readers, for established events we could piggy back on, and for their amazing network of poets, poetry lovers, and readers to help promote our project gave me a head start on planning, manning, and promoting events relating to poetry and literacy.

I also thought the genre of poetry allowed for more flexibility. Participating classroom teachers might not have a large enough block of time in their syllabus to teach a whole book, but when using poetry, teachers could adjust the amount of content to fit the time available. Not having to commit to a full-length novel is perhaps also less intimidating to reluctant young readers. If not participating as part of a classroom lesson, readers may choose whichever poems appeal to them personally, giving them greater individual buy-in to the project. I think many of the readers who participated started with one or two poems and became caught up in reading, looking for more poems they liked.

I chose Emily Dickinson specifically because I think a lot of her work addresses universal themes that young adults, our target audience, still think and wonder about today---love, loss, and finding their own place in the world. I think her words give all of us things we can think about in relation to our own lives, making her work personally relevant and meaningful. She was also a ?local poet,? being from Massachusetts and we have access to the Emily Dickinson Museum as a resource for speakers, programs, and information. Jane Wald, the executive director, did a great keynote lecture for us.

NEA: You developed a number of interesting events, such as a poetry event for teens to share their poems and a one-man play about Dickinson?s life through the eyes and voices of her servants. What event were you most looking forward to?

FOYE: I think the two events I most looked forward to were the kickoff event, which offered workshops on a variety of poetry-related topics and an open mic session, and the bookmaking workshops. Starting with Dickinson?s poetry for inspiration, these activities encouraged participants to then draw on their own creativity and imagination. They needed to think about the work and what it means to them personally. Seeing kids discover that they have the ability to express themselves and that they can share their thoughts and ideas with others through the arts---both visual and the written word---is really exciting.

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

FOYE: I have to say the level of excitement and enthusiasm [for] this project. I knew I liked Dickinson and thought her poetry was a good choice, but I have been amazed at the number of fans she has out there! The schools and community groups I approached about participating were delighted with the choice. Also, people responded so positively to being part of an NEA Big Read project. They consider this grant an honor for our community and were happy to become involved and support it. It has been very rewarding to have so many people step forward and enthusiastically join us in making The Big Read happen. We have had a great time.

NEA: What benefit do you think The Big Read has on your community?

FOYE: I think The Big Read asked people in our community to step forward and say that reading has an important place in our lives. Community leaders such as our mayor were willing role models, sharing their favorite poems, taking part in discussions, and demonstrating their personal connection with books. The Big Read provided the opportunity for everyone to participate in a community reading project, making us all partners in placing reading in the center of our activities. What a great example and invitation for our young people. As a woman in the crowd watching our Big Read marching contingent in the city holiday parade called out as we passed by, ?That?s right! Reading is important!?

NEA: Any last words?

FOYE: The Big Read has been a catalyst for building and strengthening a network of community organizations and individuals that care about enriching the lives of our citizens through reading, learning, and sharing our experiences. This network, even as this year?s project is winding down, is looking forward to what kinds of projects we can collaborate on now that we?ve discovered each other and are working together. And we?re already working on our next Big Read application!

To learn more about Emily Dickinson and her poetry, visit The Big Read website. The Fuller Craft Museum also participated in the NEA?s 2010 Blue Star Museums program, offering free admission to active military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 2010. Learn more about the Fuller Craft Museum by visiting the Blue Star Museums Blog.

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