The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Between the Lines: A Q&A with Young Auditorium

Whitewater, WI

Students who helped to create a mural based on Edgar Allan Poe?s stories and poems pose in front of the final artwork. Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Young Auditorium?s Big Read may have concluded last week, but the community will have a visual reminder of the last few months in the form of a mural inspired by Edgar Allan Poe?s stories and poems, on view at different locations around the city throughout the summer. As Ben Strand, development director for University of Wisconsin-Whitewater?s Young Auditorium, describes below, excitement about the mural?s unveiling inspired arts groups to come together and make their Big Read finale truly a community event.

NEA: This is Young Auditorium?s third year participating in The Big Read. What keeps you coming back?

BEN STRAND: Simple: our community keeps clamoring for more! Each year we?re left with such an enthusiastic response from our library and community partners that as we wrap up the finale, everyone begins getting anxious about knowing about our plans for the next year. We?re also now at the stage where we don?t need to educate our community about what The Big Read is---everyone has already heard about it, participated in it, or had a son or daughter take part in it.

NEA: A number of universities have taken the lead in hosting Big Read programs across the country. Why do you think a university makes a good partner in planning and carrying out The Big Read?

STRAND: UW-Whitewater and higher education organizations in general are endowed with rich human capital. We have faculty members who have used The Big Read to teach undergraduate education students how to create study guides to deepen the curricular connections in the text. Each year UW-Whitewater students have used The Big Read in independent study projects, from marketing, public relations, to community outreach. As the performing arts center on campus, each year our director schedules specific performing arts events that connect with The Big Read book. This year we had a sold-out school matinee---over 1,110 seats---of Poe?s Tales of Terror with Joshua Kane. These performing arts events bolster the learning inherent in reading the work of great authors. It is one thing to read in isolation; but to then experience the words of that author, on stage with another 1,100 people is quite another. Poe?s words yearn to be heard out loud, and with The Big Read we were able to do that in numerous capacities.

NEA: Your community has read a wide range of books through The Big Read, from To Kill a Mockingbird to Sun, Stone, and Shadows, and this year?s stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. What do you look for when choosing your Big Read book and why did you choose Poe for this year?

STRAND: Each of our Big Reads focused on reaching underserved individuals and especially middle and high school males whose reading comprehension is declining, as shown in national studies. Our K-12 partners expressed great enthusiasm in focusing on Poe. His work really has an amazing scope. But the one maxim we ended with is that Poe is the ?gateway drug? for male adolescent readers. I can almost guarantee that anyone who is an adult reader is familiar with Poe. For some, it may lead them to Tolkien or King. To others, they?ll move onto Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Williams Carlos Williams. After Poe, there is no stopping a person from becoming an engaged reader.

NEA: What Big Read event were you most looking forward to this year?

STRAND: Our Big Read Finale and Poe Unmasked! Mural Unveiling was the biggest thrill for us. A renowned children?s book illustrator, Joel Schoon Tanis from Holland, Michigan, worked with four area school groups beginning in February to complete a Poe mural. After his initial visit, he kept in touch with the classes through Skype and using IWB (interactive white board) to hear students? ideas on images conjured in Poe?s stories and poems. In April, Joel spent one crazy week with the student artists to make four large panels that expressed their interpretation of Poe?s work.

As we planned for the unveiling of the artwork, we had numerous new partners come out of the woodwork (or out of the crypt might be a better metaphor for Poe) to join us. The Lake Geneva Symphony sent a chamber ensemble along to the finale. The Geneva Lake Art Association organized an evening gallery walk at more than ten local galleries. A local theater group, Pelajia Productions, conjured up Edgar Allan Poe and a few of his characters to roam the streets. Our staff and library partners were just amazed at the work the community did to make the event a success. Of course, the final mural that the students and Joel created was unbelievable. Every student and attendee was given a complimentary poster of the mural. Seeing young readers of Poe, who were now accomplished artists, signing their artwork to an adoring public was just spectacular.

NEA: Any last words?

STRAND: These are tough economic times for many schools and communities. Our community is no exception. It?s been gratifying to see that our community, media, and corporate supporters keep increasing their dedication to The Big Read.  Everything in our society is connected in amazing and unseen ways---The Big Read, to me, has become a forum to make our individual connectedness visual in a public and celebratory way.

Young Auditorium?s Big Read may have concluded, but you can still visit their blog for photos and information about their Big Read events. If you would like to learn more about Edgar Allan Poe, visit The Big Read website.

Add new comment