The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reflections on Reading

It's a great day for American literature! Today, the NEA announced $1 million in funding for the 2012-2013 Big Read. As we toast our 78 new grantees, we thought it would be a good time to remember the core message of the program: that reading can change lives, change minds, and change communities. Below are a few of our favorite reflections on reading, books, and language, collected during the past year from interviews and guest posts on the Big Read blog.

Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

"[W]hat a novel is is a collaboration between a writer and a reader. It's an intense funny, tragic, sexy, strange experience a writer and a reader are sharing, albeit separated in time and space."

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association

"It’s so mellowing to be read to. And you know, high school kids still love it. It’s amazing to me. I was a high school math teacher, but every once in a while I would choose things and read to them. They pretend like it’s not cool to be that old and being read to, but they are so quiet and attentive, you know they love it."

Walter Dean Myers, author and National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

"I loved reading as a teenager and found solace in books. The poverty that I experienced as a 13- and 14-year-old, the growing recognition that as a black child I would face difficulties that I thought my friends would not, led me to seek books as a refuge from a more difficult world."

Philip Levine, former U.S. poet laureate

"[Poetry] is better than you think. It’s richer than you think; it’s much more about you than you would have ever thought. It’s waiting for you, and if you don’t go get it, you’re the loser."

Tim Hamilton, illustrator

"I always loved stories. Period. When they assigned a novel in English class most all the kids groaned, but I secretly gave out a cheer!"

Katherine Paterson, children's author

"You read for your life. You read to enrich your own life, and you read for the life of your family as you read together and talk about the books that you've read, and you read for your community to understand other people, and you read for your country, because you have to understand in order to be a good citizen, an informed citizen, and you read for the world so you can understand other people who are quite different from yourself."

Deborah Madigan, artist

"The wonder of art, just like a book, a writer, reading---all these things can transform the way we see and experience the world around us."

Septime Webre, artistic director of the Washington Ballet

"Probably every book I've ever read has changed my life in some way."

Alan Cheuse, literary critic

"A great book really changes the way you see and feel about the world. There are characters in novels more vivid to me than people I’ve known all my life, and there are scenes in novels that imbue me with a kind of feeling about life that most everyday I do not get. So in that way, what I get from fiction and poetry and drama is more alive to me than many, many things I’ve actually done. And those always come by means of a great book. So I’ve fought the battle with Napoleon, and I’ve gone to the moon with Tom Wolfe, and come back alive."


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