The Big Read: National initiative returns for its seventh year

The National Endowment of the Arts will provide grants to communities for the read-a-thon program.

'In the Time of the Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez and Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried' are two of the books communities can select for The Big Read.

Now here’s a government initiative we can get behind: the National Endowment of the Arts announced Tuesday its seventh annual nationwide read-a-thon program, The Big Read.

The Endowment is providing $1 million in grants to 78 communities across the country to host Big Read programs to encourage folks to read, share, and discuss literature. It’s a kind of nationwide summer book club for communities across America.

“At the NEA we know that the arts can help to create strong, vibrant communities by bringing people together,” NEA chairman Rocco Landesman said in a statement. “Through The Big Read, these 78 organizations are giving their communities the opportunity to share both great works of literature and memorable experiences.”

Here’s how it works. The NEA is providing 78 nonprofit institutions across the country, including arts councils, boys and girls clubs, libraries, public broadcasting stations, and universities, grants ranging from $2,500 to $20,000 to promote and host Big Read programs. Communities select one book from a group of 31 works of literature chosen by the NEA, including Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Ernest J. Gaines' “A Lesson Before Dying,” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Educational materials like author biographies, discussion questions, and CDs supplement each title.

Once books and materials are selected and a kick-off event is held to launch the program, communities spend one month between September 2012 and June 2013 immersed in the selected book. Activities, events, and discussions like panel discussions, lectures, public readings, and exhibits will help further promote and explore each work of literature, reports the Los Angeles Times’s Jacket Copy blog.

“Whether you're reading a used paperback or a downloaded novel on an e-reader, nothing can beat the experience of getting lost in a good book,” NEA’s director of literature Ira Silverburg said in a statement.  “I look forward to seeing the creative ways these 78 organizations will use The Big Read to promote reading within their communities.”

We’re excited about this program and eager to see it spread to more communities next year. Click here to find out if your community was selected for a Big Read grant.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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