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National Endowment for the Arts 



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as speech. It grew 
out of human need 
for it, and it has not 
changed except to 
become more 


from his Nobel Prize acceprance speech, 1962 

Want to have 


in your community? 

Deadline for applications for programs taking place between 
September and December 2008 is February 12, 2008. 

Application materials will be available on 
the Big Read Web site in mid-October. 






•".si. MuseunUdUbrary 

Questions about the application process? 

Contact Christine Taylor at Arts Midwest 

(612) 341-0744 x2i or 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

Boston Library Consortium Member Libraries 


The Big Read is a major initiative from the National 
Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of 
reading in American public culture. The program brings the 
transformative power of literature into the lives of all citizens 
to unite communities through reading. 

In summer 2006, we announced Mrs. Laura Bush as the 
honorary chair of the Big Read.The initiative is part of 
American Masterpieces, a program combining arts presentations 
with educational programming to introduce Americans to the best 
of their cultural and artistic legacy. The Big Read features classics 
of American literature from The Great Gatsby to My Antonia, to such 
contemporary works as A Wizard ofEarthsea and 8/ess Me, Ultima. 

In 2004 the NEA report Reading at Risk identified a critical decline in reading 
among American adults.The Big Read aims to address this issue directly by 
providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book 
within their communities. 

By embarking on the Big Read, you join your fellow citizens in the ambitious 
enterprise of restoring reading to its rightful place at the heart of American 
life. The purpose of the Big Read, as with literature itself, is pleasure. Not 
necessarily an easy pleasure, but a deliciously rich and complex one. A great 
book enlightens and enchants. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our 
humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that mysteriously manage to 
console and comfort us. 

The prospect of an America where only a few people share a love of reading 
is just too sad to bear. Even if statistics didn't show that readers are more 
active in their own communities and more engaged in their own lives, the act 
of reading still would be an indispensable part of what makes us fully human. 
Both for these reasons and to preserve the invaluable legacy of our nation's 
literature, we at the National Endowment for the Arts invite you to join the 
Big Read. 


Dana Gioia 

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts 

National Endowment for the Arts • THE BIG READ | 


Reading at Risk defined 
literary reading as 
novels, short stories, 
poetry, or drama in any 
format including the 
Internet. Everything 
from romance novels to 
classical verse counted. 

For a complete Reading at 
Risk report, download a PDF 

Drawn from a 2002 study by the Census Bureau, the 2004 
NEA report Reading at Risk establishes a disheartening fact: 
literary reading (see sidebar) is rapidly declining among 
American adults. The drop registers in all categories: age, 
race, gender, and level of education. With a survey sampling 
of 17,000, this report is one of the most comprehensive polls 
of American reading habits ever taken. Key findings are: 

Less than half (47%) of the American adult population now 
reads literature. 

The ten-year rate of decline in literary reading has 
accelerated from 5% to 14% since 1992. 

All book reading, regardless of genre, has declined at a rate 
of 7% over the past decade. 

Literary reading is declining at all education levels. 

The rate of college graduates reading literature has 
decreased more than 15 percentage points since 1982. 

Literary reading is declining among all age groups. 

Since 1982, the steepest decline, at 28%, has been among 
1 8-24 year-olds, the youngest age group surveyed. 

Just over one-third of men (38%) now read literature. 

More than half of all women (55%) still read literature, but 
that rate has declined by 8 percentage points since 1982. 

Literary readers are more likely to perform volunteer and 
charity work (43%) than are non-literary readers (17%). 

Literary Reading by Young Adults, 1982-2002 






2 THE BIG READ • National Endowment for the Arts 


After Reading at Risk galvanized a national discussion on the 
decline in American reading, the idea for the Big Read took 
shape as a partial solution to this growing problem. To create 
this program, the National Endowment for the Arts studied 
both the successes and struggles of reading initiatives across 
the country. The Arts Endowment, with its partners the 
Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, 
put together a plan that focused on the best practices for a 
sustainable citywide reading program. Next, the Arts 
Endowment provided the funding and materials necessary 
for the programs success. The Big Read is designed to help 
build a nation of active readers and thinkers. 

• In communities across the country, the Big Read 
gives citizens the opportunity to read and discuss a 
single book. 

• Each selected city or town develops its own program of 
activities related to its chosen novel in collaboration with 
its partners — libraries, local government officials, arts 
organizations, media, publishers, booksellers, schools, 
colleges, and other interested groups — combining the 
public and private sectors to reach the entire community. 

• The Big Read includes an extensive communications 
plan, using television, radio, Internet, and print 

• In schools throughout each city, the Arts Endowment 
provides materials — Teacher's Guides, Audio Guides, 
and Reader's Guides specific to each novel — to 
teachers interested in incorporating the selected 
book into their classes. 

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v V i» 1 

Mrs. Laura Bush, Honorary 
Chair of the Big Read, speaks 
at the July 20, 2006, 
Washington, DC, celebration 
of the Big Read initiative at 
the Library of Congress. 
Photo by James Kegley 




National Endowment for the Arts • THE BIG READ 3 

Audio Guides, Readers 
Guides, Teachers 
Guides, and posters are 
part of the Big Read 


In addition to a grant award, chosen communities receive a 
suite of educational materials developed by the National 
Endowment for the Arts. 

These materials include: 

• Reader's Guides for each book, providing historical 
context, author biographies, discussion questions, and 

• Teacher's Guides for each novel, with ten lesson plans, 
including writing assignments, discussion questions, and 

• Audio Guides for each book, with commentary from 
renowned artists, educators, and public figures; 

• Radio programming, also part of the media plan; 

• Publicity materials, including posters, banners, and 

• An online organizer's guide with tips for running a 
successful Big Read; 

• A comprehensive Web site, bringing the program, the 
books, and the materials to a wider audience and serving 
as a gateway for participating cities to share ideas; and 

• Spanish Reader's Guides for the following novels: Bless 
Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray 
Bradbury, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and 
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

4 THE BIG READ ■ National Endowment for the Arts 


The Pilot Phase 

In its first year, the Big Read debuted in ten communities 
across the United States. 

• The largest community, Miami, served a total 
population of 4 million with programming in both 
Miami-Dade and Broward counties in South Florida. 
The smallest community, Enterprise, Oregon, reached a 
total population of 7,000 in that state's Wallowa Valley. 

• All ten communities created partnerships with schools, 
local government officials, and the private sector. 

• Communities built programs with events, venues, and 
materials unique for its region. Miami received a Spanish 
version of the Fahrenheit 451 Reader's Guide, and 
Topeka held events at its Brown v. Board of Education 
National Historic Site. 


The Big Read grew 20 times bigger in 2007, serving nearly 
200 cities and towns. Cities such as Hartford and St. Louis 
have now joined the Big Read for the first time. Multiple 
Oklahoma towns marked the state centennial by reading 
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. 

The addition of eight more books in 2007 — bringing the 
Big Read list to 12 — drew admiration from communities 
eager to tailor their choices to the particular needs and 
curiosities of their residents. The Big Read also found an 
ally in the electronic media, introducing its own blog at 

As evaluations flowed back to the NEA from participants 
nationwide, response was overwhelmingly favorable. Benefits 
ranged from intangible (The Big Read "brought the 
community together" was a frequent refrain) to the 
thrillingly specific, as when Peoria librarians attributed 
passage of a library referendum — by 72%! — in large part to 
an election-year Big Read. 

National Endowment for the Arts • THE BIG READ 5 


Wendell Berry, poet and novelist 

James H. Billington, Librarian of 

Matthew Bruccoli, scholar and 

James Lee Burke, author 

Lan Samantha (Sam) Chang, 
author and professor 

Maureen Corrigan, author and 
book critic 

Michael Dirda, book critic 

Anne Fadiman, author and 

Pico Iyer, journalist and novelist 

Mitchell Kaplan, former American 
Booksellers Association President 

Ted Kooser, United States Poet 

Jim Lehrer, journalist and author 

Jonathan Lethem, author 

Aimee Mann, musician 

Lorrie Moore, author 

Azar Nafisi, author and professor 

Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut state 
poet laureate 

Kathleen Norris, author 

RJ. O'Rourke, essayist and 

Nancy Pearl, author and librarian 

Richard Rodriguez, author 

Kevin Starr, historian and former 


ornia state librarian 



Communities submitting applications due on July 3 1 , 2007, 
may select from the following list of sixteen novels: 

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya 
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 
My Antonia by Willa Cather 
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines 
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett 
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
The Call of the Wild by Jack London 
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers 
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick 
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy 
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton 

Applications due spring 2008 may also consider these 
additional five titles: 

Washington Square by Henry James 

A Wizard ofEarthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin 

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain 

Old School by Tobias Wolff 

How the Big Read Library is Chosen 

The National Endowment for the Arts is renowned for the 
panel process that informs all our grants, including national 
initiatives such as the Big Read. To select books for the Big 
Read, the NEA has enlisted a panel of 22 literary experts and 
laypeople united by a passion for literature. The panelists 
make recommendations, which are then reviewed by the 
NEA's Literature staff. 

Based on the Readers Circles choices, the NEA selects a 
roster of books embodying a broad array of traditions, 
cultures, and regions. Though we try to offer Big Read 
communities a diverse choice of reading, the one constant 
across our list will always be literary excellence. 

6 THE BIG READ • National Endowment for the Arts 


The NEA hopes to award Big Read grants to approximately 
400 communities across the United States in 2008. 

An organization applying to participate must be a 501(c)(3) 
nonprofit organization or a division of state, local, or tribal 
government. Eligible applicants include such organizations as 
literary centers, libraries, museums, colleges and universities, 
art centers, historical societies, arts councils, tribal 
governments, humanities councils, literary festivals, and arts 
organizations. Applicant organizations must partner with a 
library (if the applicant organization itself is not a library). 

Community organizations participating in the Big Read 
shall develop and produce a well-planned, well- attended, 
community-wide reading program with innovative, diverse 
programming and widespread community partnerships. 
Activities should be approximately one month in duration 
and will focus on one book from the Big Read Library. 

To learn more about the Big Read, visit 


■ July 31 j 2007: to run a 4-6 week program 
between January and June 2008 

■ Spring 2008: to run a 4-6 week program 
between September and December 2008 

Questions about the application process? 

Contact Christine Taylor at Arts Midwest 

(612) 341-0755 x21 or 

National Endowment for the Arts • THE BIG READ 7 


The Big Read is expanding to include international 
partnerships that will create meaningful cultural exchanges 
through the reading of great literature. The first of these 
international programs will be with Russia. 

Communities that select The Death of Ivan Ilyich 
(available for programming in spring 2008) may 
have the opportunity to participate in cultural 
exchange activities with Russia, in coordination 
with the NEA. 

Applicants considering The Death of Ivan Ilyich 
are encouraged to explore partnerships that 
involve university International Centers, Slavic 
language departments, international exchange 

organizations such as Sister Cities, and the local Russian 

community (if applicable). 

Programming expectations and reporting requirements for 
The Death of Ivan Ilyich are the same as for selections of 
other Big Read tides. 

Partnerships with several other countries are in the planning 
stages, including Mexico and Egypt. To learn more about 
these international partnership opportunities, visit 

8 THE BIG READ • National Endowment for the Arts 




The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to 
supporting excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing 
the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. 
national Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal 

ENDOWMENT , - , . , . , , I c J f 1 

for the arts government, the Endowment is the nations largest annual hinder or the 
arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, 
and military bases. 

'.•.;: instituted,' The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of 

'" services federal support for the nations 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. 

The Institutes mission is to create strong libraries and museums that 
connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the 
national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to 
sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and 
innovation; and support professional development. 

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to 
meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and 
understanding across boundaries. One of six non-profit regional arts 
organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest's history spans more 
than 25 years. 

Boeing is the world's leading aerospace company and the largest 
combined manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft. As a 
leading contractor to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Boeing 
works together with its DoD customers to provide U.S. Armed Forces 
and U.S. allies around the world with fully integrated high-performing 
systems solutions and support. 

Additional support for the Big Read has also been provided by the WK 
Kellogg Foundation in partnership with Community Foundations of 

The Big Read in the Pacific Northwest is supported, in part, by a grant 
from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, including support for the 
materials for Jack London's The Call of the Wild. 

Additional funding for the Big Read is provided by the Ruffin A. 
Cooper, Jr., Endowment and through a bequest made in memory of 
Dorothy Lois Beverly. 

Image Credits 

All caricatures by John Sherffius for the Big Read. 

Book Cover Credits: Fahrenheit 451 book cover, used with permission of Del 
Rev/The Random House Ballanrine Publishing Group; The Great Gats by book 
cover, cover painting by Francis Cugat, used courtesy of Scribner, an imprint of 
Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group; To Kill a Mockingbird book cover, 
photograph by John Montgomery, courtesy of HarperCollins; Their Eyes Were 
Watching Go d book cover, courtesy of HarperCollins. 

This publication is published by: 

National Endowment for the Arts 

Office of Literature 

David Kipen, Director 

Sarah Cook, Erika Koss, and Molly Thomas-Hicks, NEA Big Read staff 

Designed by: Fletcher Design, Washington, DC 

National Endowment for the Arts 

1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 

Washington, D.C. 20506-0001 

(202) 682-5400 

Information current as of June 2007 


You don't have to 
burn books to 
destroy a culture. 
Just get people 
to stop reading 
them. ,, 

••*/!• ..INSTITUTE 

•••:.:, Museum,ndLibrary 

■ .•„•• SERVICES 

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment 
for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of 
American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in 
partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library 
Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big 
Read brings together partners across the country to 
encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment. 

A great nation deserves great art. 

The Big Read for military communities is made possible by