The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) this week selected UHD as the only institution in Houston – and one of three in Texas – to receive a 2014 grant to host The Big Read, an NEA program designed to revitalize the role of reading in American culture by exposing citizens to great works of literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure.
The University will provide an in-kind match to provide a Big Read-selected book to students as part of its fall 2014 Big Read celebration, and host more than a dozen community events that highlight the importance of reading. The Big Read is managed by Arts Midwest.
UHD is one of 77 organizations nationwide to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2014 and June 2015. The Big Read in Houston will focus on the classic narrative, A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines – a former Distinguished Visiting Professor at UHD, and will coincide with the UHD-sponsored Citizenship Month Houston throughout the month of November.
UHD’s Center for Public Service and Family Strengths (CPSFS), Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS), University College and Student Services will lead the University’s Big Read activities on campus and in the community.
“We are delighted that UHD will serve as the only Houston institution in 2014 to lead and share Big Read initiatives in our region,” said Chris Birchak, Ph.D., dean of University College and principal investigator of UHD’s Big Read project. “Reading is the foundation of lifelong learning and it will be our privilege to encourage both students and community members to read and analyze important themes from A Lesson Before Dying, such as race, education, the role of extended families, food in the family setting, crime and prison.”
NEA Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “While the act of reading is usually a solitary one, through the Big Read it will become a social one. This year’s Big Read grant recipients are not only playing an important role in encouraging reading, but are also developing creative opportunities to involve all members of their communities to come together and celebrate these great works of literature.”
The Big Read provides communities nationwide with the opportunity to read, discuss and celebrate one of 36 selections from U.S. and world literature. The Big Read grants enable participating organizations to carry out community-based reading programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings and performing arts events. The NEA has developed high-quality, free-of-charge educational materials to supplement each title, including reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, and audio programming, all of which are available to the public at www.neabigread.org.
“The national Big Read initiative – and UHD’s selection of A Lesson Before Dying – align well with the missions of the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths and Center for Critical Race Studies, as well as with UHD’s priority of community service,” said Noël Bezette-Flores, Ph.D., CPSFS executive director and co-principal investigator of UHD’s Big Read project. “We will work closely with our community partners – such as the Houston Public Library, Harmony Public Schools and Houston Media Source, among others – to involve the entire region in this celebration of literacy and the arts.”
Among the many activities scheduled for Houston’s Big Read initiative, set to begin in mid-September, UHD students enrolled in Introduction to Philosophy and African-American literature courses will facilitate book discussions with participating high school students in the HISD Summer Reading Program, under the leadership of Associate Professor Vida Robertson.
The University will collaborate with the Houston Cinema Arts Society, which will host a screening of A Lesson Before Dying during its annual film festival at Sundance Cinema, to be followed by a discussion exploring the film’s literary, social and artistic implications.
UHD criminal justice students, under the leadership of Assistant Professor Judith Harris, will work with Harris County Reentry Services in the Harris County Jail by leading inmates in group discussions of the book and pre- and post-surveys on the role of reading as a powerful tool in reentry to society.
Students in UHD’s Department of Urban Education, who are pre-service teachers in literacy methods courses, will invite homeless families at SEARCH’s House of Tiny Treasures to bring food-related stories and their favorite recipes to a Big Read event. Under the leadership of Professor Leigh Van Horn, the students will transcribe the interviews with families and compile a recipe book that includes meaningful times in the families’ lives centered around food and eating.
Patrick Edwards, director of student activities and events, will facilitate a semester-long roundtable discussion on A Lesson Before Dying with members of UHD’s African-American Male Mentoring Program and various civic and cultural leaders in Houston.
And, collaborating with the Texan French Alliance for the Arts, UHD will bring renowned French musicians to Houston in an exploration of African-American music as exemplified by jazz.
DoVeanna Fulton, Ph.D., dean of UHD’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and head of CCRS, and Liza Alonzo, assistant dean of students, also are co-principal investigators of The Big Read in Houston.
Organizations that would like to join Houston’s Big Read initiative should contact UHD’s CPSFS at 713-221-2737. For more information about The Big Read, please visit www.neabigread.org.