Over the past ten years, the National Endowment for the Arts has supported more than 1,200 NEA Big Read projects across the country, with 4.2 million Americans taking part in these innovative community-wide programs that each explore a single book.
In celebration of the initiative’s 10th anniversary, the NEA is announcing a new focus for the NEA Big Read library on contemporary authors and books written since the founding of the NEA 50 years ago.
Available for community programming beginning in fall 2017, the book list will include 28 titles, 13 of which are new to the NEA Big Read. The authors hail from all across the country and represent a range of ages and ethnicities, with more than half of the books by female authors. The list also features a range of genres, including novels, short stories, memoirs, poetry, and books in translation.
Guidelines for applying for a 2017-18 NEA Big Read grant will be released in October 2016 and will be available at neabigread.org.
These works were selected to provide a wider range of voices, perspectives, and writing styles for future NEA Big Read applicants to choose from. For instance, one of the new additions is Claudia Rankine’sCitizen: An American Lyric, which combines poetry with visual art, quotations, slogans, and film scripts to reveal moments of racism that surface in everyday encounters. Another addition, Five Skies, a novel by Ron Carlson, is set in the austere, isolated landscape of Idaho and tells the story of three men working a doomed construction project. Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters targets both adults and young adults with short stories about teenagers grappling with angst and alienation, awkwardness and awakening desires, but also with unexpected monsters, ghosts, wizards, aliens, possibly carnivorous couches, and undead babysitters.
In addition, the NEA will update selections for three authors currently represented in the NEA Big Read library – Louise Erdrich, Marilynne Robinson, and Tobias Wolff. Other contemporary works that have been a part of the NEA Big Read in the past will remain on the list, such as Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North, a novel about immigration and the people and places caught up in the border wars, and Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, which tells the story of the Khmer Rouge regime coming to power in Cambodia and a young girl’s experience moving from an idyllic childhood in Phnom Penh into four years of chaos and hardship.
To select the new books, the National Endowment for the Arts solicited suggestions from NEA Big Read grantees, NEA literature grantees, NEA literature fellows, and others. The list of books was then narrowed down and reviewed by a reading committee representing a range of perspectives (such as a former Big Read grantee, librarian, bookseller, book critic, literary presenter, and general reader). The final books were chosen for their capacity to: inspire lively and deep discussion; expand the voices, stories, and genres represented; generate interest from lapsed and/or reluctant readers while also challenging avid readers; and encourage innovative programming for communities. The NEA plans to continue adding titles to the NEA Big Read library in future years, especially works by NEA literature fellows. Suggestions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.