Two poetry collections, one memoir, one creative nonfiction book, and two novels will join the NEA Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. The NEA Big Read annually supports community reading programs across the country, each designed around a single book. Through the act of sharing a book together, participants have the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the world, their community, and themselves.
In total, 32 books will be available for nonprofit organizations to choose from in applying for a 2019-20 NEA Big Read grant. The six new additions are:
- Advice from the Lights by Stephanie (previously Stephen) Burt (poetry)
This timely collection explores the struggles and questions that can arise from an assigned gender identity that doesn’t feel right, described through the lens of, among other things, inanimate objects, talking animals, and 1980s pop culture.
- Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (novel)
In a ruined city overrun with hybrid creatures from a defunct biotech company, a woman nurtures a strange creature that grows into something she will both love and fear in this science fiction tale of love and hope and inevitable change.
- Hustle by David Tomas Martinez (poetry)
Emblazoned with a tattoo on its cover, this collection examines the experiences of the poet’s Southeast San Diego youth—his activity in a gang, the complicated dynamics of his family life, and eventually his discovery of poetry, leading him to reflect on what it means to be a man.
- In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (creative nonfiction)
This is the true story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick about the crew of the 19th-century whaleship Essex that got rammed and shattered by one of the largest whales anyone had ever seen and the whalers’ subsequent, harrowing fight for survival on the open seas.
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (memoir)
A young woman passionate about trees and plants and other aspects of the natural world finds friendship in odd places, battles bipolar disorder, perseveres through setbacks, and ultimately becomes a wife, a mom, and a respected scientist in this inspiring and engrossing memoir.
- The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom (novel)
Set during World War II in the Australian bush and based on the true history of Italian POWs sent there to work the farms, this story is told from the perspective of a woman with albinism and a troubled past whose secrets and desires will upend her and her family’s isolated lives.
The NEA’s Big Read website has more information on the program, including book and author information, podcasts, videos, and community stories from past NEA Big Read grantees. In addition, the NEA will host a webinar on November 14, 2018 at 2 p.m. ET about these six new titles.
“We are always looking to expand the NEA Big Read library with a range of new genres, perspectives, and experiences,” said NEA Director of Literature Amy Stolls. “Communities can choose to explore, for example, the story behind Moby-Dick with In the Heart of the Sea, or get immersed in rural Australia and World War II history with The Paperbark Shoe, or dive into one of the books of poetry, a genre we know from NEA research is growing in popularity, particularly among younger readers. I look forward to seeing how communities embrace the new books and find ways to highlight and explore them together.”
Guidelines are now available for organizations applying for grants to support Big Read projects between September 2019 and June 2020. The application deadline is Thursday, January 24, 2019. Full details on eligibility, how to apply, and application advice are available on Arts Midwest’s website. Eligible applicants include organizations such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, school districts, theater companies, trade associations, and tribal governments.
To select new books for the NEA Big Read library, the NEA collected suggestions from a variety of sources, including the public, NEA Big Read grantees, and past NEA Big Read panelists. The National Endowment for the Arts narrowed the list of suggestions based on the following criteria: the capacity to incite lively and deep discussion; the capacity to expand the range of voices, stories, and genres currently represented in the NEA Big Read library; the capacity to interest lapsed and reluctant readers and/or to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices; and the capacity to inspire innovative programming for communities. A committee of outside readers and community organizers reviewed the books and made the final recommendations.
The full list of books available for 2019-2020 Big Read grants also includes works by Bradbury, Le Guin, Kelly Link, and Emily St. John Mandel —
- In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Advice from the Lights by Stephanie (previously Stephen) Burt
- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
- Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
- The Round House by Louise Erdrich
- A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
- The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
- How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002 by Joy Harjo
- To Live by Yu Hua
- Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
- Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
- Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Hustle by David Tomas Martinez
- The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka
- The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
- When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
- In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
- True Grit by Charles Portis
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
- Burning Bright by Ron Rash
- A Small Story About the Sky by Alberto Ríos
- Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
- Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
- Our Town by Thornton Wilder
- The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
- Book of Hours by Kevin Young
- Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra
[Thanks to Jeff VanderMeer for the story.]