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Eau Claire to Participate in
Nationwide Big Read Program

RELEASED: Nov. 6, 2006

The Big Read logoEAU CLAIRE — The National Endowment for the Arts announced Nov. 1 that the Center for Service-Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is one of 72 organizations that will receive grants to support Big Read programs between January and June 2007.

The Big Read is a new national program by the NEA, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, that encourages literary reading by asking communities to come together to read and discuss one book. Eau Claire will receive $15,000, which will be matched by $18,000 of in-kind donations and a $5,000 fund-raising target to promote and carry out month-long, community-based programs focused on the book "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury. The Eau Claire Big Read will take place mid-March through mid-April 2007.

Primary authors of the grant — Jasmine Krotzman, associate lecturer of English, and Jeremy Gragert, AmeriCorps*VISTA member in the Center for Service-Learning — said the goal of Eau Claire Big Read is to deliver a community event that involves middle and high school youth, their teachers, college students, college educators, and a variety of community partners in a shared experience that motivates reluctant readers and book advocates alike.

"With the Big Read we want to get everyone in a community — from high school kids and office workers to public officials and senior citizens — reading a great book together," said NEA chairman Dana Gioia. "Our goal is to get people talking about "Fahrenheit 451" or "The Great Gatsby" with the same conviction that they debate the World Series. We want people to feel worse about not reading the book than they do about missing an episode of "Lost" or "CSI."

After executing a successful pilot Big Read program with ten communities in 2006, the NEA announced in May that it would take the Big Read nationwide. In July, First lady Laura Bush enthusiastically joined the Big Read as its Honorary Chair.

Modeled on successful "city reads" programs, the Big Read is meant to address the national decline in literary reading as documented in the NEA's 2004 landmark survey "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America." The survey showed that less than half the American adult population now reads literature.

"We are delighted to be partners in The Big Read," said IMLS director Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice. "It's exciting to know that our partnership on the national level can make it possible for local communities across the United States to connect around reading a good book."

Participating communities, ranging in population from 7,000 to more than 4 million, will read and celebrate one of eight classic American novels: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, "My Antonia" by Willa Cather, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, or "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan. To encourage community-wide participation in the project, each organization will collaborate with public and private partners within its community to develop a program of activities related to the selected novel.

Events planned for the Eau Claire area so far include Sunshine Week at the UW-Eau Claire McIntyre Library; dramatic readings in public settings; study circles and book discussions with book clubs, the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library and area middle and high school students in the Eau Claire Area School District; panels during the annual UW-Eau Claire English department's English Festival; reading groups with ex-offenders under Community Corrections supervision and persons currently in prisons and jails, including the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility; essay, art and cartoon contests in local publications; a Fahrenheit 451 Street Team of performers that will present a short skit based on the opening scenes of the book for various community groups; a 24-hour video contest for middle and high school youth and adults; and a Jeopardy-style trivia contest.

In addition to grants, the NEA also will provide participating communities with a library of free materials, including reader's and teacher's guides for each of the Big Read novels, an audio guide for each novel featuring distinguished actors and writers, an online organizer's guide for hosting a Big Read program, a customized television public service announcement, Big Read display materials, and a comprehensive program Web site.

The Arts Endowment will support a second round of Big Read grants for the second half of 2007 to support programs running from September to December 2007. Four additional novels will be available to those communities: "Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya, "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers, and "The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton.

For a complete list of communities participating in the Big Read or for more information on the program, visit the Web site.

In keeping with The Big Read's goals to reach a community-wide audience, Eau Claire Big Read welcomes individuals or organizations to participate in programming meetings. For more information about becoming a sponsor, a partner, or a host site for Eau Claire Big Read activities, contact Jasmine Krotzman at 715-577-8974 or email her at krotzmjl@uwec.edu.

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. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, visit their Web site.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's 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. To learn more about the Institute, see their Web site.

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. For more information, see their Web site.

The Center for Service-Learning at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is committed to educating students for full participation in society. UW-Eau Claire's Service-Learning requirement is an important part of an undergraduate liberal arts experience that prepares students for a life of informed, ethical, responsible, and active citizenship. For more information, see their Web site.

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JG/NW

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