By Claudia Mosby
A Focus on Reading in the North State
The Big Read just may be the best kept secret in Tehama County this year. But it is a secret the Tehama County Arts Council eagerly wants to share across field and stream, over hill and dale.
“I’ve always been envious of other communities that have books in common,” says Melissa Mendonca, chair of the art council’s board. “It provides a great opportunity for people to gather in conversation around a literary work.”
Created by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, The Big Read was designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
The grant-funded program, begun as a pilot in 2006 with only 10 participating communities, has since awarded more than 1,100 grants totaling $15 million throughout all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Non-profit grantees ranging from arts, educational and scientific organizations to libraries, foundations and even municipalities receive between $2,500 and $20,000 to purchase reading materials and sponsor events.
“You can’t pick just any book—grantees choose from among the 30 listed on The Big Read website,” says Mendonca. “We selected Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich because she is a native person and because we have a partnership with the Rolling Hills Community Foundation, which helped fund the opening of our Green Room Studio,” an arts and performance space the council also uses for classes.
A collaborative Readers Circle of writers, scholars, librarians, critics, artists and publishing professionals initially created The Big Read library. A reading committee vets new titles according to diversity of genre as well as diversity and stature of authors. A primary focus is contemporary works by living authors.
“Erdrich’s book is lofty, but it really is aimed at the general community,” says Mendonca, who had read the book in college and remembered its impact. Through the grant, the Tehama County Arts Council purchased 150 copies for the Tehama County Library, another project partner. The library and local businesses will hold book discussions throughout the spring.
“We began last October with a Proclamation of The Big Read in Tehama County at both the city of Corning and city of Red Bluff council meetings and at the county Board of Supervisors meeting,” says Mendonca. Since then, the arts council has sponsored a few book discussions and events, but Mendonca believes the best is yet to come.
“This month will find us deep in book discussions and activities,” she says. “People have the opportunity to either join an existing discussion or form their own. And if they’d like to do the latter, they need to contact us via email and we will make sure they get all the support materials—the audio guide, reader’s guide and bookmarks so they have all the materials they need to have a vibrant discussion.”
The council plans to host art classes at its Green Room Studio throughout the spring and also offer a series of workshops on writing memoir and legacy, since the book focuses on family stories from a multi-generational perspective.
“We’re encouraging people to join a book club or the library’s book club to meet someone new,” says Mendonca. “The idea is to create community through literature.”
Ways to get involved:
3. Sponsor. Corporations or small businesses can sponsor a local Big Read, donate goods and services for Big Read events, or organize a “workplace read.”
4. Spread the word.
5. Use social media. Use #NEABigRead to share about your experiences at a Big Read event and see how others are participating around the nation.
6. Read, read, read!