NEA book program gets a makeover, will feature newer works

AP News
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Posted: Jul 13, 2016 9:08 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The NEA Big Read, a book group project launched a decade ago by the National Endowment for the Arts, is getting an update.

The NEA announced Wednesday that the Big Read, for which communities throughout the country have been assigned a single work to discuss, will focus on contemporary works of literature and offer a more diverse range of voices and styles. Starting in the fall of 2017, featured titles will range from Emily St. John Mandel's dystopian novel "Station Eleven" to Kevin Young's poetry collection "Book of Hours" to Claudia Rankine's hybrid of poetry and other art forms "Citizen: An American Lyric."

"We hope that this new direction will inspire folks to discover new books and enjoy talking about them with family and friends, neighbors and peers, and especially people they have yet to meet," the NEA's director of literature, Amy Stolls, said in a statement.

NEA recommendations will include 28 books, 13 of them new to the list and all published since the endowment was founded in 1965. The Big Read currently has 34 titles, several released before 1965, including Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" and John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath." Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and poetry by Emily Dickinson are among other older works to be dropped.

The Big Read was established in 2006 under then-NEA chairman Dana Gioia, who at the time called the program a "way of bringing people together and nurturing a very healthy personal and civic feeling." The NEA began with four books and added new titles over the years, most recently in 2015 with the novels "Silver Sparrow" by Tayari Jones and "In the Shadow of the Banyan" by Vaddey Ratner. NEA spokeswoman Elizabeth Auclair said new selections will be added in the future.

According to the NEA, more than 4 million people have participated in the Big Read, a partnership between the endowment and local organizations around the country.

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Applications for a 2017-18 NEA Big Read grant will be released in October and will be available at neabigread.org. The public is encouraged to suggest books by emailing neabigread@artsmidwest.org.

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This story has been corrected. Kevin Young's poetry collection is called "Book of Hours" not "Citizen."