Mayor Toni Harp announced that the Elm City received a $14,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the 2017 Big Read, a nationwide initiative that encourages reading, in a city hall press conference Thursday morning.
This year’s Big Read, which runs from the end of April until the International Festival of Arts & Ideas in June, will be organized in partnership between City Hall, the New Haven Free Public Library and the festival. Only 77 cities in the United States received Big Reads grants. This year, New Haven residents are encouraged to read “Into The Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea, a novel about a Mexican teenager attempting to cross the United States border to find her father and defend her hometown. City residents are also invited to attend events related to the chosen book that will take place around the city, such as book discussions and movies screenings.
“The Big Read is meant to advance the city toward a greater love for learning — by reading,” Harp said during Thursday morning’s press conference. “I also embrace this initiative for the manner in which it fosters conversation and shared ideas. In this sense, the Big Read mirrors the festival, which has ‘arts and ideas’ built right into its name.”
NEA Big Read is a 10-year-old program that supports organizations across the United States in helping their communities explore one book off the NEA’s book list. The Big Read program is managed by Arts Midwest, a nonprofit arts organization.
Expressing gratitude for the NHFPL and the festival’s joint application to the NEA grant, Harp underscored the importance of reading skills, which she said are cultivated through the city’s literacy programs and public library system.
Chad Herzog, interim co-executive director of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, explained that “Into The Beautiful North” was chosen from a list of books provided by the NEA Big Read from which individual communities can choose. He added that the “heartfelt” book was also ideal because of its accessibility as there are both English and Spanish versions of the text.
“The story is more relevant and important to all of us today than we could have ever wished to imagine,” Herzog said.
Teachers from the New Haven Public Schools district, such as Simon Edgett, also lauded the book choice. In a press release from the festival, Edgett said that topics like coping mechanisms for loss, immigration struggles and perceptions of gender roles, among others, resonate with young student readers. He added that once students finish the novel, they can submit a reading response that addresses any aspect of the book they find interesting to the Big Read 2017 Student Creative Challenge.
Herzog said copies of the book have been distributed through New Haven public schools, the local immigrants rights organization Junta for Progressive Action and Baobab Tree Studios, among other partner organizations. He added that there will be additional copies of the book available at the Festival’s May 5 kickoff party at Junta, located at 169 Grand Ave., and at all branches of the NHFPL.
According to Herzog, the grant will also support Big Read events at businesses and organizations throughout the city, which include film screenings, community dialogues and even a dance lesson.
The last time New Haven received a Big Read grant was in 2007.