An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. The initiative features a granting component, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.
Studies show that reading for pleasure reduces stress, heightens empathy, improves students' test scores, slows dementia, and makes us more active and aware citizens. Book clubs and community reading programs extend these benefits by creating opportunities to explore together the issues that are relevant to our lives. The titles in the NEA Big Read library vary in genre, theme, settings and points of view: from poems about the loss of a father to a memoir about growing up in a refugee camp to a post-apocalyptic novel about hanging on to our humanity after a flu pandemic. Writes one NEA Big read participant, echoing the sentiments of many other participants around the country, "the book taught us how to talk to and trust one another so that we could ultimately approach issues that were difficult and immediate."
Each community program that receives an NEA Big Read grant—which ranges between $5,000 and $20,000—is provided with resources, outreach materials, and training on various aspects such as working local partners, developing public relations strategies, and leading book discussions and Q&As. The programs last approximately one month and include a kick-off event, often attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (e.g., panel discussions and author reading); events using the book as a point of departure (e.g., film screenings and theatrical readings); and book discussions in diverse locations involving a wide range of audiences.
Over the last decade, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,255 Big Read programs, providing more than $17 million in grants to organizations in every district in the country. In turn, these organizations have leveraged more than $35 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 4.2 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 72,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 34,000 community organizations have partnered to make Big Read activities possible.