NEA Big Read

NEA Big Read Guidelines and Application Instructions

Application Deadline: Thursday, January 26, 2017, 4:00 p.m. CST
Programming Dates: September 1, 2017—June 30, 2018
Approximately 75 organizations will be selected for grants from $5,000 to $20,000.


Program description

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, 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 books that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

NEA Big Read annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection. Organizations selected to participate in NEA Big Read receive a grant, access to online training resources and opportunities, digital resources, and promotional materials designed to support widespread community involvement.

The programs last approximately one month and include a kick-off event, often attended by high-profile community leaders 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.

To see examples of current programming and materials developed by previous grantees, visit the NEA Big Read website and Pinterest account. For tips on planning your NEA Big Read visit our Planning Resources webpages.

Eligibility criteria

An applicant organization must:

  1. Be a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization; a unit of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library located within the United States or its territories. Eligible applicants include organizations such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, school districts, theater companies, trade associations, and tribal governments. Check your IRS status.
  2. Partner with a library (if the applicant organization itself is not a library). University and college applicants must partner with a library that is not directly affiliated with their educational institution.
  3. Choose one of the 28 available reading selections. Applicants that have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past must choose a different reading selection from their previous award.
  4. Obtain a DUNS (Dun and Bradstreet) number. Look up your DUNS number.
  5. Have and maintain an “active” SAM registration (System for Award Management; sam.gov) until the application process is complete, and if selected, throughout the programming dates of the award. This may include renewing your registration annually or more frequently if there are changes in the information. SAM registration is free. Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center for free specialized help with the SAM.gov registration process.
  6. Be able to comply with the federal policies and legal requirements, statutes, and regulations in the Assurance of Compliance.

Local education agencies, school districts, and state and regional education agencies are eligible. We do not fund individual elementary or secondary schools—charter, private, or public—directly. Schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. If a single school also is a local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as a local education agency.

An organization whose primary purpose is to channel resources (financial, human, or other) to an affiliated organization is not eligible to apply if the affiliated organization submits its own application. This prohibition applies even if each organization has its own 501(c)(3) status. For example, the “Friends of ABC Museum” may not also apply if the ABC Museum applies.

Ineligible applications will not be reviewed.

Grant awards

Eligible organizations may apply for a grant ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. These grants are federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (CFDA No. 45.024: Promotion of the Arts_Awards to Organizations and Individuals) and may be used for such expenses as book purchases, speaker fees and travel, salaries, promotion, and venue rental. Grants are cost shared and must be matched on a 1 to 1 basis with nonfederal funds such as staff salaries and wages, private grants, in-kind contributions, and earned revenues. Please see the proposal budget instructions for more information.

If awarded, the applicant will enter into a Grant Agreement with Arts Midwest.

Full funding of grant requests is not guaranteed. If awarded, the grant amount may be less than the amount requested in the applicant's proposal and rounded to an even dollar amount.

Funding restrictions

Funding is not available for:

  • Overlapping project costs between federal awards, whether received directly from a federal agency or indirectly, such as through a state agency or other entity
  • Programs restricted to any organization's membership; programs must be promoted and available to the general public
  • Programs that are intended to be experienced solely online
  • Payment for facilities, purchase of capital equipment, or non-project related administrative expenses
  • Fellowships or cash prizes
  • Entertainment costs, such as opening parties, receptions, or fundraisers

Selection process and review criteria

Approximately 75 organizations from across the country will be selected to participate in the NEA Big Read. Organizations may apply for one grant per program year. Application review will be based on the artistic excellence and merit of the program. Applications are reviewed by an advisory panel composed of a diverse group of arts and literature experts and other individuals with broad knowledge of programs like NEA Big Read. Panel composition changes annually. If selected, an organization will be expected to carry out a program consistent with its proposal. If changes are necessary, they must be discussed and approved by NEA Big Read staff at Arts Midwest.

Specifically, each application will be evaluated based on the following review criteria:

  1. Quality of diverse and creative literary programming that: shows a clear connection between the NEA Big Read book and the target audience(s); meets the programming requirements; and engages a wide range of community members with the writing, content, and themes of the selected book.
  2. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations that will broaden community participation beyond the applicant's primary constituent base and enrich programming. Examples of such partners are arts organizations, bookstores, community centers, community colleges, community service organizations, correctional institutions, libraries, local businesses, middle and high schools, military installations, museums, senior centers, social service organizations, universities, and youth groups.
  3. Comprehensive promotion of the NEA Big Read through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts; distribution of digital guides and promotional materials; and publicity through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, and media outlets as applicable.
  4. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming including organizational capacity, the provision of appropriate personnel, reasonable budget plan, and evidence of the required 1 to 1 cost share/match.

Reading selections

Applicants must choose one of the 28 reading selections from the "Featured" section of the NEA Big Read catalog. Applicants that have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past must choose a different reading selection from their previous award.

Books available for 2017-18 are:

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Five Skies by Ron Carlson
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2002 by Joy Harjo
Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories edited by Jorge F. Hernández
To Live by Yu Hua
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
True Grit by Charles Portis
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
Book of Hours by Kevin Young
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra

Copies of the reading selection are not provided. Applicants should articulate in their proposal a plan to acquire and distribute copies of their chosen book.

Digital resources and promotional materials

One of the benefits of the NEA Big Read is the availability of high-quality digital guides and promotional materials for each reading selection.

The digital resources are available for download from neabigread.org by grantees to share with their communities. Visit the Books section of the website to see the resources available for your reading selection. Reader Resources with information on the featured book and author are available for all reading selections, with some translated in to Spanish. Teacher's Guides and media resources like podcasts, audio guides, and films are available for some reading selections.

Grantees also receive free promotional items including three full-color NEA Big Read banners and a set of bookmarks to promote their activities.

Program requirements

Successful NEA Big Read programming should encourage reading and discussion of the selected book on a community-wide scale.

Your NEA Big Read must include the following:

  1. Diverse and imaginative events and literary activities held at a variety of locations
    1. A kick-off event to launch the program.
    2. A minimum of 10 discussions on the selected book.
    3. At least one keynote session on the selected book and its themes, either with the author or another appropriate speaker. If you are considering an author visit as part of your programming, please be aware that honoraria and availability vary by individual. Other considerations for a keynote could include a panel discussion or a presentation by someone associated with the book or author.
    4. A minimum of two special events involving other forms of artistic programming designed to engage participants with the selected book (e.g., art exhibits/contests, films, musical performances, theatrical readings, and creative writing activities related to the themes of the book, etc).

    5. Note: Event types may be combined (e.g., a kick-off event can include a keynote session and a discussion of the book or poet).
  1. Community partnerships
    • Applicant organizations must partner with a library (if the applicant itself is not a library). University and college applicants must partner with a library that is not directly affiliated with their educational institution.
    • Applicants should partner with various community organizations to reach beyond their primary constituent base.
      • Partnerships are encouraged with community organizations such as arts organizations, bookstores, community centers, community colleges, community service organizations, correctional institutions, libraries, local businesses, middle and high schools, military installations, museums, senior centers, social service organizations, universities, and youth groups.
  1. Promotional efforts and partnerships
    To ensure strong community participation in NEA Big Read activities by individuals of various ages, cultural backgrounds, educational levels, and occupations, organizations should actively promote their programming through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts. Organizations should also consider partnering with local radio, print, TV, and other media outlets as applicable.
Additional grant requirements

Each organization receiving a grant must:

  • Conduct activities between September 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018. Recommended program length is approximately one month.
  • Call its program “NEA Big Read.”
  • Cost share/match the grant at least 1 to 1. Please refer to the proposal budget instructions for more information.
  • Participate in an online orientation with other program participants in June 2017.
  • Use and distribute the digital resources (see Digital Resources and Promotional Materials section).
  • Provide information to be posted on the website, neabigread.org.
  • Comply with all crediting requirements. This includes consistent crediting of the NEA Big Read, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Midwest, and any additional sponsors.
  • Comply with all reporting requirements. Grantees must adhere to multiple deadlines including submitting event listings before, during, and after their community activities. Grantees will be required to submit a final report within 45 days of their final activity with event attendance statistics, lists of partner organizations, media and promotional examples, and a narrative about their programming.
  • Comply with all federal grant regulations, including providing organizational audit information if required by federal law. Please review the Assurance of Compliance document.
  • As necessary, seek legal permissions for activities and promotional materials.

How to apply

To apply for the NEA Big Read you must submit an application online at: http://bit.ly/NEABRapp1718 on or before January 26, 2017.

We recognize that your application represents a proposal and some elements may be tentative, but you should be as specific and thorough as possible. It is difficult for panelists to assess your program without detailed information on proposed activities, partners, venues, dates, etc.

  • The information required for the application form is listed below and formatted spreadsheets are provided.
  • We recommend you prepare all application content offline (narrative responses, support letters, and budget). Your narrative responses will be pasted in text boxes in the application form.
  • No italic, bold, underline, bullets, or other formatting can be accepted. The length of each response cannot be more than the indicated character limit (including spaces). To save space, limit the number of paragraphs.
  • The proposal budget spreadsheet provided should be downloaded, completed, and uploaded.
  • You will not be able to save and return to the application form. The entire application must be completed and submitted at one time. Before you begin, save and close all documents listed below. You will not be able to upload documents left open on your computer.

Please refer to this application checklist to guide you through the application process.

Application contents

  1. General information
    1. Applicant organization: Address, contact information, Employer Identification Number, current and previous fiscal year budget information, DUNS number, and an active registration with SAM (sam.gov)
    1. Your chosen reading selection.
    2. An explanation of why your organization chose that book for your target audience(s).
    3. Your proposed program's start and end dates. Programming must occur between Sept. 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018; recommended program length is approximately one month.
    4. Grant request amount (between $5,000 and $20,000).
    5. A brief written description of the community in which programming will take place and an anticipated total number of participants attending your proposed events.
    6. Proof of your organization's federal tax-exempt status, consisting of either:
      1. A scanned PDF of your organization's federal tax-exempt ruling letter under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code; or
      2. A scanned PDF of documentation indicating that your organization is a division of state, local, or tribal government. A one-page letter from a higher governing body (state, county, city) that vouches for your organization as an arm of local government and is therefore federally tax exempt is the most common article of proof we accept.
        State sales tax-exemption certificates and copies of ordinances or bylaws are not qualified documents.
        View a sample letter from the IRS verifying an organization's 501(c)(3) federal tax exempt status. If you need assistance to identify the correct documentation, please call Arts Midwest or check with your finance department.
  1. Quality of diverse and imaginative literary programming
  2. The panel will review the rationale for choosing the title, programming plans, and proposed number of events to determine the quality of diverse and creative literary programming that: shows a clear connection between the NEA Big Read book and the target audience(s); meets the programming requirements; and engages a wide range of community members with the writing, content, and themes of the selected book.

    1. Programming description (4000 character limit, including spaces)
    2. Describe your programming plans in detail. Be sure that your plans meet the programming requirements explained above.

      1. Provide details on the types of activities, target audiences for those activities, locations, and intended dates.
      2. Explain how your activities will engage audiences with your selected book.
  1. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations
  2. The panel will review the partnerships description, letters of support, and proposed number of partner organizations to determine the relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations that will broaden community participation beyond the applicant's primary constituent base and enrich programming.

    1. Partnerships description (4000 character limit, including spaces)
      1. Describe your partnerships with libraries (as applicable) and community organizations.
      2. Explain the role each partner will play in your program, the activities each partner will undertake with your organization, and whether these partnerships are confirmed or pending.
      3. Explain how your partnerships will allow you to reach your intended audience(s) and strengthen or build new communities around the NEA Big Read activities.
    1. Letters of support (upload)
      Include two, one-page letters of support. Each letter should address the roles and responsibilities of the partner organization in relation to the project. These letters may be addressed to “NEA Big Read review panel.”
      • Library applicants: one letter must be from a key partner.
      • All other applicants: one letter must be from your library partner.
      • Letters must be on organization letterhead and submitted in PDF format.
  1. Comprehensive promotion of the NEA Big Read
  2. The panel will review the promotional description to determine the applicant's comprehensive promotion of the NEA Big Read through digital and print channels as well as other public relations/marketing efforts; distribution of digital guides and promotional materials; and publicity through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, and media outlets as applicable.

    1. Promotional description (4000 character limit, including spaces)
      1. Describe how you will promote your programming. Discuss any proposed or existing partnerships with specific media outlets.
      2. Explain how your program will utilize the digital resources found on neabigread.org and copies of your reading selection.
  1. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming

    The panel will review the following components to determine the applicant's capacity to manage and implement the proposed NEA Big Read programming including organizational capacity, the provision of appropriate personnel, reasonable budget plan, and evidence of the required 1 to 1 cost share/match.

    1. Organization description (4000 character limit, including spaces)
      1. Describe your organization's history, programming, and achievements.
      2. Describe your organization's experience with presenting community-wide programming that demonstrates an ability to conduct a successful NEA Big Read.
    1. Organizer biographies (4000 character limit, including spaces)
      1. Outline the key staff and/or volunteers who will plan and implement the programming, including their titles, roles and responsibilities in the proposed program, and experience or capacity for managing an NEA Big Read.
      2. Include partner organizations' staff as applicable.
    1. Two-page proposal budget (upload)
      1. Include all anticipated expenses and revenue necessary to fully implement the program plans proposed, including planning, programming, and reporting.
      2. Be sure to represent your 1 to 1 cost share/match for the program in both the revenues and expenses sections.
      3. Compare your budget against the details provided in the narrative responses to ensure there are no inconsistencies.

      NEA Big Read program staff can review budgets for technical accuracy prior to formal submission with advance notice.


      Download the two-page proposal budget
      Download the proposal budget instructions
Application deadline

All applications must be submitted electronically at http://bit.ly/NEABRapp1718 on or before 4:00 p.m. CST on Thursday, January 26, 2017.

After submission of your application, Arts Midwest staff will review it for eligibility, project requirement fulfillment, and the inclusion of all application components. If there are no questions concerning your application, the contacts named in your application will receive an email with a statement acknowledging your application is complete along with a PDF of the complete application as it will be forwarded to the review panel.

Application timeline
Application deadline 4:00 p.m. CST, January 26, 2017
Notification of selected communities Late-April 2017
Program activity September 1, 2017—June 30, 2018

Program contacts

Arts Midwest manages all grant applications for NEA Big Read from eligible applicants nationwide and serves as the Big Read program manager on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts.

  • If you have questions about NEA Big Read, application components, or the application guidelines, please call Joshua Feist, NEA Big Read program director at Arts Midwest, at 612.238.8054.
  • If you are experiencing technical difficulties with the application webform or have questions about completing your application, please contact Dana Setterholm, NEA Big Read program associate at Arts Midwest, at 612.238.8010 or neabigread@artsmidwest.org.

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