Susan McDaniel Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
“One book one community.” This is the goal set by the Havre-Hill County Library Foundation for the Big Read program that is beginning this week. Multiple copies of “The Grapes of Wrath” are now available at the Havre-Hill County Library for everyone to share in the local project. Everyone is encouraged to pick up a copy of the book from the library to give them plenty of time to read it. “With the Big Read we want to get everyone in the community from high school kids and office workers to public officials and senior citizens reading a great book together,” said Bonnie Williamson, director of the Havre-Hill County Library. “Our goal is to get people talking about The Grapes of Wrath’ so we can unite over one book.” During the great depression, which began in 1929 and lasted to the thirties, much of America underwent an historic drought that left many farmers and ranchers hungry, broke and desperate. A huge region across the center of the nation became known as the Dust Bowl. As crops failed and conditions grew grim, rural families were forced to leave the land they had always called home and set out in search of work and food. Many of them went to California along old Route 66. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” describes the western migration and plight of the fictional Joad family who represent hundreds of thousands of real families who suffered a similar fate. “The Big Read Committee picked The Grapes of Wrath’ because our older citizens can remember similar circumstances and the book provides good lessons for young people,” Williamson said. The Big Read is a new national program by the NEA, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest that encourages literary reading by asking communities to come together to read and discuss one book. The organizations selected to participate in the Big Read receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 to promote and carry out month-long, community- based programs. After executing a successful pilot Big Read program with 10 communities in 2006, the Arts Endowment announced in May 2006 that it would take the Big Read nationwide. In July, first lady Laura Bush enthusiastically joined the Big Read as its honorary chair. Modeled on successful “city reads” programs, the Big Read is meant to address the national decline in literary reading as documented in the NEA’s 2004 landmark survey Reading at Risk A Survey of Literary Reading in America. The survey showed that less than half the American adult population now reads literature. The Havre-Hill County Library Foundation was one of 72 organizations that received a grant to support the Big Read program by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Big Read in Havre and Hill County was funded with $13,000. The programs will take place through out the month of March. Williamson stated that Havre is the only Montana community that was funded to participate in the Big Read. Participating communities, ranging in population from 7,000 to more than 4 million, will read and celebrate a classic American novel.
To encourage community-wide participation in the project, each organization will collaborate with public and private partners within its community to develop a program of activities related to the selected novel. In addition to direct grants, the NEA also will provide participating communities with a library of free materials, including reader’s and teacher’s guides for each of the Big Read novels, an audio guide for each novel featuring distinguished actors and writers, an online organizer’s guide for hosting a Big Read program, a customized television public service announcement, Big Read display materials, and a comprehensive program Web site. The Boeing Company will support the Big Read in communities with a military base. For a complete list of communities participating in the Big Read or for more information on the program, visit www.neabigread. org. Kicking off the upcoming activities will be an official proclamation by the Hill County Commissioners declaring March to be “Big Read Month.” The local Big Read committee has planned a keynote address by Dr. Susan Shillinglaw, director of programs at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif., a car show, showings of the original movie, a soup line dinner at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, discussions and art shows at both the Havre-Hill County Library and the Clack Museum. Participation in all these events is free and open to the public. In addition, raffle tickets will be available from members of the Big Read Committee for a trip to the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California in August. The raffle tickets will cost $2 each or six for $10 and will be available after Feb. 8. Montana Arts Council member and Havre resident Dee Heltne helped spearhead the grant application for the Big Read, along with Williamson. They put together a diverse committee, representing schools, organizations, businesses and individuals throughout town, then polled participants on which book to select from a list of eight novels. Local committee members are Heltne, Williamson, Raela Hulett, Jack Brandon, Jerry Zorko, John Snider, Rev. Richard Rice, Kathy Hodges, Arlie Lane, Tom Keller and Carilla French. The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts both new and established bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. For more information about the month long celebration of the classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath,” contact Williamson or one of the local Big Read committee members. The Big Read Committee meets again at the library on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. Anyone wishing to help with the project is welcome to attend.