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NMSU Receives Funds for Community-Wide Reading Project

New Mexico State University is one of 75 organizations nationwide that will receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2017 and June 2018.

“The NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book,” said a statement from NEA. Big Read is an initiative of the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest.

The 2017-2018 grants range from $5,000 to $20,000 for community reading programs taking place in 32 states. The NMSU grant is set at $13,500.

Reading programs will focus on 21 works of literature, such as Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven,” Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” and Dinaw Mengestu’s “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.” Grant recipients range from schools to libraries to arts organizations.

In 2018, the NMSU and Las Cruces community will be invited to read the novel “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea. Participants also will be invited to gather for book discussions, lectures on relevant themes, artistic performances (dance, music), film screenings and other activities.

The NMSU Big Read committee chose “Into the Beautiful North” because of its relevance to southern New Mexico. The book is about a young woman in a dying town in Mexico who watches “The Magnificent Seven” and thinks if she can get some young men who have immigrated to the U.S. back to her Mexican town, her town will survive. So she travels to the U.S. on her quest.

Miriam Chaiken, dean of the Honors College at NMSU, is spearheading the project.

“For the past 30 years NMSU has sponsored an annual spring lecture, and our University Speakers have included Nobel Laureates Elie Wiesel, best-selling authors Margot Lee Shetterly and Alice Walker, noted scientists such as Jane Goodall and Steven Pinker, and social activists including Judy Chicago and Gloria Steinem,” Chaiken said. “While in past years the event has welcomed members of the local community to the lecture, the plans for the 2018 events reflect a much stronger collaboration between the university, the City of Las Cruces, the Las Cruces Downtown Partnership, the Branigan Libraries and local public schools.”

Chaiken said there will be a wide variety of events, from book club discussions, to film screenings, panel discussions and course assignments, to cultural events on the downtown Plaza that are linked with the Big Read selection, “Into the Beautiful North.”

“We anticipate organizing events that will have high visibility across the county and will bring together people from town and campus to learn about this important book that so poignantly portrays the challenges and the promise of living in the Borderlands,” Chaiken said.

Copies of “Into the Beautiful North” will be available for free at the Branigan and Zuhl libraries and other locations in Las Cruces ahead of time so people can read the book and be ready for the activities. Copies will be available in both English and Spanish.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $19 million in grants to organizations nationwide.

“Through the NEA Big Read we are bringing contemporary works to communities across the country, helping us better understand the diverse voices and perspectives that come with it,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “These 75 organizations have developed unique plans to celebrate these works, including numerous opportunities for exploration and conversation.”

More than 4.8 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 79,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 37,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, please visit neabigread.org.

Author:  Darrell J. Pehr – NMSU

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