The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. Managed by Arts Midwest, The Big Read provides competitive grants to support innovative reading programs in selected communities.
The Big Read answers a big need. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young. The concerned citizen in search of good news about American literary culture would study the pages of this report in vain.
The Big Read aims to address this crisis squarely and effectively. It provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read receive a grant, access to online training resources and opportunities, and educational and promotional materials designed to support widespread community involvement.
Each community event lasts approximately one month and includes a kick-off event to launch the program locally, ideally attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (panel discussions, author reading, and the like); events using the book as a point of departure (film screenings, theatrical readings, and so forth); and book discussions in diverse locations and aimed at a wide range of audiences.
The NEA inaugurated The Big Read as a pilot project in 2006 with ten communities featuring four books. The Big Read continues to expand to include more communities and additional books. To date, more than 1,100 grants have been awarded to communities in the U.S. to host Big Reads since the program's 2007 national launch.