January 30, 2017
From mid-September to late October 2016, Albion College in Michigan hosted NEA Big Read for their surrounding community using Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a point of departure. The goal was to celebrate this book, encourage people of all ages to read it, and inspire them to take part in one or more of the 62 thematically-related events and discussions. Below are some highlights from their very successful Big Read.
Check out their custom Big Read website for more information and photographs: http://albionbigread.org/
"The pictures of the kids that appear on our website tell a story of pride and joy. One in particular captures the work of this program, which is the most powerful off shoot of our NEA Big Read. The picture is of three of our boys right after their discussion. Their faces are open, and they are smiling, something they do not do often in photographs. These are kids who are so often guarded. But there they are, having done something hard and feeling the joy of their accomplishment. Like the other participants in the leadership program, they know that that joy and their accomplishment are rooted in a book. A book. That alone is remarkable."
"All of the writers and artists who visited the schools this year are black. That mattered: black and white students alike found themselves looking at black artists who taught them that things they had not imagined possible were, in fact, possible. When Dom Flemons played music on cow ribs he had cured and fashioned into instruments, the students’ jaws dropped. When Roger Bonair-Agard performed a poem about Muhammad Ali, they looked on amazed—amazed that there could be poems about Ali, amazed that they could be captivated by them. When Rita Williams-Garcia described writing stories when she was their age and sending them off to be published, they wondered if they, too, might be writers, not later but right now."
"At one point, I found myself at a table with three local kids (two of whom were Big Read leaders), an Albion College emeritus professor and his wife, and a member of Albion College’s Board of Trustees. The college folks were white, the kids black. Those kids, whom I know and love, have endured a great deal of upheaval and uncertainty in the last several years. But there they were, sitting right next to people whom age, class, and race might be thought to divide them from, and they were not intimidated. This was a Big Read event, and those kids felt a deep and real sense that the Big Read was theirs. And it was. It is theirs—it is all of ours. So when I introduced them to the people who have considerable social, political, and economic power, the kids smiled and shook hands and then turned and watched the musicians. Nothing dramatic happened: a group of very different people just sat around a table and listened to music. But at a time when people seem increasingly to remain in enclaves of people like them, the diversity around that table was striking. We were there together, sharing space, shaking hands, listening to music—all because of the arts and NEA Big Read. The more I have worked on NEA Big Read in Albion, the more convinced I am that community gets made in ordinary, yet extraordinary, interactions like these."