National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read

The Big Read Guidelines and Application Instructions

Application Deadline: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 4:00p.m. CST
Programming Dates: September 1, 2015—June 30, 2016
Approximately 75 organizations will be selected.


Program Description

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Big Read provides organizations with grants and comprehensive resources that support their efforts to inspire their community to read and discuss a single book or the work of a poet. The Big Read is managed by Arts Midwest.

The Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. These programs include activities such as author readings, book discussions, panel discussions, lectures, art exhibits, film series, music or dance events, theatrical performances, and other events and activities related to the community's chosen book or poet.

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. Copies of the reading selection are not provided but may be purchased with grant funds or matching resources.

To learn more about The Big Read, including current programming, visit www.neabigread.org.

Eligibility Criteria

An applicant organization must:

  1. Be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; a division 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 literary centers, libraries, museums, colleges and universities, art centers, historical societies, arts councils, tribal governments, humanities councils, literary festivals, and arts organizations.
  2. Partner with a library (if the applicant organization itself is not a library).
  3. Select one of the 37 available reading choices. Applicants that have received a Big Read grant in the past must select a different reading choice from their previous programming.
  4. Have a DUNS number (http://www.dnb.com/get-a-duns-number.html).
  5. Be registered with the System for Award Management (www.SAM.gov) and maintain an active SAM registration 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.
  6. More information about DUNS and SAM.gov.

Note: K–12 schools, school districts, boards of education, or other school governing bodies, whether public or private, are not eligible applicants, but may partner with eligible applicants.

Grant awards

Eligible organizations may apply for a grant ranging from $2,500 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 must be matched 1 to 1 with nonfederal funds such as staff salaries and wages, private grants, in-kind contributions, and earned revenues. Please see the application budget instructions for more information.

There may be no overlapping project costs between Federal awards, whether received directly from a Federal agency or indirectly, such as through a state agency or other entity.

Program Requirements

Successful Big Read programming should facilitate and encourage reading and discussion of the selected book or poet. In addition, through effective partnerships, organizations should supplement book-based programming with creative and engaging community activities. Proposed Big Read programming should reach a wide variety of audiences with diversity in age, cultural background, educational level, and occupation.

Programming for The Big Read must include the following:

  1. Events and literary activities
    1. A kick-off event to launch the program locally.
    2. A minimum of 10 discussions on the selected book or poet held at a variety of locations.
    3. At least one keynote session on the selected book or poet (e.g., lecture by a key biographer or scholar, panel discussion, or author reading).
    4. A minimum of two special events involving other forms of artistic programming (e.g., art exhibits related to the themes of the book or poet; music or dance events; film series including adaptations of the book; or theatrical readings).

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). Partnerships are encouraged with middle and/or high schools, working with teachers, curriculum specialists, or school librarians. Partnerships are also encouraged with community organizations such as bookstores, museums, arts organizations, local businesses, community service organizations, community centers, youth groups, senior centers, correctional institutions, community colleges, universities, social service organizations, and military installations.
  1. Promotional partnerships and efforts
    In order to ensure strong community participation in Big Read activities, organizations should actively promote their Big Read programming and generate media involvement through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, and social media outlets and through other public relations efforts.

Additional grant requirements
All organizations receiving a Big Read grant must:

  • Conduct activities for at least a month-long period between September 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
  • Call their program “The Big Read.”
  • Match the grant request at least 1 to 1. The match must consist of nonfederal funds or in-kind services and materials, or any combination thereof. For example, if you request a $5,000 grant, your total project costs must be at least $10,000 and you must provide at least $5,000 toward the project from nonfederal sources. Provision of matching funds in excess of the required 1 to 1 ratio is acceptable and encouraged. Please refer to the application budget instructions for more information.
  • Participate in an online orientation with other Big Read program participants in June 2015.
  • Use and distribute the educational materials.
  • Provide information to be posted on The Big Read website, www.neabigread.org.
  • Comply with all crediting requirements. This includes consistent crediting of The Big Read, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Midwest, and any additional sponsors.
  • Comply with all reporting requirements. Organizations will be required to submit event listings before, during and after their community activities. Grantees will be required to submit a final report with statistics and a narrative about their programming following its conclusion.
  • 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.
Reading choices

Applicants must choose one of 37 reading selections from The Big Read catalog, available at www.neabigread.org/books. Applicants that have received a Big Read grant in the past must select a different reading choice from their previous programming. For 2015–2016 programming, one new title has been added:
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

The following reading selections are also available for programming:

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
The Poetry of Emily Dickinson*
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories edited by Jorge F. Hernández
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Washington Square by Henry James
The Poetry of Robinson Jeffers*
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow*
The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
True Grit by Charles Portis
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town by Thornton Wilder**
Old School by Tobias Wolff

* Poems to consider for programming are included in the Reader's and Teacher's Guides which are available on The Big Read website: www.neabigread.org/books.

** Applicants choosing Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey may include in their application plans for a production of, or programming around, Our Town. The Big Read educational materials address both the novel and the play.

Educational and promotional materials

One of the major benefits of The Big Read is the availability of high-quality educational and promotional materials for each reading selection. The Big Read educational materials are electronic and available to download on www.neabigread.org.

Educational materials for grantees to share with their communities include the following:

  • Reader's Guides containing an introduction to the featured book or poet, historical context, background of the writer, information about related works, and discussion questions.
  • Spanish translations of Reader's Guides available for In the Time of the Butterflies; Bless Me, Ultima; Fahrenheit 451; The Maltese Falcon; Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Call of the Wild; The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe; The Grapes of Wrath; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; and Into the Beautiful North.
  • Teacher's Guides containing lesson plans and other resources for use by educators.
  • Audio Guides/Author Interviews, 20 to 30-minute programs about the book or poet featuring interviews with and readings by notable literary and public figures.

The following promotional materials are provided in print at no charge:

  • Three full-color Big Read banners
  • Official Big Read bookmarks
Selection Process and Review Criteria

Approximately 75 organizations from across the country will be selected to participate in The Big Read. Organizations may apply for one grant per year. Selections and grant awards 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 The Big Read. Panel composition varies annually. If selected, organizations will be expected to carry out a Big Read consistent with your proposal. If changes are necessary, they must be discussed and approved by The Big Read staff at Arts Midwest.

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

  1. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed Big Read programming including the provision of appropriate personnel, meeting the minimum programming requirements, and providing the required 1 to 1 match.
  2. Overall depth and breadth of literary programming, including efforts to engage community members with the content and themes of the selected title, activities that reflect a literary focus, and diverse and imaginative events that will reach various audiences in the applicant's community.
  3. Active promotion of The Big Read including distribution of educational and promotional materials; media involvement through partnerships with local radio, print, TV, and social media outlets; and through other public relations/marketing efforts.
  4. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations that will broaden community participation and enrich programming. Examples of such partners are libraries, middle and/or high schools, bookstores, museums, arts organizations, local businesses, community service organizations, community centers, youth groups, senior centers, correctional institutions, community colleges, universities, social service organizations, and military installations.
How to Apply

To apply for The Big Read you must submit an application online via eGrant: http://artsmidwestbigread.egrant.net/.

You will be asked to enter data into webforms and upload completed application documents. Other formats or additional pages will not be accepted.

Application contents
  1. General information
    1. Applicant organization: Address, contact info, DUNS number, and an active registration with SAM (www.SAM.gov)
    2. Your chosen Big Read title and a brief explanation of why your organization chose that book or poet.
    3. Your proposed program beginning and ending dates. (Must be between Sept. 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016; recommended program length is approximately one month.)
    4. Grant request amount (between $2,500 and $20,000).
    5. A brief written description of the geographic area in which Big Read programming will take place and an anticipated total number of participants that the program will serve.
    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.

      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.

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

  1. Capacity to manage and implement the proposed Big Read programming
    1. Organization Description (1 page limit)
      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 Big Read.

      Download the Organization Description form

    2. Organizer Biographies (1 page limit)
    3. Outline the key staff and/or volunteers who will plan and implement The Big Read, including their titles, roles and responsibilities, and experience or capacity for managing a Big Read. Include partner organizations' staff as applicable.

      Download the Organizer Biographies form

  2. Overall depth and breadth of literary programming
    1. Project Description (1 page limit)
    2. Describe your programming plans in detail. Include the types of activities, target audiences for those activities, locations, timeframes, and number.

      Download the Project Description form

  3. Active promotion of The Big Read
    1. Promotional Description (1 page limit)
      1. Describe how you will promote your Big Read programming. Discuss any proposed or existing partnerships with specific media outlets.
      2. Explain how your program will utilize the digital educational materials found on http://www.neabigead.org and copies of your reading selection.

      Download the Promotional Description form

  4. Relevance and depth of involvement with community partner organizations
    1. Partnerships Description (1 page limit)
      1. Describe your partnerships with libraries, middle and/or high schools, and community organizations as applicable.
      2. Explain the role each partner will play in your Big Read, 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).

      Download the Partnerships Description form

    2. Letters of support
    3. Include two one-page letters of support. Each letter should address the roles and responsibilities of the partner organization in relation to the project description.

      • 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. Please use 11 point type, single-spacing, 1 inch margins on all sides.

    Two-page Program Budget
    Represent all anticipated expenses and revenue necessary to fully implement the program plans proposed, including planning, programming, and reporting. Be sure to represent your 1 to 1 match for the program in both the revenues and expenses sections.

    Download the two-page Program Budget
    Download the Application Budget Instructions

    Application deadline

    All applications must be submitted electronically via eGrant on or before 4:00 p.m. CST on Wednesday, January 28, 2015.

    Application timeline
    Application deadline January 28, 2015
    Notification of selected communities Mid-April 2015
    Program activity September 1, 2015—June 30, 2016

    Program contacts

    • If you have questions about The Big Read, application components, or the application guidelines, please call Joshua Feist, The Big Read program manager, at 612.238.8054.
    • If you are experiencing technical difficulties with eGrant or have questions about completing your application, please contact Dana Setterholm, The Big Read program assistant, at 612.238.8010 or thebigread@artsmidwest.org.

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