Big Read program to focus on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

With its appealing evocation of childhood and powerful call for tolerance and social justice, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the rare American novel that can be discovered in adolescence yet rewards adult rereading.

In January, the book will serve as centerpiece of a National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Big Read program. Modeled on successful “city read” programs, The Big Read is designed to encourage literary reading by helping communities come together to read and discuss a single book.

“The purpose of The Big Read, like the purpose of literature itself, is pleasure,” said NEA Chair Dana Gioia. “Not necessarily an easy pleasure, but a deliciously rich and complex one. A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity.”

The St. Louis Big Read — coordinated by WUSTL in partnership with several local organizations — will feature dozens of lectures, readings, art exhibits, theater productions, book discussions, film festivals and other events exploring the themes of Lee’s novel. More than two dozen sponsors and partner organizations range from local governments, library districts and school districts to museums, bookstores and arts, literacy and cultural organizations.

“The Big Read provides an opportunity to share University resources with the entire St. Louis community,” said Cheryl Adelstein, director of community relations and local government affairs, who is spearheading WUSTL’s participation. “Working with our partners and sponsors, we will reach more than 10,000 area students and enrich their study of ‘Mockingbird.'”

Adelstein said much of the outreach will be done by WUSTL students. “Brown School students will lead programs for high-school groups,” she said, “and both graduate and undergraduate students will lead book discussion throughout the St. Louis community.”

Events begin Jan. 6 with a reading and discussion at the Missouri History Museum.

In addition to the theatrical production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Jan. 9-18, actress Mary Badham will host a trio of film screenings Jan. 10 and 11 at the St. Louis Public Library, Schlafly Branch; the Missouri History Museum; and the University City Public Library.

The Human Race Machine, which allows viewers to envision themselves as a different race, will be installed in the University’s Mallinckrodt Student Center Jan. 11-18. Subsequent events will include the Black Repertory Theater of St. Louis’ performance of “Stamping, Shouting and Singing Home” at the Missouri History Museum (Jan. 18); the Bias and Bigotry Film Festival, presented by the Anti-Defamation League of League of St. Louis and Cinema St. Louis (Jan. 18-22); and To Kill a Mockingbird Through Art, a family-friendly interactive event exploring racial and social justice issues through the arts, sponsored by Cultural Festivals of St. Louis (Jan. 31).

For a complete calendar of events or to download a reader’s guide, visit or call 935-4407.

In 2007, Washington University sponsored a Big Read focusing on Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

More than 12,000 people participated in dozens of public events and book discussion groups.