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 re-reading.
In January the book will serve as centerpiece of a National Endowment for the Arts’ 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. Participants for 2008-09 will include more than 200 cities and towns across the United States.
“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 Washington University 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 the university’s participation. “Working with our partners and sponsors, we will reach more than 10,000 area students and enrich their study of Mockingbird.”
Adelstein also notes that much of the outreach will be done by Washington University students. For example, “Brown School students will lead programs for high school groups, 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, which will feature St. Louis television personalities Christine Buck (CW11) and Summer Knowles (Fox 2), along with local actors. On Jan. 8 Missouri’s first black congressman, William “Bill” Clay, Sr., will discuss his new book, The Jefferson Bank Confrontation: The Struggle for Civil Rights in St. Louis, at the St. Louis County Library, Florissant Valley Branch.
Edison Theatre and Metro Theatre Company will present a theatrical production of To Kill a Mockingbird Jan. 9 to 18. The opening night celebration will include an appearance by Mary Badham, who was nominated for a best-supporting actress Academy Award for her role as Scout in the 1962 film version. Badham also 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).
Individual discussion groups will meet at numerous branches of the St. Louis Public Libraries as well as at local bookstores, cafes and community centers.
For a complete calendar of events or to download a reader’s guide, please visit bigread.wustl.edu or call (314) 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.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts—both new and established—bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. Support for The Big Read is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Transportation for The Big Read is provided by Ford.
For more information about The Big Read program, please visit www.neabigread.org.
The St. Louis Big Read is organized by Washington University in St. Louis, Edison Theatre, Metro Theater Company, the City of St. Louis, the St. Louis Public Library, and the Regional Arts Commission, a state agency.
Partners include the Anti-Defamation League Missouri/Illinois, Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Ladue, Borders Books and Music in Brentwood, Character Plus, Cinema St. Louis, Cultural Festivals, Cultural Leadership, the Diversity Awareness Partnership, the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Clubs, Left Bank Books, the Loop/East Loop Special Business District, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis County Library Foundation, the St. Louis Public Schools, the University City Public Library, the University City School District, the Washington University Campus Book Store, Washington University Libraries and Wesley House.
Media sponsors include KTVI Fox 2, KTVI CW 11 and HEC-TV.