MSU Professor Receives NEA Big Read Grant

Michigan State University Associate Professor of English Sheila Contreras, in partnership with Capital Area District Libraries, was awarded a $14,000 grant to host the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read in the Greater Lansing/Mid-Michigan area.

An initiative of the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

Michigan State University is one of 75 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading program. The NEA Big Read in mid-Michigan will focus on Into the Beautiful North by Luís Alberto Urrea with a kick-off event at the MSU Libraries in mid-March and community discussion groups held throughout the month leading up to the author’s visit. Urrea will appear in Lansing for a reading and Q&A on April 18, 2018.

woman with leaves on book cover
“Into the Beautiful North” by Luís Alberto Urrea

“I am proud of our success on this grant, and thank the NEA and the MSU College of Arts & Letters for their generous support, which enables us to purchase books for readers and to bring the author to Lansing,” Contreras said.

Urrea’s novel about migration from Mexico to the United States will introduce many mid-Michigan readers to Chicano/Mexican-American literature and to underrepresented perspectives on migration.

“For our Mexican-American readers, this may well be the first opportunity to read a novel written by someone from their own community,” Contreras said. “As a specialist in U.S. Latina/o Studies, I am committed to enhancing the visibility of our literature and diversifying content both in and out of the classroom. The Big Read helps to carry out that work.” 

The NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, which annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.

“Through the NEA Big Read, we are bringing contemporary works to communities across the country, helping us better understand the diverse voices and perspectives that come with it,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “These 75 organizations have developed unique plans to celebrate these works, including numerous opportunities for exploration and conversation.”

For our Mexican-American readers, this may well be the first opportunity to read a novel written by someone from their own community.

Michigan State University is partnering with Capital Area District Libraries, the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan, Allen Neighborhood Center, and the Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing to bring the Big Read to Lansing. Funds allow for the purchase of books for community readers.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $19 million in grants to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 11 years, grantees have leveraged more than $42 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 4.8 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 79,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 37,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

Last summer, the NEA announced a new focus for the NEA Big Read Library on contemporary authors and books written since the NEA was founded 50 years ago. For more information about the NEA Big Read, please visit the Arts Midwest website.