A grant from the National Endowment of the Arts will support a community-wide conversation about the Ernest J. Gaines novel “A Lesson Before Dying” during the coming school year.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse English Department received a $14,000 Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It will be used to bring nationally recognized speakers to La Crosse and generate community-wide conversations around the book.
“We want it to be a community, grass-roots read,” said assistant professor Kate Parker, one of the grant’s co-authors. She hopes up to 3,000 area readers take part.
Partners in the project include the La Crosse Public Library; libraries at UW-L, Viterbo University and Western Technical College; area schools; and several local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
UW-L is one of only 77 organizations nationwide that received grants totaling more than $1 million for Big Read projects running September 2016 June 2017. The goal of Big Reads, according to the NEH, is “to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.”
Another grant co-author, assistant professor of English Bryan Kopp, expects the Big Read to build community. “Slowing down and reading a book is a great way to connect with one another,” he said.
Community events planned for the Big Read include a kick-off event featuring Sister Helen Prejean, a social justice activist featured in the film “Dead Man Walking.” Other workshops and speaker presentations will be held this winter. Smaller groups will be encouraged to hold their own events while reading the book.
Parker, Kopp and the third grant co-writer, assistant professor of English Heidi Jones, worked with the public library to select the book from a list of 38 titles. “A Lesson Before Dying,” Gaines’ eighth novel, published in 1993, is a story about a young teacher pairing up with an uneducated young adult after he is wrongfully convicted of robbery and murder and sentenced to death in a small, fictional Cajun town.
“This is a book that invites us to think in unexpected ways about pressing social issues,” Parker said.
The faculty authors say there will be more formal and informal opportunities for students interested in promoting literacy — or just reading a good book — to become involved throughout the year. A full schedule of Big Read events will be announced in fall.