National Endowment for Arts Selects Southern Maryland for ‘Big Read’

CSM Partners with Local Libraries, Schools, Community Organizations in ‘A Lesson Before Dying’

Continuing its drive toward making the Big Read the largest federal reading program in U.S. history, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has announced that the College of Southern Maryland is one of 127 libraries, municipalities, and arts, culture, higher education and science organizations to receive a grant to host a Big Read celebration of one of 16 classic novels from January-June 2008. The NEA launched the Big Read nationally in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

The latest Big Read grantees represent 38 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NEA inaugurated the Big Read as a pilot project with 10 communities in 2006. By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the U.S. will have hosted a Big Read since the program’s launch. CSM’s grant award is $13,400 for programs to be offered beginning in mid-February 2008 through the end of March.

“This is such an exciting program as you think about what we can do as a region to spread the joy of reading and initiate conversations throughout our community. To see all the entities that are joining with the college to create this ‘Big Read’ of a single book by all of us simultaneously within our region is truly exhilarating, and the programs that we are planning with our many community partners will be helpful in provoking thoughtful dialogues about the themes such as race, family, education and others that are introduced in this book,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried.

The college is partnering with the public libraries, the public schools and the literacy councils of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, as well as with the Office of Aging in St. Mary’s County, the Charles County Arts Alliance, Naval Surface Warfare Center-Indian Head, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southern Maryland, Southern Maryland Newspapers and the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland to host book discussions, writing and art contests, and performances of “A Lesson Before Dying,” by Ernest J. Gaines.

“A Lesson Before Dying” poses the question that “Knowing we're going to die, how should we live?” The story explores how two men named for presidents—an uneducated young black man named Jefferson, and a college-educated teacher named Grant Wiggins—discover a friendship that transforms at least two lives.

“In just two years, the Big Read has grown from 10 communities to include nearly 200 towns and cities nationwide. Although each of these communities celebrates its Big Read program in its own way, one theme we consistently hear back is that the Big Read is not just bringing citizens back to the joy of reading, but also reinvigorating the very idea of community,” said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. “I am delighted to announce the newest round of Big Read communities in this program, which is about so much more than reading.”

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

Information about programs to be offered in Southern Maryland will be announced in January.

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. For more information, please visit

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. For more information, please visit