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Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011 11:24 am

The Big Read answers a big need

“But all the time — no matter what she did -- there was music.”
So writes Carson McCullers in her breakthrough novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which is being celebrated by The Big Read in Central Illinois.

From the end of January through March 30, central Illinois communities will jointly read, discuss and participate in special events including guest speakers, music performances, film screenings and a panel discussion, all centered on the book.

Exploring the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South, the book became a literary sensation that rose rapidly to the top of the best seller lists in 1940. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was the first in a string of works by McCullers to give a voice to the rejected, forgotten, mistreated and oppressed. The novel was chosen as a selection for Oprah’s Book Club in 2004 and was included in Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

Participating in The Big Read are Charles E. Becker Library at Benedictine University; Chatham Area Public Library; Illinois State Library (ISL), Illinois Center for the Book (ICB) and the ISL Talking Book and Braille Service;  Jacksonville Public Library; Lincoln Library (Springfield’s public library); Prairie Skies Public Library District (Pleasant Plains and Ashland); Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program; Rochester Public Library;  Norris L. Brookens Library at University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS); Williamsville High School Library and Williamsville Public Library.

All partners will present programs highlighting themes covered in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter including communication, the Great Depression era, isolation and music.

The main events for The Big Read are a kickoff, keynote and panel discussion, which are geared towards a general audience from high school to adult readers. Each will include refreshments and are free and open to the public.

The Sangamon Valley Youth Symphony and Prairieland Voices will perform at the kickoff at 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at UIS Studio Theatre. Also, prizes for the Under the Influence Music that Inspires Expression Contest will be awarded. 

Mylene’ Dressler, a novelist and McCullers’ scholar, will deliver a keynote address about the novel and McCullers at 7 p.m. on March 3 at the Brinkerhoff Home on the Benedictine campus. The event is being hosted by Quiddity.

The finale program of The Big Read is a panel discussion about isolation in today’s high-paced technological world. It will be at 7 p.m. on March 30 at UIS’ Brookens Auditorium.  

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

The Big Read answers a big need. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by NEA, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the younger genarations.

The Big Read aims to address this crisis by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature and an extensive Web site providing comprehensive information on authors and their works.

For a complete schedule of events and more information about The Big Read in Central Illinois, see the Web site at http://www.icftb.org/bigread/. Bonnie Matheis is coordinator of the Illinois Center for the Book. Contact her at 217-558-2065 or bmatheis@ilsos.net.
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