NEA Big Read 2017 Webinar Recap: 8 Key Takeaways

big read 2017

Everything you need to know about the 2017–2018 Big Read.

Earlier this month, the National Endowment of Arts (NEA), Arts Midwest, and Art Works hosted a comprehensive webinar on the 2017–2018 Big Read program. We attended the webinar and distilled the eight key takeaways from the talk.

One of the most fascinating and valuable portions of the webinar was their coverage of the new title selections. During the webinar, NEA went through every single title, giving a brief summary and an abundance of programming suggestions! We took the summaries and suggestions and created our 2017–2018 Big Read Books Cheatsheet just for you. Download the free cheatsheet by entering your email address below!


8 key takeaways from the Big Read 2017 webinar:

1. Application Timeline

• Applications are due January 26, 2017 at 4 p.m. CST
• Grant winner announcements will take place late April 2017
• Programming will take place September 1, 2017–June 30, 2018

2. Application & Grant Details

• Big Read awards grants to 75 organizations
• Grants range from $5,000–$20,000
• Programming should last about one month and include a kickoff event
• Applicants are selected by their ability to manage the program, promote the program, and involve their community

3. Major Updates

• 2016 marks the program’s 10th anniversary
• New, refreshed look to branding and website
• Realigning of Big Read selections with NEA’s mission statement
• Better coordinated efforts to share Big Read stories
• Main focus: Discovery

4. About the New Book Selection

• More contemporary titles
• More books with living authors to encourage interactivity
• More lesser-known titles
• Wider variety of genres
• Books that touch upon issues relevant to our times

5. Criteria for New Titles

• Capacity to incite lively and deep discussion
• Capacity to expand the range of voices, stories, and genres currently represented in our Big Read library
• Capacity to interest lapsed and/or reluctant readers
• Capacity to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices
• Capacity to inspire innovative programming for communities

6. Continuing Books in the 2017–2018 Selection

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
In the Shadows of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Sun, Stone, Shadows by Jorge F. Hernandez
Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
True Grit by Charles Portis
When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
• A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

7. New Books in the 2017–2018 Selection

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
How We Became Human by Joy Harjo
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra
Five Skies by Ron Carlson
Book of Hours by Kevin Young
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
To Live by Yu Hua

8. Q&A

Can programming be stretched over a longer period of time than one month?

Most programming takes place over the course of one month, but it can be stretched out for a longer period of time. One month is recommended because it packs a “powerful punch in a short amount of time.” It really depends on your target audience, because sometimes, it may make sense to draw out programming over a longer period of time.

• How do communities choose their Big Read book?

Generally, communities form a committee to narrow down the list. Then, they have their community vote on the titles. People have found success crowdsourcing the Big Read selection. Crowdsourcing has a few positive effects: it helps spur engagement and build community. You could also try hosting social polls on Facebook and Twitter, or a survey on SurveyMonkey and Google Forms.

By “reluctant readers,” are you referring to adult or adolescent readers?

Big Read is for all reluctant readers and has programming to encourage acts of discovery. However, most books in the selection are for adults and the selection does not include many children’s books. A number of these books are also for avid readers who are ready to discover something new.

Many communities host a “Little Read” in conjunction with their Big Read. Generally, “Little Read” features a children’s title that serves as a companion read to their Big Read book. To find a “Little Read” to accompany your Big Read book, ask your local library, look through Goodreads, or see if the author of your Big Read book has pulished any children’s books.

 Can you use several books in your Big Read programming?

Yes, you can have a “featured book” — your Big Read pick — but use other titles to support programming. However, it is recommended that you structure most of your programming around your primary Big Read book.

• Are there any successful applications or programming that we can refer to?

NEA Big Read has many tips and ideas for programming on their Pinterest. There are even boards dedicated to specific books!

• How do different libraries in the same metro area work together for Big Read?

Traditionally, NEA sees an entire library system apply. The partnership responsibilities are disseminated into their branches.

• Is there a number of people you should try to reach with your programming?

No, there is no specific target number. It’s all about how you’re reaching people and your programming. Big Read can be as big or as compact as you make it within your community. As long as people show up and are engaged, it’s a successful program!

• Would a small community be at a disadvantage when applying for the grant?

No. It’s all about the way the application is written and how you’re reaching your community. A large program in a lively urban community can be just as impactful as a small program in a rural town. Big Read looks at impact per capita.

• How would you spend the budget, considering advertising, book purchases, etc.?

Budget can be complicated. Contact Big Read for specific help. However, make sure book purchases are factored into your budget!

Why work with BookPal for your 2017–2018 Big Read program?

We specialize in books in bulk. From getting you the best price possible for your large quantity book purchase to providing dedicated account management, BookPal can help you every step of the way as your plan and budget for Big Read.

Plan your Big Read with BookPal! Contact for a custom, no obligation price quote today!

Watch the full NEA Big Read webinar:

This post was written by Elizabeth Lee, the marketing manager at BookPal. She is currently reading Onward by Howard Schultz and The Evil Hours by David J. Morris.

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