Albion was chosen to receive the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read project funding. This provided a great opportunity for Albion’s college campus and community to engage in a month long event focused on empowering the youth in the community and encourage open dialog about issues that are going on in the world today.
These discussions are centered around the book, A Wizard of Earthsea, one of the first fantasy novels to feature a person of color as the main character, according to the Big Read’s website. In the book, a young man named Ged comes of age while struggling against fantastical antagonists and his own insecurities on his quest to become the world’s most powerful wizard.
As part of the project, Albion high school students will be leading book discussions and reading events. Jess Roberts, a professor at Albion College, was part of the planning process in the summer of 2014. She hopes that the Big Read can provide opportunities for the community and college to enter in discussions that create strong ties in Albion.
“In June 2014, the Big Read Planning Committee met for the first time, and we began the process of figuring out why a program like the Big Read would be good for Albion and what we wanted it to accomplish. Those brainstorming sessions yielded the goals that guided all of our subsequent planning: 1) valuing and empowering youth, and 2) creating opportunities for diverse populations to have meaningful interactions with one another.”
This summer The Big Read planning team brought 13 local eighth to 10th-grade students to campus for training that prepared them to lead discussions in October about the selected book, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.
Madeline Drury is an Albion College ‘15 alumna and the assistant director of community initiatives like the Big Read. She was also part of the planning team that worked with the local high school students. “Those 13 amazing leaders learned a lot about the book, facilitation styles and each other, but we learned a lot from them too. None of us would have met if it weren’t for this program, and this summer was an amazing and collaborative experience for all of us.”
There are several events scheduled throughout the month to not only engage the students of Albion but also the entire community. Over the course of the month, community members have been meeting at Books and More, Cascarelli’s and Biggby among other locations to discuss A Wizard of Earthsea.
On Oct. 6, award winning illustrator Christopher Myers visited Albion. He visited local schools and several Albion College classes before giving a lecture at the Bohm Theater on the power of words, images and imagination. “When I see [Albion’s Big Read], I get excited because that’s an opportunity for people to have a conversation, to disagree,” Myers said in his speech. Myers emphasized the importance of meaningful discussion in helping communities grow.
Later events include a book discussion at the Forks Senior Center on Oct. 28, a dragon-themed art event for children and their grandparents at the Bohm Theater on Oct. 29, and the weekend at Albion Community School on Oct. 31 for fifth through eighth-graders interested in STEM.
Through discussion of the book and other community events, the Big Read aims to create an atmosphere of brainstorming and sharing. Already the impact can be felt.
“It has created new partnerships and made extant ones visible. It has generated conversations that would not have otherwise happened. It has made a lot of people feel proud—and for good reason,” Roberts said.
It is easy to get involved in the Big Read, and perhaps make an impact on another student or community member.
Drury said, “I think both our campus and our community rally around young people, and during October we all have an opportunity to add to each other’s experiences. I believe that every single one of our events in October creates a space for meaningful interactions, and every person holds a responsibility to take advantage of that.”
Those who want to help out with the Big Read can donate or volunteer. Volunteer opportunites are posted at albionbigread.com/volunteer. Those who wish to donate should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For October’s event dates or more information on The Big Read in Albion, visit www.facebook.com/albionbigread or albionbigread.org.