Albion is one of 77 cities that has been awarded the National Endowment of the Art’s grant to host The Big Read, which aims to bring a community together through a common book. This year’s book, Fahrenheit 451, tells the story of a post 2020 world where books are outlawed in society.
The Big Read came to life in Albion three and a half years ago when Jess Roberts, associate professor at Albion College and the director of the Big Read, was teaching a grant writing course called Practical Persuasion. Three Albion students — Maddie Drury, Tess Haadsma and Diana Gomez — worked with Roberts to create the early drafts for the grant that now funds the program in Albion.
Roberts’ goal was to create an opportunity for English majors to learn through experience in addition to wanting to do something positive for the community as an Albion resident.
The kickoff for the Big Read is Oct.1, but the preparation began earlier this summer.
In October, there will be book discussions in a variety of English courses at Albion College and in the state prison through the Jackson College Prison Initiative, which allows inmates the opportunity to take college courses for credit.
There will also be six to seven community discussions led by Albion student leaders who are in the eighth to 10th grade. These leaders were recommended by their teachers and attended a week long camp run by Albion College student mentors and Big Read organizers, Roberts and Drury.
Roberts’ most rewarding part of The Big Read is having the opportunity to work with Albion’s youth.
“Working with those young people from Albion is just the most amazing thing,” said Roberts “They are so dynamic and generous and willing to take risks and willing to talk about complicated ideas and are willing to test themselves and their limits. They teach me what it actually looks and feels like to make a community.”
The Big Read is more than a community event for Albion; it is an opportunity for individuals of different backgrounds to come together and share a common experience. One way this common experience is built is through book discussions, which are hosted by multiple community groups such as Sisters Influencing Society and Sigma Tau Delta.
There are a variety of events that are aimed to ensure that all members of the Albion community know these events are for them. Next month, The Big Read will be sponsoring string musicians, Westward Project exhibits, college archives, novelists, scholars and Blues at the Bohm in hopes of bringing people from all background and interests into a common space.
At the Big Read’s first planning meeting in the fall of 2014, Albion College President Mauri Ditzler said, “The beautiful thing about books is the way it brings people together. When people come together to meet, they are not yet ready to share their own lives, but they can share the life of the book.”
The Big Read allows people to not only share a physical book but also touch on their own stories through the open discussions.