March 2011 will be a big month at the Reynolds Homestead -- under a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant, the Virginia Tech center will host The Big Read, Patrick County’s first. The lyrical poetry of Emily Dickinson will be the focus.

Events of The Big Read month will include book discussions, a poetry slam, poetry writing workshops, and a performance by a professional Emily Dickinson impersonator. A keynote address by Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English, is also planned.

The NEA grant of $3,350 was awarded in partnership with the Patrick County school system and the Patrick County Branch Library. The grant was announced recently in a joint news conference at the Reynolds Homestead. A local match will be met with in-kind contributions, as well as corporate and private donations, bringing the total project to $6,700. The Homestead is one of 75 not-for-profits -- including arts and cultural organizations, libraries, and universities -- to receive a grant to host a Big Read project between September 2010 and June 2011.

“We are excited to partner with the school system and the Patrick County library to host a Big Read,” says project coordinator Lisa Martin of the Reynolds Homestead. “Events will be held across the county, and students will be involved, too. Rick Ward of the library will be helping coordinate community ‘reads,’ and Stephen Henderson from the school system will coordinate activities within the schools.”

Martin F. Clark, circuit court judge and author of three critically acclaimed novels, will be the honorary chairman.

A 2004 NEA study showed that literary reading among Americans is declining rapidly, especially among teenagers and young adults, and less than half of adult Americans now read literature. “As more Americans lose the capability of reading critically, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded,” Martin says.

Literary reading also corresponds with active civic participation, Martin says. Readers of literature are more likely to volunteer, do charity work, visit art museums, and attend arts events.

Henderson, an English teacher at Patrick County High School, says that Emily Dickinson's work can be introduced to students of all ages from kindergarten to the upper grades. 

Ward says that the project blends perfectly with one of the missions of the public library: lifelong learning. Book discussion groups will meet, and he says he hopes the project can reach out to “reluctant” or “lapsed” readers and encourage them to become regular readers. “We want to get the community together,” he says.

Big Read grants underwrite community-based reading programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings, and performing-arts events. Communities also receive free educational materials to supplement each title, including reader’s, teacher’s, and audio guides.

The Big Read is an NEA initiative to restore reading to the center of American culture. 

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