The Big Read will return to West Michigan this fall, supported for the fifth consecutive year by an award to Hope College through the NEA Big Read.

This year’s program, running across the last week of October and the first three weeks in November, will feature the book “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel.  It will also again include the Little Read for younger readers, with “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and “Blackout” by John Rocco.

In addition, the initiative itself has a new name — one that better reflects its increased scope, according to Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who its executive director as well as an associate professor of English education at Hope.

“We’ve grown so big over the last few years that we are changing our name this year from The Big Read Holland Area to NEA Big Read Lakeshore,” she said.  “We are also expanding our Little Read program to include more elementary and middle school readers.”

Van Duinen noted that last year’s area Big Read engaged more than 10,000 people, not only in Holland but in Saugatuck, Zeeland and elsewhere.  Across the local program’s four years, more than 25,000 have participated, including 1,445 area elementary, middle school and high school students.  This year, libraries and teachers from Allegan, Fennville, Grand Haven and Spring Lake will also be participating.

NEA Big Read, a national initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.  Hope is one of 79 nonprofit organizations to receive a grant to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2018 and June 2019.  The NEA awarded Hope $15,000 for the Lakeshore events.

Set in the Great Lakes region 20 years after a flu pandemic wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population, “Station Eleven” centers on a traveling troupe that performs Shakespeare’s plays to the communities that have arisen in North America in the event’s aftermath.  The narrative visits both the story’s post-apocalyptic present and the world before the pandemic, not only exploring the collapse of society and its aftermath but emphasizing the connections between people and the efforts of those seeking to do more than merely exist.

The Independent of London has described the book as “Possibly the most captivating and thought-provoking post-apocalyptic novel you will ever read.”  The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has called “Station Elven” “Audacious…  A book about gratitude, about life right now, if we can live to look back on it.”  Karen Valby of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “This is not a story of crisis and survival.  It’s one of art and family and memory and community and the awful courage it takes to look upon the world with fresh and hopeful eyes.”

Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” a 1993 Newberry-winning, young-adult novel, is set in a society which seems at first to be utopian but as the story progresses the main character realizes how dystopian it really is.  “Blackout,” a children’s picture book both written and illustrated by John Rocco, received a Caldecott Honor in 2012 and tells the story of a New York City family during an electrical power outage.

NEA Big Read Lakeshore is a Hope program with many community partner organizations, including the Herrick District Library, the City of Holland, Western Theological Seminary, the Howard Miller Public Library, the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, the Loutit District Library, the Fennville District Library, the Holland Museum, CultureWorks, the Holland Area Arts Council, the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, and the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony.  Formed in 2014, the program puts on numerous events and book discussions centered on a specific novel each November. The previous four books were “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Things They Carried,” “Brother, I’m Dying” and “When the Emperor Was Divine.”

Details about this year’s Big Read’s food, music, art and lecture events, which will include keynote addresses by Emily St. John Mandel and John Rocco, will be released later this summer.  The program encourages book clubs interested in reading any of the chosen titles to sign up on the program’s website.  Book discussion material and information on how to get involved are also available on the website.

Hope and the other participating organizations will match the NEA grant with additional financial and in-kind support, but committee members will also be contacting businesses and individuals in the area for sponsorships of book discussions and main events.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $19 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every congressional district in the country. Over the past 11 years, grantees have leveraged more than $44 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 4.9 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 82,000 volunteers have participated at the local level and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Arts Midwest is one of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, and its history spans more than 25 years.