Recipient of a seventh consecutive grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College will journey back in time this fall from Nantucket, Massachusetts, to the South Pacific for the 200 th anniversary of the real-life sea story that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Running concurrently, the Little Read Lakeshore will travel to the Galapagos Islands supported by a second consecutive grant from Michigan Humanities.

This year’s Big Read will feature Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction best-seller “In the Heart of the Sea,” an account of the November 1820 sinking of the ship “Essex” by an angry whale and the crew’s struggle for survival afterward.  It will also include an age-appropriate adaptation of the book for middle-grade readers, with the Little Read Lakeshore for children featuring the bilingual picture book “Galapagos Girl / Galapagueña,” written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Angela Domínguez.

The Big Read Lakeshore has received $15,000 from the NEA, one of 84 grants announced on Tuesday, June 16, for the period running from September 2020 through June 2021.  The Little Read Lakeshore has received $15,000 from Michigan Humanities, one of 16 grants announced earlier in the month.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve received NEA and NEH grants again this year. Our program has grown so much over the past seven years and I’m excited for readers along the Lakeshore to participate again,” said Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is director of both the Big Read and Little Read as well as an associate professor of English education at Hope.  “During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I think it’s more important than ever for our community to come together around a common book, to learn from and listen to each other as we encounter a story from our different perspectives and vantage points.”

NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that seeks to broaden understanding of the world, community and self through the joy of sharing a good book.  NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.  The Humanities Grants from Michigan Humanities award up to $15,000 per project to Michigan nonprofits doing work to support cultural, educational and community-based public programming with a humanities element.

The Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore are Hope College programs that are presented in collaboration with 30 community partners including lakeshore libraries, non-profits, businesses and academic institutions, and put on numerous events and book discussions centered on a specific novel between late October and the middle of November.  More than 10,000 people participated in last year’s events.  The NEA Big Read Lakeshore, which began in 2014, has received NEA Big Read support during each of the local program’s seven years, for a total of $106,500.  The Little Read Lakeshore, which began in 2017, has received Michigan Humanities grants during the past two years, for a total of $30,000.

“In the Heart of the Sea” won the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 weeks.  The book tells the harrowing story of the Nantucket-based whaler “Essex,” which was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in the South Pacific.  The 20 crew members drifted for more than 90 days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger and disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival.

“As a survival story, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ raises questions about who we are as humans and the choices we make or think we might make in different situations,” Van Duinen said.  “It’s a story that encourages us to reflect on life and death and our relationship with the natural world and each other.”

The bilingual picture book “Galapagos Girl / Galapgueña” centers on young Valentina, who enjoys her life on the Galapagos Islands, where she spends her days outside observing the natural world around her, greeting sea lions splashing on the shore, scampering over lava rocks with Sally-lightfoot crabs and swimming with manta rays.  When she learns that her wild companions are under threat, she vows to help protect them and the islands.  The story is based on the childhood of Valentina Cruz who will be Skyping in during the program.

This year’s Big Read and Little Read will begin with a kick-off event on Monday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m.   Details about this year’s music, art and lecture events will be released in the fall. Van Duinen noted that in light of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, implementation will be contingent on conditions at the time, and will be based on the guidance, recommendations and restrictions issued by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.  “We are currently exploring virtual and hybrid programming options to ensure that all of our community members will be able to participate in our events,” Van Duinen said.

The Big Read 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,

In addition to Hope, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore’s community partners include the Allegan District Library, Allendale Township Library, Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, the City of Holland, CultureWorks, Fellowship Reformed Church, the Fennville District Library, the Gary Byker Library of Hudsonville, the Georgetown District Library, the Herrick District Library, the Holland Museum, the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute, the Howard Miller Public Library, the Loutit District Library, the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, the Outdoor Discovery Center, the Patmos Library, Ready for School, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, the Spring Lake District Library, Western Theological Seminary, the Woman’s Literary Club and many individual area residents.

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 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. Over the past 13 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. More information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, is available at

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 Arts Endowment 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. More information is available at

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 35 years. More information is available at

As one of 56 state (and territories) humanities councils in the country, Michigan Humanities was founded in 1974 as a result of federal legislation.  An affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michigan Humanities also actively seeks grants, sponsorships and individual donations to further support cultural programming for Michigan communities.  More information is available at

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.  More information is available at