The NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College have been named the Statewide Community Impact Partner of the Year for 2021 by Michigan Humanities.

The Community Impact Partner of the Year award, announced this year on Monday, May 16, recognizes universities, schools, libraries, community centers and organizations that made a significant impact during the previous year in championing the value of public humanities and making a lasting contribution to the cultural life of Michigan. The honoree may have brought to life a book, humanities project, historical project, discussion or other humanities program in an innovative or creative way.

“We had a record number of nominations for this year’s awards, and the award selection committee was dealt the difficult task of choosing just one award recipient for each category. The Big Read and Little Read Lakeshore programs were a perfect example of public humanities programming that has a large impact on a diverse population within a community, making them well deserving of the Community Impact Partner of the Year award,” said Michigan Humanities.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore bring the community together around a common book for a month each fall, using the shared experience of reading, discussing and exploring the themes of the book as a springboard to listen to and learn from each other.  The NEA Big Read Lakeshore began in 2014, with the Little Read Lakeshore added in 2017.  Across the past nine years, the two programs have engaged an estimated 12,000 people annually, including thousands of students from pre-school through college age in Allegan, Allendale, Fennville, Grand Haven, Hamilton, Holland, Hudsonville, Saugatuck-Douglas, Spring Lake and Zeeland.

The 2021 NEA Big Read Lakeshore featured Joy Harjo’s “An American Sunrise,” while the Little Read Lakeshore for children featured the picture book “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.  The two programs included more than 50 in-person and virtual events — ranging from lectures, to hands-on ceramics workshops, to a film, to exhibitions and several book-discussion groups — throughout West Michigan between October 20 and November 20.

“It’s such an honor to receive this award,” said Dr. Deb Van Duinen, who is founding director of Hope College’s Big Read and associate professor of English education at Hope.  “I think it speaks to the quantity and quality of community partnerships that make up our program. Area libraries, schools, non-profit organizations and businesses have contributed in significant ways to the success of our programs and I’m so grateful for the ways we work together to foster a culture of reading and of listening to and learning from each other.”

“I didn’t know how our Lakeshore community would respond when I started the Big Read in 2014. As I look back over the past nine years, I’m overwhelmed by the support, participation, and encouragement we’ve received from community members of all ages,” Van Duinen said. “Our Big Read/Little Read programs have evolved and grown because of this community involvement. It’s my hope that the books we’ve read and the topics we’ve explored have changed us as a community — the authors and characters we’ve met and the big questions we’ve been prompted to ask, have shown us both the brokenness in our world and the beautiful and hopeful ways to respond.”

Herrick District Library has been a major community partner from the first year.  Library director Diane Kooiker praised the Big Read and Little Read for their impact and outreach in pursuing shared goals.

“This is very exciting and so well deserved,” she said. “NEA Big/Little Read Lakeshore and Herrick District Library have similar missions, making our collaboration natural and mutually beneficial. Both the Big Read and HDL help our community experience the power of stories while connecting people and building community.”

The 2014 through 2021 NEA Big Read Lakeshore programs were made possible in part by grants from the NEA Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with ArtsMidwest.  The 2019, 2020 and 2021 Little Read Lakeshore programs were supported in part by grants from Michigan Humanities.

In addition to “An American Sunrise” this past fall, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore has featured “In the Heart of the Sea,” by Nathaniel Philbrick (2020); “In the Time of the Butterflies,” by Julia Alverez (2019); “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel (2018); “When the Emperor Was Divine,” by Julie Otsuka (2017); “Brother I’m Dying,” by Edwidge Dandicat (2016); “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien (2015) and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee (2014).

In addition to “Fry Bread,” the Little Read books have been “Galapagos Girl,” by Marsha Diane Arnold (2020); “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet,” by Carmen Agra Deedy (2019); “Blackout,” by John Rocco (2018); and “A Place Where Sunflowers Grow,” by Amy Lee-Tai (2017).  Prior to the creation of the Little Read in 2017, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore had included books for young readers in 2016 (“I’m New Here,” by Anne Sibley O'Brien) and 2015 (“Tuesday Tucks Me In,” by Bret Witter and Luis Carlos Montalvan).

More about the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore is available at  Information regarding the fall programs, including the books to be featured, will be announced in mid-June.

Michigan Humanities seeks to bring people together through stories, histories, cultures and conversations. Michigan Humanities is one of 56 state (and territory) humanities councils in the country, and was founded in 1974 as a result of federal legislation. Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michigan Humanities also actively seeks grants, sponsorships and individual donations to further support cultural programming for Michigan communities.

The Michigan Humanities Awards are presented to honor and celebrate individuals, schools, universities, libraries, community organizations, groups, foundations and corporations that have made an outstanding contribution to the civic and cultural vitality of the State of Michigan.  Michigan Humanities also recognized an Outstanding Humanities Organization and Humanities Champion of the Year-Individual.