Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Receives Fourth Grant for Statewide Reading Program

July 16, 2009 — The Virginia Center for the Book, a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, has received its fourth "Big Read" grant. Beginning in September, Virginians across the state are encouraged to read and discuss Ernest J. Gaines' modern classic, "A Lesson Before Dying."

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded grants to 269 organizations nationwide to host Big Read celebrations next fall and spring. "Big Read in Virginia" is the only statewide Big Read lasting nine months.

Free reader's guides, audio guides and teacher's guides will be available from the foundation beginning in September. Organizations, schools and book groups are invited to participate. For information, visit the VFH Web site or contact Susan Coleman, spcoleman@virginia.edu or 434-982-2983.

"A Lesson Before Dying" is set in the late 1940s in a rural Cajun town with residents living under Jim Crow laws and culture. Two men, one a prisoner and the other a teacher bound together by community and family, make a journey of self-realization, human dignity and redemption.

In addition, the center encourages younger readers to learn more about African-American history in Virginia during a similar time period by reading "Students on Strike: Jim Crow, Civil Rights, Brown and Me" by John A Stokes. Stokes was a student at the Robert Russa Moton School in Prince Edward County and was a litigant in the historic Brown v. Board of Education court case.

The National Endowment for the Humanities presents Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. Support for Big Read is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It is designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America," a 2004 report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read aims to address this issue directly by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.

The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, based in Charlottesville and affiliated with the University of Virginia, is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the humanities and using the humanities to address issues of broad public concern.

In all of its programs, the foundation works to make scholarship accessible; to promote understanding and discussion of enduring and contemporary issues; and to broaden the range of educational opportunities available to all Virginians.