The Ina Dillard Russell Library and Department of English co-sponsored a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “Big Read” event during the fall 2018 semester.
Georgia College was awarded a $15,000 NEA Big Read grant to host the event in Milledgeville.
“The purpose of the Big Read is to bring people together in communities around literature.” said Dr. Shaundra Walker, interim-director of Ina Dillard Russell Library. “There’s a long list of novels that communities or grant applicants can pick from, and the basic premise of the program is book discussions.”
The novel selected for the Big Read in Milledgeville was Tayari Jones’ “Silver Sparrow,” a coming of age novel set in Atlanta in the 1980s. The themes of the book are families, secrets and entrepreneurship, to name just a few. Funding from the grant provided free copies of the book to members of the Georgia College and Milledgeville communities.
This is the third time Georgia College received a Big Read Grant.
“We have been very successful at Georgia College in securing these grants,” Walker said. “This one is very unique because this is the first one we have done where the author has actually been living, and so we were really excited to have an author who is actually able to come to campus and read from the novel. That distinguishes this instance of the Big Read.”
“The most important aspect to me was getting to discuss certain things in society that we may otherwise shy away from. The book really offered some challenging situations and perspectives on life,” said senior biology major Fidelis Folifac.
While the focus of the Big Read programming is book discussions, grant recipients are encouraged to create supplemental programing to compliment the themes of their chosen novel. Georgia College provided a wide range of creative programming. One of the characters in the novel is a photographer, which inspired the idea to hold a community photography workshop lead by Art Professor Emily Gomez.
Other programming included, book discussions at the Twins Lake Library System, as well as a performance of scene adaptations and readings by Baldwin County High School.
“We were very intentional about wanting to make sure that Baldwin High School was one of our partners. I think it’s really important to make those connections,” said Dr. Beauty Bragg, professor of English. “The students really loved the book. I’ve heard reports that they’re asking ‘what else are we going to read now?’ It has been a good experience.”
Another character in the novel owns a beauty salon, which was the inspiration behind holding several book discussions in a local barbershop. Emmanuel Little, program director of Georgia College’s African American Mail Initiative, approached his barber and owner of Artist Affects, Raymond Davis, about hosting the discussions.
“If there is anything we can do to bridge the conversation between the university and the barbershop, I was down with it,” Davis said. “A lot of people feel comfortable discussing opinions inside the barbershop because we value opinions here. We wanted to bring students to another environment, which was the barbershop, and we felt we would get them to open up a lot more freely. So, I decided to jump on board with it.”
Little agrees that drawing out a different dynamic for these book discussions is extremely important.
“What I hope that individuals take from these discussions is a desire to think a bit more critically about how they look at literature,” said Little. “Really looking beyond just a traditional classroom setting and taking it out into the community to settings where people may feel a bit more comfortable -- whether it’s barbershops, salons or recreational centers -- because everyone can benefit from book discussions. I think the more we can bridge those gaps between the campus and the community, the better off everyone will be for it.”
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