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Meet The NEA Big and Little Read Lakeshore Program—Our Community Impact Partner of the Year

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Blog, Blog: General Humanities

Continuing to honor our 2022 Michigan Humanities Awards recipients, this month we had a conversation with Professor Deborah Vriend Van Duinen, head of the The NEA Big and Little Read Lakeshore program at Hope College. This program has been running for the past 8 years in the Michigan Lakeshore area and this year it well-deservedly received the Michigan Humanities’ Community Impact Partner of the Year Award. The NEA Big and Little Read is a twofold program that builds community through reading and discussing a common book. The NEA Big Read pertains to an adult audience, and the Little Read selects a children’s book to encourage readership and community among children and their families.

The NEA Big Read is currently reading Circe by Madeline Miller, and the Little Read has chosen The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, for their younger audience. This program is one that has continuously grown in audience and partnerships and that has established itself central to the humanities programming and engagement in the Lakeshore region. We invite you to read the interview below to learn more about this initiative and Deborah’s advice on how to successfully run a sustainable humanities project.

Deborah, please tell us what is the Big Read/Little Read program about?

Hope College’s Big Read and Little Read programs are annual month-long community-wide reading programs that focus on the shared experience of reading a common book. During our month of programming, we offer events and book discussions that get at our chosen book’s topics and themes from a variety of perspectives. From lectures to dance performances, food events to writing workshops, and book discussions in art galleries, breweries, churches, and libraries, our events are designed to help our Lakeshore readers think more deeply about our books as well as to listen to and learn from each other. As a program, we have over 70 partners each year including libraries, non-profit organizations, schools, and businesses. These partners help us publicize our program and host and lead events.

We selected our Big Read book from the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read book list. After choosing this book, we then select our Little Read book in conjunction with its genre, topics, or themes. In 2021, over 13,000 Lakeshore readers participated in our programs. In 2022, we expanded our scope and reach to include Muskegon county and look forward to having over 20,000 people participate in our 2022 program around Madeline Miller’s Circe and Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street.

You and Hope College have been running this program for 8 years, what would you describe as key to making this project sustainable? What would be your advice to others trying to grow their projects and make them sustainable?

Over these past 8 years, our team has learned a lot about sustainability! I often tell my team that we need to think of our program each year not as a “one and done.” Rather, I encourage them to have more of a “running a marathon” mindset and looking at what we’re doing in terms of long term goals and strategies. This gives us more space to play, experiment, take risks, and learn from our mistakes.

Another component of our sustainability success lies in our diverse network of strong partnerships (i.e. libraries, non-profit organizations, schools, churches, businesses). In order to have these kinds of partnerships, it’s important to invest in relationships, be flexible, communicate consistently and frequently, show gratitude, and leverage resources. Community partnerships take time and energy to cultivate and maintain and are often complicated and messy because of different missions, goals, timelines, and schedules. But, they are worth it! We wouldn’t be who we are today without the incredible input and support from our community partners.

What does it mean for you and your project to have received the Michigan Humanities’ Community Impact Partner of the Year Award? How do you plan to celebrate this recognition?

Receiving this award means the world to me! On behalf of Hope College, I feel affirmed and encouraged in our work in public humanities programming and am honored to be recognized at the state level. This recognition raises the visibility of our program and that makes me so excited. I’m hopeful that other communities will be inspired to do similar programming in their communities.

We’ve been celebrating this recognition in a variety of ways including press releases, announcements in our programming materials and lots of high-fives within our team and at Hope College. This fall, we look forward to formally publicly celebrating this recognition at our Little Read Author Event featuring Matt de la Peña on November 09 at 7pm at Hope College and at our Story Project Celebration featuring Ben Hatke on November 17 at 6:30pm at Herrick North Library.

What do you still see as areas of growth for this program? What plans lie ahead?

As Director, I’m always thinking about how to extend our program’s reach to different demographics in our Lakeshore community (i.e. age, race, ethnicity, SES, education employment) through our book choices, event offerings, and community partnerships. As a team, we continue to try to build trust, learn from our community members and find ways to reach and serve them better.

New to our program this year is our partnerships with Muskegon Area District Library and the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District. Our new friends in Muskegon have amazing ideas and are bringing new energy and excitement to our program. I look forward to seeing how this significant geographic expansion of our program will develop in future years.

Michigan Humanities invites you to check out the NEA Big Read Lakeshore program website to learn more about their current book selections and those in past years, as well as keeping up to date with their upcoming events!

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Michigan Humanities.

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