On Tuesday, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its 2012-13 Big Read grants totaling $1 million. The Big Read supports community-based reading of a single book. It provides specially produced supplemental materials including CDs, robust historical context, teachers guides and discussion questions. And, of course, funding.
Nine of the Big Read's 78 grants will go to organizations and municipalities in California. Only New York state will receive as many grants from the Big Read in the coming year.
In San Diego, the organization Write Out Loud will be organizing people to read "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, who died in June at age 91. In Burbank and 400 miles away in Marysville, Calif., readers will dig in to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The Rural California Broadcasting Corp., located between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, Calif., will be taking on poet Emily Dickinson. Patrons of the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library will be invited to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." The Santa Cruz Public Library will be reading "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, who finished the book nearby at his ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Those are all books by classic American writers, as might be expected. But the program also has books from different cultures, including the one that will be the focus of the Big Read as presented by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. That book is "The Thief and the Dogs" by Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, first published in 1961. The Big Read describes the book this way: Spanning the wealthy suburbs and crowded slums of Cairo, this thrilling crime story combines stream-of-consciousness technique with the hard-boiled style of detective fiction to create a harrowing account of crime and punishment.
Organizations may select from one of 31 individual book titles or authors when applying for a Big Read grant. About two-thirds of them will be part of the Big Read in 2012-13. Grants range from $3,500-$20,000.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Ray Bradbury in 2000. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times