Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

October 15, 2007

The Big Read

VALDOSTA — The Big Read, a nationwide project aimed at curtailing a critical decline in literary reading among adults, has come to the city with several events scheduled through Nov. 10.

The city is one of 117 communities in the nation that are hosting a “Big Read” program this fall. The month-long reading celebration kicked off in the city Sunday at John W. Saunders Park on River Street with guest readings of Valdosta’s chosen literary work — Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

The novel was published in 1934. The acclaimed author died in 1960.

Attendees at the Sunday kick off heard local notables read from Hurston’s work, cited by many scholars as an “African American feminist classic,” and by many others as a work that stretches far beyond those boundaries.

The ‘feminist classic’ stigma is certainly a frequent statement, notes National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia, in his preface to a publication on this fall’s national Big Read celebration.

“But it is a misleadingly narrow and rather dull way to introduce a vibrant and achingly human novel,” Gioia writes. “The syncopated beauty of Hurtson’s prose, her remarkable gift for comedy, the sheer visceral terror of the book’s climax, all transcend any label that critics have tried to put on this remarkable work.”

The NEA started The Big Read program after the organization’s 2004 report, “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America” determined that a critical decline in literary reading is occurring in America.

VSU’s Odum Library, Dewar College of Education and master of Library Information Science program teamed up with the city,

South Georgia Regional Library System, city schools and Moody Air Force Base to apply for the NEA grant that pays for the program and its activities.

Local organizers chose Hurston’s book because she is a regional author from Eatonville, Fla., near Orlando, and because many of her themes — such as love, power, friendship and event the weather — are relevant today.

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