NEA Big Read: CALS

The Central Arkansas Library System is a recipient of a $14,900 grant to host the NEA Big Read: CALS. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. CALS is one of 78 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading. The NEA Big Read: CALS events will take place between March 16 and April 26, 2020.

“We are very excited to host Tim O’Brien and to explore his classic The Things They Carried throughout the library system and beyond,” said Mark Christ, CALS adult programming coordinator. “As an institution, we strive to improve literacy and encourage the exchange of ideas, social engagement, and cultural expression.”


book cover of The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien and The Things They Carried

O’Brien’s novel depicts the men of Alpha Company. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have.

Planned events for the NEA Big Read: CALS include a lecture by Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried; book clubs, readings and exhibits at CALS branch libraries; an Operation Song event at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock; a film and documentary series, panel discussions and dramatic readings at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater; readings and discussions of The Things They Carried by private book clubs in the area; Vietnam veteran oral history recordings by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies staff in the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art; performances by the Writeous Poets from Little Rock Central High School; special displays and discussions during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, and other events.


Veterans Oral History Project

More than 58,000 Americans were killed during the Vietnam War, including 592 Arkansans. The CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies launched the Arkansas Vietnam War Project to record oral histories, allowing veterans, family members, and civilians to voice their recollections of the war. The project also collects letters, photographs, and diaries from Arkansans who served during the conflict, from family members of veterans, and from civilians who want to share memories of the war.

Anyone interested in participating in an oral history interview can contact Brian Robertson at brianr@cals.org or (501) 320-5723.

screenshot for the arkansas vietnam war project

About NEA Big Read

“The NEA Big Read exposes people to new genres and ideas and challenges their current tastes in literature. And the best part is that people told us that ​at​ our events! They not only read something that they wouldn’t normally have read, but they went out of their way to participate in a community event and learn more about the story, characters, plot and author. It just really shows the community buy-in we have and the hunger communities have for connection with each other.” – the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Library, an NEA Big Read grantee, in a Q&A with Arts Midwest

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

Studies show that reading for pleasure reduces stress, heightens empathy, improves students’ test scores, slows the onset of dementia, and makes us more active and aware citizens. Book clubs and community reading programs extend these benefits by creating opportunities to explore together the issues that are relevant to our lives. The titles in the NEA Big Read library vary in genre, theme, settings and points of view: from poems about the loss of a father to a memoir about growing up in a refugee camp to a post-apocalyptic novel about hanging on to our humanity after a flu pandemic. Writes one NEA Big Read participant, echoing the sentiments of many other participants around the country, “the book taught us how to talk to and trust one another so that we could ultimately approach issues that were difficult and immediate.”

NEA Big Read annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection. Each community program that receives an NEA Big Read grant—which ranges between $5,000 and $15,000—is also provided with resources, outreach materials, and training on various aspects such as working with local partners, developing public relations strategies, and leading book discussions and Q&As. The programs last approximately one month and include a kick-off event, often attended by the mayor and other local luminaries; major events devoted specifically to the book (e.g., panel discussions and author reading); events using the book as a point of departure (e.g., film screenings and theatrical readings); and book discussions in diverse locations involving a wide range of audiences.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 Big Read programs, providing more than $19 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 12 years, grantees have leveraged more than $44 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 4.9 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 82,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and over 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

CALS is working to increase accessibility across our service area that would include opening four branch libraries on Sundays instead of offering Sunday hours at the Main Library and the Children’s Library.  Please take a two-minute survey to let us know your thoughts.

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