Abstracts by 9/30 for NeMLA (3/21-24, 2013) roundtable on ideas for a national Big Read

full name / name of organization: 
Ben Railton

For those of us who care about making American literature more public, more connected to all Americans and their experiences, identities, and perspectives, the NEA's Big Read program represents a great model for such efforts. Since its pilot project in 2006, The Big Read has brought a number of great, complex, vital works of American literature to local communities and schools, getting lots of Americans reading and engaging with those works in the process. Yet the program is explicitly local, with different communities reading different books—there are both practical and philosophical arguments in support of that local element, but it does leave room for a more genuinely shared, national engagement with American literature.

In this roundtable session, I'll take nominations for a nationwide Big Read—books (in any genre) that should be read and engaged with by all Americans. We'll talk not only about why, about what makes these works so vital and broadly significant, but about the effects, of what in our public conversations, narratives, communities, identities, histories, and stories would change if we read these books as a nation. We'll also take suggestions and ideas from the audience.

This conversation can help us not only further define American literature and culture, as we collectively understand them, but also envision our own roles and purposes as public scholars of American literature and identity. And since I'm an advisor for the in-development American Writers Museum, I'll also bring these ideas to that institution, to help shape how it reflects our most shared and significant literary works.

Abstracts to Ben Railton (brailton@fitchburgstate.edu) by September 30, 2012