The University of Texas-Pan American has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to host The Big Read, a nationwide initiative to restore reading to the center of American life. UTPA was one of 208 organizations that received the grant and is partnering with the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg to host Big Read activities Valleywide from September 2008-June 2009.

“The Big Read grant enables us to highlight the importance of reading through a variety of creative programs at UTPA, local libraries and in the public schools,” said Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities. Schneider wrote the successful grant application and serves as Big Read’s principal investigator and project director.

“The Big Read book we have selected to promote, Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, is a classic Mexican-American novel with many culturally relevant themes and symbols,” Schneider said. “To date we have given out more than 750 free copies of Bless Me, Ultima to community schools and community sponsored book discussion groups. In addition, we have given out over 5,000 readers’ guides, 100 teachers guides and over 200 CDs with recorded interviews about the novel.”

The largest reading program in the United States, The Big Read gives communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss and celebrate one of 23 selections from American and world literature. The grant provides community-based programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings and performing arts events.

Upcoming Big Read activities include a keynote panel of experts on March 24, at noon in the UTPA auditorium to discuss Bless Me, Ultima during FESTIBA as well as an art exhibit related to themes and symbols in the book.

According to Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), more than three million Texans are considered to be functionally illiterate. In addition, one in four Texans lack reading and writing skills and the state ranks 47th of the 50 states in reading and writing literacy. He congratulated UTPA on The Big Read award, calling it an important program that will help make reading a fun and enjoyable experience for more Valley residents.

“The Big Read offers a unique opportunity to enrich the lives of our students and spark a love for reading that will last a lifetime,” Hinojosa said.

To date, the NEA has given more than 500 grants to support Big Read projects. The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

For more information on the UTPA Big Read grant, contact Schneider at 956-380-8775 or via e-mail at schneiders@utpa.edu.