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Eastern wins NEA grant to host Big Read in Windham

Published on June 18, 2020

Eastern wins NEA grant to host Big Read in Windham

book cover Eastern Connecticut State University has been named a recipient of a $15,000 grant to host the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read in Windham. The University is one of 84 nonprofit organizations nationwide selected to receive a NEA Big Read grant to support a community reading program. The NEA Big Read in Windham will focus on noted Mexican author Luis Alberto Urrea's book "Into the Beautiful North." Reading activities will take place between Oct. 6 and Nov. 19. Community project partners on Big Read Windham include the Willimantic Public Library, EASTCONN Arts Magnet School, Hispanic Alliance of Southern Connecticut and the City of New London, among others.

"Reading is a foundational life skill," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "If you cannot read, the simplest daily tasks - reading the ingredients on your child's cereal box, taking a driver's license test, following the instructions to assemble a household appliance - are impossible. Without the ability to read, no other academic learning - mathematics, science, history - can take place. And few jobs, if any, are possible in today's 21st-century economy without the ability to read. Reading is also more than a skill; it enriches our lives. Reading has been promoted for its own merits at Eastern since our beginnings. Over the years, our campus community has learned much about social issues and the human condition through programs such as the NEA's Big Read program. In the spirit of learning and personal growth, I urge all Eastern students, faculty and staff to participate in this fall's reading project. I look forward with anticipation to reading Luis Alberto Urrea's 'Into the Beautiful North.'"

In "Into the Beautiful North," Urrea tells the story of an idealistic 19-year-old woman who is inspired by the film "The Magnificent Seven" to travel from her home in Mexico to the United States to convince a bunch of men who left her town to return and help protect it from drug-dealers. Urrea explores, with compassion and humor, the microcultures within the border world, from the residents of a Tijuana garbage dump to the upscale neighborhoods of San Diego, and reveals that the distance between them is not as great as one might think. Urrea will appear on Eastern's campus this fall to read from his book.

"The NEA Big Read project will have significant impact on the University's First Year Program," said David Pelligrini, professor of theatre. "'Into the Beautiful North' will be incorporated as required reading into a seminar course - First Year Introduction - for all incoming freshmen. Students, and faculty and staff across the university will engage with this timely novel and participate in campus-wide discussions, guest lectures, films and other programming related to the book."

Yulia Tikhonova, director of Eastern's Art Gallery, extols the power of Urrea's book: "This award gives our gallery a powerful story with which to voice our solidarity with people victimized by structural racism," said Tikhonova. "Through our exhibitions and programs, we will feature Black and Brown artists of diverse media. We will offer our resources to support them as they struggle to 'bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.' As great art always does, 'Into the Beautiful North' stands for unity and action. Bertolt Brecht once said, 'Hungry man, reach for the book - it is a weapon!'"

The Arts Endowment initiative, in partnership with Arts Midwest, enables NEA Big Read to broaden understanding of the world, communities and human beings through the joy of sharing a good book. "During this time of social isolation throughout our country, we have become even more aware of the important ways the arts help us connect with others, and how they bring meaning, joy and comfort to our lives," said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. "By bringing the NEA Big Read to Windham, Eastern Connecticut State University will provide thoughtful and fun programming, while also strengthening community bonds."

"We are honored to continue our partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts on this incredible program," said Torrie Allen, president and CEO of Arts Midwest. "For more than 14 years, this national effort has invested in communities as they gather to discuss the stories and ideas that connect us to one another. We are especially inspired by the projects and organizations that are finding new, virtual ways of creating those connections with their communities and are thrilled to support them at this critical time."


Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $22 million to organizations nationwide. Over the past 13 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts and videos, visit


Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people's lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 35 years. For more information, please visit

Written by Dwight Bachman