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Eastern receives National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant

Published on July 21, 2021

Eastern receives National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant

University to read and celebrate ‘The Best We Could Do’

Book cover Eastern Connecticut State University is one of 61 organizations nationwide selected to receive a 2021-22 Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The grant of $20,000 — the maximum NEA provides — will support a community reading program centered around “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui. From October 2021 until January 2022, Eastern will host a series of events related to the book and its subject matter.

“The Best We Could Do” is a 2017 illustrated memoir that chronicles the author’s parents’ life before and during the Vietnam War, their escape from Vietnam when Bui was a child, and their eventual migration to the United States as refugees. “The Best We Could Do” is one of five titles to be featured in NEA Big Reads across the country in 2021-22.  

The mission of the NEA Big Read is to “broaden understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.”

“For 15 years the NEA Big Read has supported opportunities for communities to come together around a book, creating a shared experience that encourages openness and conversations around issues central to our lives,” said Ann Eilers, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We congratulate Eastern Connecticut State University for receiving an NEA Big Read grant and look forward to a wide variety of meaningful community events.”

The NEA Big Read offers a range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.

Eastern’s Big Read calendar of events is still being finalized and will feature a host of virtual and in-person events including a keynote presentation by author Thi Bui; a graphic novel-inspired art exhibition from Oct. 15–Dec. 5 that will highlight communities of immigrants, refugees and incarcerated people; a post-Vietnam War theatrical collaboration; a workshop with Marcelino Truong, author of “Such a Lovely Little War; and more.

As part of the art exhibition, Eastern’s Art Gallery will host conversations with Jeffrey Greene, coordinator of the Prison Arts Program at Community Partners in Action, Hartford; members of the Prison Arts Collective at San Diego State University; Keri Watson of the Florida Prison Education Project; and more.

“We're inspired by the creativity of this year’s NEA Big Read grantees, who are finding new ways to bring people together after a challenging year,” said Torrie Allen, president and CEO of Arts Midwest. “We are proud to support these organizations and communities as they explore the richness and diversity of American history and culture together through reading.”

Eastern is one of three organizations in Connecticut to receive a Big Read grant this year — the others are Hartford Public Library and Ferguson Public Library — and the only to select “The Best We Could Do” as its Big Read book. For more on this year’s program, visit .

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,700 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $23 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every congressional district in the country. Over the past 15 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, more than 90,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and more than 40,000 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 .