Frequently Asked Questions

Big Read FAQs

1. What is the NEA Big Read?

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. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, which annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.


2. How was Jackson-Madison County selected to participate in the NEA Big Read?

The application and guidelines for the NEA Big Read, developed by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest, are available at and distributed nationwide to arts, cultural, literary, and civic organizations, such as libraries, museums, and local arts agencies. Organizations chosen to receive an NEA Big Read grant are selected by a panel of outside experts who review the proposed projects for artistic excellence and merit. Competitive applications demonstrate strong literary programming, experience in building effective local partnerships, reaching and engaging new and diverse audiences, working with educators, involving local and state public officials, and working with media.


3. Which organizations in our community are participating in the NEA Big Read?

The Jackson-Madison County Library is the lead organization for the NEA Big Read in Jackson. Our NEA Big Read partners include organization that are helping us plan events, as well as those who have provided funding outside of the NEA grant. Financial contributors to the Big Read include the Jackson-Madison County Library, the Jackson-Madison County Library Foundation, the Friends of the Library, the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation, and the Joseph E. Martin Shakespeare Circle. In-kind contributions of services and support have been provided by the CO, the Jackson Downtown Development Corporation, The Jackson Arts Council, the City of Jackson, The Jackson Symphony, Sonoco, Amro Music, Nerdvana, the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus, The Suites of Larue / John Allen, the American Red Cross, Red Art Studio, The Jackson Sun, WBBJ, WNWS, Jackson Energy Authority, the Jackson-Madison County School System, and Jackson State Community College. 


4. Why did our community choose to read Station Eleven?

This year, the Jackson Arts Council, dedicated to the promotion of the arts and the support of arts organizations, will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. Having a professional symphony, a community theater, a ballet company, art galleries, museums celebrating our Rockabilly music heritage, and a room dedicated to the preservation of local history within our library, the role of the arts and history in our community is strong. Station Eleven speaks deeply to those themes, with Emily St. John Mandel calling it “a love story to the modern world.” Its selection is a perfect vehicle to engage latent and reluctant readers through the popularity of postapocalyptic fiction, while also inviting the community to discover and participate in the artistic, cultural, and historical amenities that allow us to go beyond mere survival, and thrive. We selected Blackout by John Rocco and City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau to appeal to younger audiences. In this context of exploration, discovery and collaboration, our Big Read has the potential to bear fruit for many years.


5. When will the NEA Big Read in Jackson-Madison County take place?

The NEA Big Read in our area will take place throughout September and October 2017. A full calendar of events for the NEA Big Read is available on our Big Read website here.  


6. What types of events will take place during the NEA Big Read?

Our Big Read will incorporate a variety of free events including book discussions, informational talks, films, live theatre, and art over the months of September and October. The Big Read will launch on Sept. 9 with our Kickoff Event that will include live performances, story time for kids and a screening of the documentary film, “Landfill Harmonic.” During the screening, kids will make drums out of recycled snack cans. Copies of the books will be distributed as well. Special topic discussions will cover themes such as the role the media plays in shaping our individual and collective lives, what we choose to remember and why, and how to be prepared for a disaster. We will screen the episode of Star Trek Voyager that inspired the motto of The Traveling Symphony, and have an event focused on comics and graphic novels. A Beer With the Bard Shakespearean Pub Crawl through Downtown Jackson will encourage people to fine-tune their Shakespearean insult game. Our local academic community will come together for a Keynote Panel presentation for an in-depth look at the novel and its themes. Amro Music will bring a collection of musical instruments to the Jackson Symphony’s annual Starlight Symphony Concert, allowing children and adults alike to touch, play and learn about them before the concert begins. Local actors will bring Shakespeare outdoors with a four-night performance of the full-length play, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” and the Tennessee Shakespeare Company will bring their lighthearted original production inspired by the works of Shakespeare entitle, “Shake(s), Rattle and Roll” for an evening performance in the Tigrett Auditorium at Community Montessori School. Weekly book discussions will give the community opportunities to come together to talk about the novel in a group setting, with our Family Book Club and Teen Book Club reading The City of Ember and The City of Ember Graphic Novel. Visit the Events Calendar for all the details for each event.


7. How are books selected for the NEA Big Read library?

Suggestions for new titles are collected from a variety of sources, including the public, NEA Big Read grantees, and past Big Read panelists. The National Endowment for the Arts narrows the list of suggestions based on criteria including the capacity to incite lively and deep discussion; the capacity to expand the range of voices, stories, and genres currently represented in our Big Read library; the capacity to interest lapsed and reluctant readers and/or to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices; and the capacity to inspire innovative programming for communities. A committee of outside readers representing a range of voices (including librarians, students, teachers, writers, booksellers, and publishers) review the books and make the final recommendations.


8. Where can I find more information about the NEA Big Read?

For information on the NEA Big Read in Jackson-Madison County please contact Jenci Spradlin, Adult Services Librarian, at (731)425-8600 or via email at


Visit and for more information on the national NEA Big Read program, including guidelines and application deadlines. The website also features information about the NEA Big Read titles, including author biographies and discussion questions.