As part of the upcoming annual Big Read supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, UCF will celebrate The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, the debut novel of African journalist and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Dinaw Mengestu. Events include an art exhibition, play, book clubs, lectures, artist talks and book signing. Woven throughout these events is the goal of revitalizing reading as a shared community initiative.

UCF, in collaboration with the Seminole Public Library, received a grant to host the NEA Big Read in Central Florida from Jan. 8 to Feb. 4. An initiative of the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read was established to broaden our understanding of the world and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. UCF is one of 75 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading.

“With this grant we join a select few ‘repeat readers’ who have received the grant more than once,” said project director Keri Watson, assistant professor of art history at UCF. In 2017, UCF celebrated John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath, and in 2016 honored Zora Neale Hurston and Their Eyes Were Watching God.

About The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears follows the story of Sepha Stephanos, an immigrant living in Washington, D.C., who finds himself stuck between his identity as an Ethiopian and his identity as an American immigrant. Through his struggles with his failing grocery store and introspective dialogues, Sepha must find a way to move forward in life without forgetting his roots.

The novel has been recognized with several awards including The Guardian First Book Prize, listed as one of The New York Times’ Notable Books of 2007 and the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35,” and was a Seattle Reads Selection of 2008.

About the Author

Mengestu is an Ethiopian immigrant who escaped a communist revolution and moved to Illinois in the 1970s. He went on to graduate from Georgetown University and Columbia University before traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa as a journalist. His writing focuses on the lives of those in war-torn areas such as Sudan, Uganda and Congo. As immigration continues to be passionately debated throughout the world, UCF’s Big Read programming highlights individuals’ stories and the effects of displacement.

Mengestu will hold a reading and book signing in the gallery Jan. 18.

Upcoming Events

Activities for the Big Read at UCF kick off Monday, Jan. 8. As long as supplies last, there will be a free book distribution for the community at the John C. Hitt Library and an exhibit at the UCF Art Gallery entitled Finding Home: The Global Refugee Crisis. On Jan. 16, poet, journalist, biographer and literary critic Obi Nwakanma will read in the gallery from his latest collection of poetry. Seminole County Public Library will have book clubs and a “Welcome to the Neighborhood”-themed program for its K-5th grade Library Explorers Clubs.