The University of Central Florida is one of 84 communities nationwide participating in the NEA Big Read from September 2020-June 2021, receiving a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the sixth consecutive year the College of Arts and Humanities has received NEA funding to host this community event. The NEA Big Read: Central Florida will take place Jan. 14-Feb. 14, 2021, and celebrate Tayari Jones’ novel Silver Sparrow.

Jones, a New York Times best-selling author, has written four novels, most recently An American Marriage, which is on Barack Obama’s summer reading list and an Oprah’s Book Club Selection. Jones, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Her third novel, Silver Sparrow was added to the NEA Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Silver Sparrow “unveils a breathtaking story about a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in a middle-class neighborhood in Atlanta in the 1980s, the novel revolves around James Witherspoon’s families – the public one and the secret one. When the daughters from each family meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows they are sisters.”

Several units from the UCF College of Arts and Humanities, including visual arts, performing arts and history, will host programming, as will UCF Libraries.

The NEA Big Read: Central Florida brings together several Central Florida institutions. Several units from the UCF College of Arts and Humanities, including visual arts, performing arts and history, will host programming, as will UCF Libraries.

Seminole County Public Libraries will host daytime and evening book-discussion groups at each of its five branches for a total of 10 book clubs early next year. Six additional book clubs are planned at the Orlando Museum of Art, the UCF Africana Studies program, Black Man’s Candor, Afro Artistry, and two at the Florida Department of Corrections’ Central Florida Reception Center.

“2021 marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of Tayari Jones’ award-winning novel, Silver Sparrow,” says Keri Watson, director of the NEA Big Read: Central Florida. “Jones’ book … offers an excellent opportunity for UCF to bring impactful programs that celebrate the role of literature in our community. Our programming will coincide with UCF’s celebration of Black History Month and we are working with Africana Studies to bring the Big Read to a new campus audience.”

Watson has been leading UCF’s Big Read initiative since receiving the first programming grant in 2015. An art historian, Watson takes a broad, interdisciplinary view of how literature influences and is influenced by other disciplines. The novels UCF has read are Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (2016), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (2017), Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2018), Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2019), and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (2020).

Other principal investigators on the grant include Julia Listengarten from the School of Performing Arts, Scot French from the Department of History, and Shannon Lindsey from the UCF Gallery. Fon Gordon, director of UCF’s Africana Studies program, which is part of the Department of History, will also be involved with program planning. The team is organizing more than 20 events related to this year’s novel, including discussions, an art exhibit and a production of Dominique Morisseau’s play Blood at the Root.

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.

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