UTPA one of 208 organizations nationwide selected to receive Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
Posted: 06/30/2008
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The University of Texas-Pan American announced today that it has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to host The Big Read, a nationwide initiative to restore reading to the center of American life. UTPA was one of 208 organizations that received the grant and will partner with the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg to host Big Read activities Valleywide from September 2008-June 2009.

"The Big Read grant will enable us to highlight the importance of reading through a variety of creative programs at UTPA, local libraries and in the public schools," said Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities. Schneider wrote the successful grant application and serves as Big Read's principal investigator and project director.

Pictured at an orientation held in Minneapolis, Minn. for Big Read grant recipients are left to right Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities; Dana Gioia, chair, National Endowment for the Arts; Margot Durbin, assistant director, Dustin Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg; and Tony Casas, UTPA special projects coordinator, College of Health Sciences and Human Services and College of Arts and Humanities.

The largest reading program in the United States, The Big Read gives communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss and celebrate one of 23 selections from American and world literature. The grant provides community-based programs featuring activities such as read-a-thons, book discussions, lectures, movie screenings and performing arts events. Participating communities also receive high-quality free-of-charge educational materials to supplement the book chosen for their community including reader's guides (in English and Spanish), teacher's guides, and audio introductions to the book as well as a comprehensive Web site.

"The Big Read book we have selected to promote, "Bless Me, Ultima," by Rudolfo Anaya, is a classic Mexican-American novel with many culturally relevant themes and symbols. We plan to involve teachers, students and their families in a communitywide literacy outreach program that will feature this novel," Schneider said.

Plans for The Big Read locally include working with community libraries along with Region One Education Service Center and the University's GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) to facilitate and coordinate participation by Valley students and educators in the program's activities. Following a celebratory kick-off event in February 2009, local Big Read activities will include a panel of experts to discuss author Anaya and his work during FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Art) 2009, an annual weeklong event at UTPA to encourage literacy and cultural awareness. Also in the planning stages are a series of group discussions of The Big Read selection in RGV libraries and an art exhibit and musical performance related to the book "Bless Me, Ultima."

Schneider said The Big Read will also work with the South Texas Literacy Coalition, an advocacy group made up of representatives from local and national non-profit literacy groups and organizations, UTPA, South Texas College and Region One, formed earlier this year to boost literacy in South Texas.

According to Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), who initiated the coalition with Reading is Fundamental, the nation's largest children's literacy organization, more than three million Texans are considered to be functionally illiterate. In addition, one in four Texans lack reading and writing skills and the state ranks 47th of the 50 states in reading and writing literacy. He congratulated UTPA on The Big Read award, calling it an important program that will help make reading a fun and enjoyable experience for more Valley residents.

"The Big Read offers a unique opportunity to enrich the lives of our students and spark a love for reading that will last a lifetime," Hinojosa said.

The Big Read is an initiative of the NEA designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. To date, the NEA has given more than 500 grants to support Big Read projects. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

For more information on The Big Read, visit

For more information on the UTPA Big Read grant, contact Schneider at 956/380-8775 or via e-mail at