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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

NEA Big Read Returns to ODU

By Carrie Anderson

The share of Americans who say racism is a "big problem" in society has increased from 8 percent to 58 percent in the past two years - and has roughly doubled since 2011, according to the Pew Research Foundation.A new, community-wide reading program is aiming to address that issue in Hampton Roads.

Next year, Old Dominion University Libraries and the ODU Darden College of Education, in partnership with public libraries and community partners across Hampton Roads, will encourage all residents to read Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric" through innovative programs, events, book discussions, and more.

Lea Lee, a professor in the teaching and learning department in the Darden College of Education, and University Librarian George Fowler have spent the past eighteen months collaborating with a committee of people and organizations across Hampton Roads to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant based on "Citizen: An American Lyric" by poet Claudia Rankine.

The committee was made up of representatives from the public library systems of Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Poquoson, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach, as well as community partners The Muse Writer's Center, the Asian American Pacific Heritage Association, and the Hampton Roads YMCA.

The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that has been sponsoring community reading programs nationwide since 2006. NEA Big Read annually supports approximately 75 community reading programs, each designed around a single selection. Since 2006, the NEA has funded more than 1,400 Big Read programs providing more than $19 million in grants to organizations nationwide.

"There is a need in the Hampton Roads area, as in most areas throughout the world, for a project like the Big Read," said Lee. "Through the unique and vital partnerships we have formed with a variety of community groups, individuals, ODU departments, WHRO, and every public library system in the Hampton Roads region, we look forward to many exciting, thought provoking, and highly beneficial Big Read events."

According to the publisher, "Citizen" is an innovative work of poetry, prose, and visual images that recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media.

"Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen' is a powerful book that speaks to the lived experiences of many in Hampton Roads and strongly aligns with ODU's ongoing commitment to equality and diversity. We're excited to bring the region together to discuss and experience this great read," said Fowler.

Published in 2014, "Citizen" was one of the first nationally published pieces to introduce the concept of microaggressions, or small instances of racism in everyday encounters.

The book has won many awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the Forward Prize for Best Collection (UK), the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and the PEN Open Book Award.

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