QUINCY -- Ruth Cuthbertson now can answer all the questions about when the next Big Read will take place and what books it will feature.
The Big Read returns to Quincy in January and February 2020 thanks to a $15,000 grant through the National Endowment for the Arts to the Quincy Public Library.
Featured books will be "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest J. Gaines, with "Follow the Drinking Gourd" by Jeanette Winter for the youngest readers and "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" by Christopher Paul Curtis for readers in grades 3 through 6.
"There's a strong interest from our community members to participate in programs like this," said Cuthbertson, QPL's marketing and events librarian. "Our main goal is to get books into the hands of people in our community, and this grant allows us to do that. Most of the money from the grant will be used to purchase books for all ages that people can keep in their home libraries."
A variety of programs including movies, lectures, a mock trial, concert, poverty simulation, diversity workshops, story times and book discussions will reflect the books' themes of race relations and the black experience in the United States.
Gaines tells the story of an uneducated young black man named Jefferson who is caught up in a store robbery and accused of murdering a white shopkeeper. His lawyer dehumanizes him, arguing he is a lowly form of existence incapable of premeditated murder and not worth the electric chair.
"One of the things that the NEA Big Read does is carefully select a wide variety of books that are going to stimulate discussion among community members. We've been wanting to do this title for several years," Cuthbertson said.
"Basically what the story is about is that we perceive other people as human beings," she said. "He's a very compelling writer, but we also wanted to take the opportunity to piggyback on national conversations about race and race issues."
Gaines also wrote "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" and "No Country for Old Men."
QPL typically offered the Big Read in September or October but pushed activities to February to coincide with Black History Month.
QPL is one of 78 nonprofit organizations nationwide to get one of the competitive grants for the Big Read, an initiative of the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest.
"The NEA Big Read grant brings federal dollars to our community allowing us to provide quality programs that build essential skills in our community and foster discussion among community members," QPL Executive Director Kathleen Helsabeck said.
"Without the grant, we wouldn't be able to offer this program," Cuthbertson said. "NEA provides a lot of money to us and so do our partners – businesses, organizations and individuals – who donate money to make the Big Read happen in Quincy."
QPL began offering the NEA Big Read in 2008 and the concurrent Little Read for younger readers in 2014. In 2018, more than 3,800 Quincy residents got a free book, and more than 4,200 participated in Big Read activities.
Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $20 million to organizations nationwide.
More information about the Big Read in Quincy is available by calling Quincy Public Library at 217-223-1309 and online at quincylibrary.org or neabigread.org.