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NEA Big Read Survival Guide: Programming & Events

Planning a community-wide arts engagement program can be challenging. To help ease the struggle, we’ve put together a series of posts which we’ve lovingly dub The NEA Big Read Survival Guide. Each post contains some of the best tips and tricks that NEA Big Read grantees have learned over their years. We kicked off the series with a look at Partnerships that are at the center of every successful NEA Big Read. From there, we shifted to the Marketing & Promotion that guide your community outreach. For this series, we’ll be tackling Programming and Events. How do you plan events with both your book selection and your community in mind? What are some ways to reach lapsed or reluctant readers? What are some creative ways to host a book discussion?

Analyzing your book selection

Events are the cornerstone of an NEA Big Read; the events you develop will drive the direction of everything from your marketing efforts to your partnerships to the audience you reach. Over their years of programming, our grantees have found that the key to producing well-planned, well-attended, community-wide events was making sure their programming brought their book selection to life for their community. Here are some questions to get you started in your brainstorming process:

  • Why did you choose this particular book?
  • How does your book relate to your community?
  • Why is it important that your community read and discuss this book?
  • What themes in the book will resonate with your audiences?
  • Will different audiences be drawn to different aspects of the book? Consider the historical and geographical setting of the book, the book’s characters and perspectives, and the language and narrative styles used.
  • How can elements from the book be used to inform the planning of your events?
    • For example, during their 2018 NEA Big Read, the Pennyroyal Arts Council hosted a traveling symphony akin to the one described in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.


Kentucky Shakespeare actors after two days of workshops in Hopkinsville high schools. Photo courtesy of the Pennyroyal Arts Council

  • What conversations do you hope this book will spark in your community?
  • What changes do you expect in your community as a result of people reading this book?

Other posts in this series

Explore the full Survival Guide