Home Programs National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant entail?

NEA Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. These programs include activities such as author readings, book discussions, art exhibits, lectures, film series, music or dance events, theatrical performances, panel discussions, and other events and activities related to the community’s chosen book. Activities focus on one book from the NEA Big Read library.

Which organizations are eligible?

Applicant organizations for NEA Big Read must be a 501c(3) nonprofit; a division of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library. Eligible applicants include organizations such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, school districts, theater companies, trade associations, and tribal governments.

Local education agencies, school districts, and state and regional education agencies are eligible. We do not fund individual elementary or secondary schools—charter, private, or public—directly. Schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. If a single school also is a local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as a local education agency.

Is my organization eligible, even if I’m not in the Midwest region?

Absolutely. As an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, NEA Big Read grants are open to organizations across the nation. Indeed, throughout the history of the grant, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country.

May I apply for an NEA Big Read grant as an individual?

No, applicants for NEA Big Read must be a 501c(3) nonprofit organization; a division of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library but there are many ways individuals can participate in, and/or benefit from, the NEA Big Read. You may:

  • Get some ideas for books to read and recommend to friends by visiting arts.gov. Check out the author bios, book descriptions, podcasts, discussion questions, and more.
  • Start a book club, discuss one of the books in the NEA Big Read library, and let us know how it goes by emailing us at [email protected] or posting on Twitter (#NEABigRead).
  • Visit our Grantees page to see where programming may be happening near you.
  • Follow NEA Big Read on Twitter. Use #NEABigRead to share your experiences about the program and see how others are participating around the country.

How are organizations selected to participate in the NEA Big Read?

The application and guidelines for the NEA Big Read, developed by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest, are available on our website and distributed nationwide to arts, cultural, literary, and civic organizations, such as libraries, museums, and local arts agencies. Organizations chosen to receive an NEA Big Read grant are selected by a panel of outside experts who review the proposed projects for artistic excellence and merit. Competitive applications demonstrate strong literary programming, experience in building effective local partnerships, reaching and engaging new and diverse audiences, working with educators, involving local and state public officials, and working with media.

What do organizations receive if they are selected to participate in the NEA Big Read?

Selected organizations receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 to support their NEA Big Read projects. In addition, the NEA offers online content for each reading selection, such as digital reader’s resources and audio interviews with the authors. Learn more by clicking on a book at arts.gov.

Prior to starting their projects, NEA Big Read grant recipients participate in a series of online activities to prepare them to host and promote the NEA Big Read in their communities. Online presentations include grant award management and question-and-answer sessions featuring past NEA Big Read grantees and experts on a wide variety of topics.

NEA Big Read grantees also have access to an online community with resources to help them conduct a successful NEA Big Read program and downloadable public relations templates and design elements. Grant recipients also receive publicity materials such as banners and bookmarks.

When does the application open?

Each October, Arts Midwest posts a new set of Guidelines and Application Instructions and opens the online application. Applications are due at the end of January. Award notifications occur in April and organizations conduct their NEA Big Read programming at any point between September and June.

Can I choose any book?

Applicants must select a title from the NEA Big Read library for their proposed programming. Applicants that have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past must choose a different reading selection from their previous award.

How are books selected for the NEA Big Read library?

Suggestions for new titles are collected from a variety of sources, including the public, NEA Big Read grantees, and past Big Read panelists. The National Endowment for the Arts narrows the list of suggestions based on criteria including the capacity to incite lively and deep discussion; the capacity to expand the range of voices, stories, and genres currently represented in our Big Read library; the capacity to interest lapsed and reluctant readers and/or to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices; and the capacity to inspire innovative programming for communities. A committee of outside readers representing a range of voices (including librarians, students, teachers, writers, booksellers, and publishers) review the books and make the final recommendations. If you’d like to suggest a book, you may do so on this webpage.

The complete catalog of NEA Big Read titles, past and present, is available at arts.gov.

If I would like to invite the author of our reading selection to speak as part of our NEA Big Read programming, where can I find their contact information?

Contact information for NEA Big Read authors and their publicity agents is available from the NEA Big Read team at Arts Midwest. If you are considering an author visit as part of your programming, please be aware that honoraria and availability vary by individual. Please contact us at [email protected] for more information. A visit from the author of the NEA Big Read book is not required.

Do organizations have to hold an author visit as part of their NEA Big Read?

No, author visits are not a requirement of the NEA Big Read grant. While some organizations do choose to use author visits to fulfill the keynote event requirement of the grant, there are a number of other events that you could consider for a keynote. Past NEA Big Read grantees have hosted talks from scholars who have studied the title, speeches by people associated with the author or the book, panel discussions with local luminaries, and more.