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March 5, 2010

Patrons pack library for Big Party for the Big Read

TERRE HAUTE — About 130 packed the Vigo County Public Library Friday night as it played host to “The Big Party for the Big Read.”

Nancy Dowell, executive director of the library, noted a cart full of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia,” free copies of which were distributed as visitors entered.

“We’ve had several thousand copies of the book given out over the last few months,” she said.

The “Big Read” is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to disseminate more literature into the public culture.

According to the NEA, a 2004 report demonstrated a “critical decline” in reading for pleasure among American adults.

Dowell explained that the books are given to readers for free with the expectation that they “pass it along” to someone else once finished.

Meanwhile, men and women dressed as Nebraskans in 1900 milled about a table full of farm tools from the period.

Azar’s Catering Service heaped up a table full of apricot glazed kielbasa bites, Bohemian goulash, dumplings and cabbage for those preparing to watch area playwright Lucinda Berry’s work, “Our Jim,” performed by local thespians.

“My Antonia” was written in 1918 and tells the story of Bohemian immigrants living on what was then the  Nebraska frontier. Immigrants from all over Eastern Europe poured into the area during that time period, including Cather’s family.

“Whenever I read something like that, I’m reminded about how privileged we are today,” Dowell said of the book which describes houses made of sod, subsistence farming and a world without health care, indoor plumbing or utilities.

LeRaye Cameron walked about in an early 20th century farm dress with a digital camera in her hand. The library employee teaches English as a second language to adults in the community.

“I enjoy these,” she said of “Big Read” programs. “Any excuse for a party.”

Cameron said her students, who come from nations all over the globe, have read “My Antonia” as much for the American history and cultural education as the reading practice. “And I loved this book,” she said, describing the narrator’s trying personal experiences always met with buoyant optimism.

Berry, who was readying to watch her play performed by Indiana State University and community theater students, described it as a “real community event.”

“My part’s over, right,” the playwright laughed.

But any program which encourages reading is a good one in her book, the English professor at Eastern Illinois University said. “I think it’s great to get people to read,” she said. “And I get a lot of students that haven’t read enough.”

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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    March 12, 2010

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