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Delta State University awarded $20k NEA Big Read grant

CLEVELAND, Miss.—Delta State University and the Bolivar County community will experience the joy of sharing a good book together thanks to a $20,000 grant awarded to Delta State by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with Arts Midwest, as part of the NEA Big Read project.

Delta State was recently announced as one of 62 non-profit organizations nationwide and the only organization in the state selected to hold NEA Big Read programming in 2022-2023.

With awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, the NEA is investing a total of $1,071,140 to support programming centered around one of 15 different contemporary books, with the aim of inspiring meaningful conversations, artistic responses and new discoveries and connections in participating communities.

In collaboration with the Bolivar County Library System as well as campus and community partners, Delta State’s project will host an array of programming centered around Yaa Gyasi’s award-winning novel, “Homegoing.”

“The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee is grateful for the opportunity to work with community partners, like the Bolivar County Library System, Delta Arts Alliance and the Rosedale Freedom Project, to bring NEA Big Read to Bolivar Countians in the upcoming months,” said organizer Michelle Johansen, diversity and inclusion coordinator at Delta State.

“Not only will Bolivar Countians of all backgrounds have the opportunity to read an award-winning, transcendent novel, ‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi, they can engage in meaningful book discussions, participate in free public art and humanities activities and connect with community members through shared experiences,” she added.

Emily Bell, director of the Bolivar County Library System, said she’s excited about the opportunity to promote literacy and learning throughout Bolivar County.

“We are very honored and excited to collaborate with Delta State University on the NEA Big Read grant program. We believe that our community will be enriched through the shared experience of reading ‘Homegoing,’” said Bell. “Stories are important.  By sharing stories and reading stories, people can achieve a greater understanding of our history and a greater appreciation for each other.”

Delta State’s NEA Big Read project will officially kick off on Dec. 1 with a free book distribution on campus for Delta State students, faculty and staff and at the four branches of the Bolivar County Library (Cleveland, Rosedale, Shelby and Rosedale) for community members.

For homebound readers, a free delivery service will be provided courtesy of the Delta State’s DEI Committee.

Through the end of March 2023, there will be a total of five book discussions hosted at the local library, schools, faith-based organizations and schools.

In addition, a panel discussion, film screening and lecture, including a scheduled presentation by culinary historian Adrian Miller about Black culinary history and a conversation about the culinary traditions, knowledge, and goods enslaved Africans brought to the United States and their rich culinary contributions, will be held.

Programming will also include a special musical performance and a writing workshop for local high school students.

Events will be organized by Johansen and Bell along with DSU DEI committee members Dr. Todd Davis, Laura Kate Fortner, Riley Hardin, Dr. Valarie Morgan, Darla Poole, C.T. Salazar, Holly Senter as well as Tamara Blackwell of the Bolivar County Library System.

“It is inspiring to see how NEA Big Read grantees utilize these books as launchpads for their own programming, often creating opportunities for community conversations, new partnerships and encouraging participants to incorporate art into their daily lives,” said Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,700 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $24 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, NEA Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 16 years, grantees have leveraged more than $56 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.9 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, over 97,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and over 40,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

“All across America, in communities small and large, the NEA Big Read connects neighbors and inspires creativity,” said Torrie Allen, president & CEO of Arts Midwest.

“We’re excited to support this year’s grantees as they bring the pages of these wonderful books to life through inventive programming.”

For more information about the NEA Big Read or to see the full list of this year’s grantees, visit