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Kent State receives National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant

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Kent State receives National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant

Kent State University is one of 61 organizations nationwide – and one of four organizations in Ohio – to be awarded a 2021-2022 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant. The university’s $20,000 grant will support the Big Read Northeast Ohio, a community reading program and related events focusing on “An American Sunrise” by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo from October 2021 through May 2022. Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States, will visit Kent State in March 2022 for a keynote event and book reading. The official title of this project is the NEA Big Read Northeast Ohio.

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. The initiative broadens understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the exploration of award-winning books that showcase diverse themes, voices and perspectives. In “An American Sunrise,” Harjo returns to her family’s ancestral homeland from which they were forcibly removed more than 200 years ago and opens a dialogue with tribal history, the land and her memories. 

The NEA Big Read Northeast Ohio will provide nearly 500 copies of Harjo’s book to community members participating in book discussions. The comprehensive, seven-month program is expected to serve more than 3,000 community members through 16 events and at least eight book discussions. 

“The NEA’s Big Read offering of Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s ‘An American Sunrise’ provides us with an opportunity to create new relationships with the diverse Indigenous communities in Northeast Ohio,” says Denise Harrison, grant project co-director and a senior lecturer in the English and Pan-African Studies departments. 

“Our collaboration continues to evolve, introducing us to other Indigenous writers, including Robin Wall Kimmerer, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and J. Kéhaulani Kauanui,” says Yuko Kurahashi, Ph.D., grant project co-director and a professor in the School of Theatre and Dance. 

Planned events for the NEA Big Read Northeast Ohio include:

  • Kickoff event with a keynote speaker, performances by the Native American community, and debut of the Big Read Northeast Ohio Digital Poetry Project, using Wick Poetry Center’s digital writing platform to gather and share community poetry responses. 
  • Book discussions at various libraries across Northeast Ohio.
  • Native American film screenings at Akron Public Library.
  • Art-making workshops hosted at various locations.
  • Virtual lecture by scientist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer, in partnership with the Holden Forests and Gardens.
  • Virtual lecture by American historian and author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, followed by a panel discussion.
  • Outreach to educators at Kent State and K-12 schools throughout Northeast Ohio.
  • Visit from Poet Laureate Joy Harjo for keynote event and book discussion.

All events, projects and further details of the program will be available at /NEABigRead

The NEA Big Read Northeast Ohio is supported by the following Kent State departments and regional partners: University Libraries; the Wick Poetry Center; the College of the Arts; the College of the Arts and Sciences; the School of Theatre and Dance; the School of Art; the College of Education, Health and Human Services; the Department of Pan-African Studies; the Department of History; Kent State Geauga; the Department of Biological Sciences; and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. External partners include the Lake Erie Native American Council; Kent Free Library; Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library; Akron-Summit County Public Library; Cuyahoga County Public Library; Cleveland Museum of Natural History; Akron Art Museum; and Holden Forests and Gardens. The NEA Big Read Northeast Ohio will also partner with several local high schools, including Bio-Med Science Academy and Chagrin Falls Middle School. 

Since 2006, the NEA has funded more than 1,700 Big Read programs in every congressional district in the country, providing more than $23 million to 40,000+ community organizations nationwide. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended a Big Read event and more than 90,000 local-level volunteers have partnered with grantees to present Big Read activities.

For more information about the NEA Big Read, including books and author information, podcasts and videos, visit

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more.
Arts Midwest believes that creativity has the power to inspire and unite humanity. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest grows, gathers and invests in creative organizations and communities throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. One of six nonprofit United States Regional Arts Organizations, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 30 years. For more information, visit


POSTED: Thursday, June 24, 2021 - 2:54pm
UPDATED: Thursday, May 11, 2023 - 5:16am