Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Texas A&M-Kingsville Only University in Texas, One of Just Three Sites in State Participating in The Big Read National Initiative

KINGSVILLE - September 11, 2010

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Area-wide effort to promote reading includes Forum on the Freedoms panel on Oct. 3

This fall, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, led by one of its English faculty members, will encourage the community to read and share a book with each other. The book is Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, and the reason is The Big Read.

A&M-Kingsville is the only university in Texas taking part in this initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts, in which citizens are given the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The Big Read started as a challenge to a 2004 NEA report, which found that literary reading is in dramatic decline, with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature.

Currently, 117 communities throughout the country are encouraging literary reading through The Big Read programming, reading one of 12 NEA selected books from September through December 2007. The selection for Texas, Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age novel set in New Mexico. It follows Antonio Juan Luna Márez from age 7 to maturity, as he looks for life’s answers at home and through a friendship with a curandera, a traditional Mexican healer.

Dr. Cathy Downs, associate professor of English at Texas A&M-Kingsville, heard about the initiative and applied for the NEA Big Read grant with associate professor Victoria Packard of the A&M-Kingsville Jernigan Library. Through the grant, Downs was awarded the right for the university to serve as a community host. The other communities participating in Texas are the cities of Houston, through the Houston Library Board, and Corpus Christi, through the Friends of Corpus Christi Public Libraries.

Starting Oct. 1, Downs will distribute copies of Bless Me, Ultima at the Kingsville Public Library, the Jernigan Library at A&M-Kingsville and Naval Air Station Kingsville, among other locations.

The Kingsville Big Read kickoff event, “Forum on the Freedoms,” will take place on the A&M-Kingsville campus Wednesday, Oct. 3 from 4-5:30 p.m. in room 100 of the Biology Earth Sciences Building. This will be a free public seminar, featuring presentations that focus on challenges to artistic expression here and abroad. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Leonardo Carrillo, professor emeritus of Mexican American studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a scholar of Bless Me, Ultima and the freedom of expression challenges it has faced for its frank language and questioning of religion.

Other speakers scheduled for the kickoff event include A&M-Kingsville faculty members Dr. Susan L. Roberson, associate professor and chair of the department of language and literature; Dr. Nirmal Goswami, professor of political science; and Dr. Roger H. Tuller, associate professor of history.

Another event supporting The Big Read comes from the A&M-Kingsville English 2342 class, in which the students will have the assignment of studying Bless Me, Ultima and three other novels that have faced being banned by various groups since their release. Based on their work, the class will host a reading of passages from Bless Me, Ultima, along with original student works centering on family at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Barnes and Noble bookstore in late October.

The A&M-Kingsville Jernigan Library also will host a display changing weekly in October, featuring banned books.

“I teach American literature and I’m passionate about reading,” said Downs. “Hopefully, The Big Read will get a few more people in South Texas passionate about books.

“Maybe the next time they go to turn on a television, they’ll pick up a book instead.”

More information on The Big Read is available by calling Downs at 361-593-2514, or going online at www.neabigread.org.

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