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The Big Read, 2014  

Last Updated: Dec 14, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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About the Program

   The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest.

   The Big Read answers a big need.  Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young. The concerned citizen in search of good news about American literary culture would study the pages of this report in vain.

   The Big Read aims to address this crisis squarely and effectively. It provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The Big Read supports organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs which encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read receive a grant, access to online training resources and opportunities, and educational and promotional materials designed to support widespread community involvement.

   The programming for The Big Read in southwestern Indiana is designed to appeal to the community-at-large.  The additional programming is designed to appeal to both active readers, as well as those who might not initially consider reading the book.  This will provide an opportunity to engage these people in reading the book, or at least one of the short stories, and to participate in discussion groups throughout the area.


WNIN Programs

Harvesting the High Plains (60 minutes)

Monday, 1/13/14, 9 p.m. & Sunday, 1/26/14, 2 p.m.

In 1933, as the US began to recover from the Great Depression, farmers from the panhandle of Texas to western Nebraska battled a greater foe.  The Dustbowl turned the Great Plains into a virtual desert.  Harvesting the Great Plains tells the rags-to-riches story of Ray Garvey and John Kriss, who made large-scale wheat farming a success in Kansas and Colorado.  The program portrays the rise of agriculture in the Midwest and Great Plains.

The Dust Bowl, “The Great Plow Up” (120 minutes)

Monday, 1/27/14, 9 p.m. & Sunday, 2/2/13, 2 p.m.

In the first episode of Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, feel the full force of the worst manmade environmental disaster in America's history as survivors recall the terror of the dust storms, the desperation of hungry families and how they managed to find hope even as the earth and heavens seemed to turn against them.

The Dust Bowl, “Reaping The Whirlwind” (120 minutes)

Monday, 2/3/14, 9 p.m. & Sunday, 2/9/14, 2 p.m.

In the second episode of Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, experience the gradual relief as the families of the plains seek new lives in California and government conservation efforts - and a break in the drought in 1939 - eventually stabilize the soil and bring the farms back to life, but with dangers of another Dust Bowl facing future generations.

Power For The Parkinsons (60 minutes)

Monday, 2/10/14, 9 p.m. & Sunday, 2/16/14, 2 p.m.

Narrated by broadcast icon Walter Cronkite, this special tells the compelling story of the making of the classic New Deal documentary film Power and the Land. In 1939, 75% of American farms were without electricity. While American towns and cities were bright with light, farm families were reading and working by the light of kerosene lanterns.  Power and the Land, which premiered in St. Clairsville, Ohio on August 31, 1940, was subsequently shown to millions of American farmers. Now some eight decades later, Power for the Parkinsons, argues that this was the film and family that helped electrify the American heartland.

Stories From the Great Depression (30 minutes)

Monday, 2/17/14, 9 p.m. & Sunday, 2/23/14, 2 p.m.

This WNIN production features testimonials and stories from southern Indiana Hoosiers that grew up during the Great Depression.  Interviewed by high school and college students, this program portrays both the personal stories and memories of the Great Depression, and the insights and revelations that these stories have on our younger generation.

Our American Family: The Smiths (30 minutes)

Monday, 2/17/14, 9:30 p.m. & Sunday, 2/23/14, 2:30 p.m.

The first half of the 1900’s represents the last era of American life that, for most families, began largely unchanged from the generations they came before.  This special, profiles Willie and Rena Smith of Goldthwaite, Texas and their seven children.  It tells the story of a family whose patriarch dies at an early age leaving the mother to raise seven children ages 18 months to 14 years old.


Public Displays

February 2 - March 2,  Themes Inspired by the Big Read selection The Grapes of Wrath, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Central Branch

Individual Display Cases in the Lobby will display:

Soil Conservation: Prompted by the Dust Bowl (Photos of soil erosion, reclamation efforts)

The Great Flood of 1937: (After effects in Posey County, IN)

Making Do: Quilts from the 1930s: (Examples of "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without")

Toy Loan Library: Jobs creation by the Works Progress Administration

Post Modernism Artwork by Ivy Tech Community College students, inspired by The Grapes of Wrath

Contact: Helen Azarian, Reference Librarian,, (812) 428-8200


February 3 - May 30, The Grapes of Wrath: The Indiana Experience, The McCutchan Exhibition Space, Wright Administration Building and Forum I, University of Southern Indiana:

The exhibit examines the Indiana experience of living through the time period depicted in The Big Read book selection, The Grapes of Wrath. Based on the book Back Home Again: Indiana in the Farm Security Administration Photographs, 1935 - 1943, edited by Dr. Robert L. Reid, Academic Vice President Emeritus, USI, this grouping of photographs and artifacts briefly surveys the topics of flood and erosion issues, farm auction events, and resettlement programs. Also profiled are the photographers hired by the FSA to visit Indiana and document these moments in history.

Contact: Susan Colaricci, Art Collection Registrar,, (812) 686-8628

University of Southern Indiana Rice Library

Two display cases flank the entrance to the 2nd floor Grand Reading Room in the Rice Library. Each display case has a backdrop image from the Library of Congress photo collection. One case includes color images of book covers for The Grapes of Wrath and other Steinbeck works; information on Steinbeck himself; and information on Big Read Events.

The second case features color images of book covers having to do with the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and The Dust Bowl documentary by Ken Burns. The Big Read will be featured in this case as well, along with the events related to it.

A permanent display of the January 1937 Ohio River Flood on the 3rd floor of the Rice Library, in the hallway outside the University Archives and Special Collections will be available to view.

Contact: Marna Hostetler,, (812) 464-1824

Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Visual Communications Program Chair, Joe Hostetler engaged his VISC 113: Typography students in the Big Read project. Students in his fall 2013 and spring 2014 courses, were instructed to create a poster based on their visual interpretation of the themes in The Grapes of Wrath. The intent of this project was to apply the concepts/thought processes of postmodernism (adding meaning, thought, uniqueness, personal perspective) and not simply applying the style (deconstructed, grunge, layered, etc.) Student displays can be found on the first floor near the Bower Suhrheinrich Art Gallery at Ivy Tech Community College.

Contact: Maureen Barton, Director of Libraries and Online Technologies,


Events Schedule

February 2, 2-4 p.m.  Opening Panel/Reception, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Central:

A panel of USI faculty (Michael Kearns, English; Dane Partridge, Business / Human Resources; Leigh Anne Howard, Communication Studies; and Katherine Winsett, Biology) will discuss the relevance of the book; books will be distributed, along with a study guide to encourage intergenerational dialogue.

Dr. Robert ReidFebruary 5, 7 p.m.  Keynote Address, University of Southern Indiana, Michell Auditorium:

Dr. Robert Reid, Academic Vice President Emeritus, USI

Illustrated lecture on the relationship between The Grapes of Wrath and documentary photography in four books Dr. Reid has published featuring photographs from the 1930’s depicting rural life, agriculture labor floods and droughts in the states of Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Texas. Followed by a response panel.

Feb. 6, 12-1:30 p.m.  Talk, “Heritage Quilts," Willard Library:

Nell Jordan, Civil War Reenactor

10-12 quilts from the 1940s and reproduction prints from 1930.

February 13, 6 p.m.  Talk: “Matron of the Homestead,” Willard Library:

Eva Sanford, Adult Services Librarian, Willard Library

A look back at the women of the local homesteads of the 1930s.

February 19, 6 p.m.  Talk: “Of Determination and Despair," Willard Library:

Karen Tannenbaum, Adult Services Librarian, Willard Library

Depression Era photography both nationally and locally.

February 20, 12-4 p.m. &  4-8 p.m.  Video:  The Dust Bowl, Arts Council of Southwest Indiana:

Showing of Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl.

February 21, 1:30 p.m.  Movie: The Grapes of Wrath, SWIRCA, 16 W. Virginia, Evansville:

February 21, 7 p.m.  Movie: The Grapes of Wrath, University of Southern Indiana, Forum I, Wright Administration:

February 26, 3-3:30 p.m.  Dramatic Reading: The Grapes of Wrath Play, Large Group Room, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Central:

February 26, 5 p.m.  Dramatic Reading:  The Grapes of Wrath Play, University of Southern Indiana, Rice Library:

February 26, 6 p.m.  Talk: “From Reality to Fantasy: American Film from the 1930’s," Willard Library:

Kelly Coures and Peggy Newton

Hollywood films provided an escape during the country’s deepest and longest economic downturn.

February 27, 6 p.m.  Talk:  "Innovative Kitchens: Feeding America in the 1930s," Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Central:

Helen Azarian, Reference Librarian, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library

February 28, 12-1:30 p.m.  Talk: “Aprons Have a Historical Past," Willard Library

Esther Duncan, Researcher/Historian, Willard Library

A family reunion project for 7 sisters began with a reproduction of her mother’s apron and became a passion for farm women’s legacies for the presenter.

March 2,  2-4 p.m.  Closing Panel/Reception, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library:

Downtown Evansville, Central Library, Browning Room

Speaker Mark Cambron, District Conservationist for Vanderburgh County, talks about the range of impacts of the Great Depression and the Great Recession, with response panel, musical entertainment.


Public Book Discussions

Feb. 11, 12:15. p.m., Ivy Tech Community College

Feb. 14, 12:15 p.m., Ivy Tech Community College

Feb. 20, 12:15 p.m., Ivy Tech Community College

Library, 141B

Maureen Barton, Group Leader


February 9, 2 p.m., Ohio Township Public Library, Central Library

Emerald Room

4111 Lakeshore Drive, Newburgh, IN

Diane Sprick, Group Leader


Feb. 10, 6 p.m., Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Central Branch

Mary Rezek, Leader


Feb. 12, 1-2 p.m., Willard Library

Feb. 17, 5-6 p.m., Willard Library

Bayard Room

Eva Sanford, Group Leader


Feb. 12, 6:30 pm, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Oaklyn Branch

Helen Azarian, Leader


Feb. 13, 12 p.m., First Methodist Church

3rd and Green Streets, Henderson, KY

Pat Workins, Leader


Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m., Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, North Park Branch

Michelle Haywood, Leader


Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m., Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Red Bank Branch

Helen Azarian, Leader


Feb. 20, 11 a.m., Oakland City Library

210 S. Main St., Oakland City, IN

Julie Elmore, Group Leader


Feb. 20, University of Southern Indiana

9-10:15 a.m., Wright Administration, Forum II

12-1:15 p.m., Education Center, ED 2113

Professor Katie Winsett leads a discussion with her Environmental Biology class on the Dust Bowl as it related to The Grapes of Wrath and farming and agricultural practices.


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