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Immigrant experience to be explored.

SHREWSBURY - The Shrewsbury Public Library was recently awarded a grant to conduct a communitywide reading project in the spring.

The project, based on a national model called The Big Read, was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest.

Shrewsbury is one of 127 communities across the country to have been awarded this highly competitive grant, which is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture.

The latest Big Read grantees represent 38 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NEA inaugurated the Big Read as a pilot project with 10 communities in 2006.

By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the United States will have hosted a Big Read since the program's launch.

"In just two years, the Big Read has grown from 10 communities to include nearly 200 towns and cities nationwide," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "Although each of these communities celebrates its Big Read program in its own way, one theme we consistently hear back is that the Big Read is not just bringing citizens back to the joy of reading, but also reinvigorating the very idea of community."

The organizations selected to participate in the Big Read for the first half of 2008 will receive grants to promote and carry out community-based programs. Participating cities and towns also receive readers' guides and teachers' guides for each novel, audio guides that also can be used as radio programming, publicity materials, an online organizer's guide for running a successful Big Read program, and access to a comprehensive Big Read Web site.

Each local program will include events, such as read-a-thons, book discussions, film screenings and library and museum exhibits, aimed at avid and lapsed or reluctant readers alike.

The Shrewsbury-based Big Read project will focus on the immigrant experience. The partners working on this project will host a community reading and remembrance program emphasizing the variety of immigrant backgrounds that have and continue to shape the community. The book "My Antonia," by Willa Cather will be used as a point of common reading and discussion; a shared starting point to allow participants to explore, collect and share more local immigrant stories.

The readings, performances, activities and conversations of the two-month long program will highlight the common experiences of immigrants from varied origins and time periods, and help celebrate the amazing community web that has been created by this mix of people, cultures and experiences.

To kick off the event this spring, there will be a "My Story Festival" at which the immigrant story will be celebrated with performances by professional storytellers, highlighting the mixture of cultures that shape our country. Area ethnic and cultural groups will be invited to display exhibits, crafts, music, food or other customs from their respective traditions. Free copies of the book, "My Antonia," and a biographical movie on the author Willa Cather will be distributed.

Other plans for the project include a "visit" from Willa Cather, as presented by actress Betty Jo Steinshouer, a trip to Ellis Island Immigration Museum, numerous book and film discussions through out the community, genealogy and memoir writing workshops, a frontier day program, and the opportunity for community members to tape their own family stories. Students in local schools will also be involved through theatrical readings, special projects and assignments related to immigration history and American literature.

The grant was awarded to the library in conjunction with the Shrewsbury School Department, Council on Aging, Parks and Recreation Department, the Friends of the Shrewsbury Library and the Shrewsbury Library's Adult Services Advisory Committee.

The grant partners are now forming a coordinating committee to help plan the events and activities and invite residents and representatives from area cultural and civic groups to join us in this effort. The first meeting for the coordinating committee is planned for January. For more information, or to express in interest in joining the committee, contact Library Director Ellen Dolan at (508) 841-8537.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 27, 2007
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