Lawrence Big Read

Lawrence Big Read is a community-wide reading program to encourage reading and participation in arts-based programming by diverse audiences. This year’s programming centers on Joy Harjo’s “An American Sunrise” and is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read grant program.

Community Partners

The following local organizations make up the Lawrence Big Read’s coalition. Together, these community partners applied for the NEA’s Big Read grant and selected the acclaimed “An American Sunrise” by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo as the focal point for the yearlong, arts-based community engagement series.

What is an NEA Big Read Grant?

NEA grants are awarded annually to community organizations to provide support for arts-based workshops and reading programs designed around a single book. Big Read aims to spark meaningful conversations and encourage new connections in each community. 

Lawrence Big Read was selected by a panel of outside experts who reviewed the coalition’s proposed project for artistic excellence and merit. 

How You Can Participate

Residents of the city of Lawrence are invited to read and discuss the book, leading up to Joy Harjo’s reading for the city via webinar on March 10, 2022.

Workshops and discussions will take place in a number of spaces, including:

  • Lawrence Public Schools
  • Bread & Roses Heritage Festival
  • El Taller Cafe & Bookstore
  • Lawrence Public Library
  • Merrimack College

As part of the Big Read, programming will also include poetry readings, open mics, book clubs, story walks, writing workshops, speakers, paint and poetry nights, and more until May 2022. 

About “An American Sunrise” and Joy Harjo

The poems in “An American Sunrise” encompass themes of migration, identity, forced displacement, memory, invisibility, ancestry, colonization, indigenous culture, storytelling and more. It is these themes that will inform and enrich programming.

Joy Harjo is the United States Poet Laureate, since 2019. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Harjo has authored nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs, “Crazy Brave” and “Poet Warrior.” Among the numerous awards and honors she has received are the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, two NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

As a musician and international performer, Harjo plays saxophone and flutes solo, often bringing together session musicians to form her backup Arrow Dynamics Band. She has produced seven award-winning albums. Her newest album is entitled I Pray for My Enemies.

She is Exec­u­tive Edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy “When the Light of the World was Sub­dued,” “Our Songs Came Through — A Nor­ton Anthol­o­gy of Native Nations Poet­ry.” Harjo is more recently the editor of “Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry.” The anthology serves as a companion piece to her signature Poet Laureate project of the same name, which includes an interactive story map of first nations poetry along with audio recordings of 47 contemporary Native poets reading and discussing their work.

Harjo serves as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, is Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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