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National Endowment for the Arts Big Read

The NEA Big Read is a grant of up to $20,000 to help bring communities together around the shared activity of reading and discussing the same book.  

Joy Harjo enjoying an afternoon in the Shinnecock Indian Nation territory before her presentation at Stony Brook University.
Photo Credit: Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja

About NEA Big Read

The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read is a program that awards grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to organizations. These grants help broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and our neighbors through the power of a shared reading experience. Through the NEA Big Read, communities come together to converse, present a series of public events inspired by books, and promote participation in the program.  

In addition to funding for purchasing the books themselves, each grant recipient is provided with resources to help them succeed. That includes outreach materials to gather people from all walks of life and training on how to work with local partners, how to develop public relations strategies, and how to lead meaningful book discussions.

NEA Big Read programs vary and can be as short as a week or as long as several months. Beyond discussions of the book, organizations may choose to include a kick-off event, invite the author for a visit, or have other events inspired by the content and themes of the book, including panel discussions, lectures, film screenings, art exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, poetry slams, writing workshops and contests, and community storytelling events.

Applications are now closed for the 2023-2024 granting cycle. Subscribe to our newsletter in our website footer for updates.

In June 2022, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with Arts Midwest, announced support for 62 nonprofit organizations to hold NEA Big Read programming in 2022-2023. In total, the NEA is investing $1,071,140 to support programming centered around one of 15 different contemporary books, with the aim of inspiring meaningful conversations, artistic responses, and new discoveries and connections in participating communities.

This year’s NEA Big Read book selection includes 15 recently published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books by authors with diverse identities and experiences.  

 Current books available for selection by applicants for the 2023-2024 application include: 

  • The Best We Could Do (graphic memoir) by Thi Bui 
  • Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (graphic memoir) by Roz Chast 
  • Postcolonial Love Poem (poetry) by Natalie Diaz 
  • Infinite Country (novel) by Patricia Engel 
  • Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (poetry) by Ross Gay 
  • Homegoing (novel) by Yaa Gyasi 
  • Deaf Republic (poetry) by Ilya Kaminsky 
  • The Bear (novel) by Andrew Krivak 
  • Circe (novel) by Madeline Miller 
  • There, There (novel) by Tommy Orange 
  • Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (memoir) by Sarah Smarsh 
  • Sitting Pretty: The View from my Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body (memoir-in-essays) by Rebekah Taussig 
  • The Cold Millions (novel) by Jess Walter 
  • Nothing to See Here (novel) by Kevin Wilson 

The National Endowment for the Arts maintains resources for NEA Big Read book selections (past and present) on their website. These resources may include information about the author, about the book, discussion questions, and audio and video clips.

Hear from the new authors and the National Endowment for the Arts on this special webinar covering these books.

Receiving an NEA Big Read grant is just the first step. Many grantees find it helpful to discuss programming ideas with one another for inspiration on how they might best serve their communities.  

Here is a list of helpful resources for planning and conducting your NEA Big Read.


Accessibility and Resources

Crediting and Visibility

Other Resources

  • Assurance of Compliance – Ensure your events comply with federal regulations by reviewing this PDF document.
  • Bulk book orders – Need a place to start for buying bundles of books? This doc contains information for a few different options.

Learning from Peers

Presentations from past recipients of the NEA Big Read grant speaking on a handful of topics

There are many ways to be a part of the NEA Big Read, especially if there’s a program in your community. Here are just a few of the ways you can get involved.  

  • Join a panel to help decide which projects receive NEA Big Read funding. Panelists represent an array of backgrounds and areas of expertise, as well as geographic diversity. Panelists can be arts professionals or knowledgeable laypeople who are passionate about the arts. Learn more about how to become a panelist.
  • Attend an event. The simplest way to be a part of the NEA Big Read is to attend the program’s events in your area. Events can range from book discussions to film screenings to author visits and more. 
  • Volunteer. Did you know studies show that readers are more likely to volunteer than non-readers? If there’s an NEA Big Read event in your community, consider asking how you can help. 
  • Talk to your local librarians. Ask them if they’ve heard of the NEA Big Read and if they might want to submit an application for the next funding cycle. That’s a great way to help bring NEA Big Read events to your area. 
  • Become a sponsor. Do you represent a corporation or small business? If so, you can sponsor your local NEA Big Read or donate goods and services for NEA Big Read events. Or if you’re not in a position to sponsor Big Read events, you can organize a workplace read that mimics Big Read events at your company.
  • Give a shoutout on social media. Follow NEA Big Read on Twitter @NEABigRead and use the hashtag #NEABigRead to share how much fun you’re having at Big Read events.
  • And last but certainly not least: Read! Even if there’s not an NEA Big Read event in your area, you can choose to read any of the NEA Big Read selections on your own or with a group of friends.  

​​Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,700 NEA Big Read programs around the country, providing more than $23 million to organizations. In addition, NEA Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 15 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 90,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and over 40,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

“The book taught us how to talk to and trust one another so that we could ultimately approach issues that were difficult and immediate,” writes one NEA Big Read participant, echoing the sentiments of many other participants around the country. Studies show that reading for pleasure reduces stress, heightens empathy, improves students’ test scores, slows the onset of dementia, and makes us more active and aware citizens. Book clubs and community reading programs extend these benefits by creating opportunities to explore together the issues that are relevant to our lives. 

For more information on the NEA Big Read, check out our FAQ page. 

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

Prepare Your Application and Apply

To give your organization the best chance of being chosen for a grant, be sure to follow the guidelines and submit your application on time. We’ve compiled a list of everything you need to succeed!

Get Started

Two smiling children drawing and coloring at a table as people walk down the street behind them.
Photo Credit: Christine Tran courtesy of Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association

Have questions about the NEA Big Read?

We’re happy to answer any questions you have about the NEA Big Read. Be sure to check out our FAQs, and if you’d like to talk to us we’re just an email or a phone call away. 

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