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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 support community reading programs designed around a single NEA Big Read book. The goal of this program is to inspire meaningful conversations, celebrate local creativity, elevate a wide variety of voices and perspectives, and build stronger connections in each community.  

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.

New this year! Explore a theme

Programming for the 2024-2025 grant cycle will center around the theme WHERE WE LIVE. Using a book selection as inspiration, applicants will choose one or more aspects of this theme as it relates to their own communities. For example, a community may explore its physical environment, people, industry and culture, history, and/or imagine an alternate reality.

To help applicants choose a book that inspires community programming and relates to the theme WHERE WE LIVE, the NEA Big Read has gone back to its roots. The NEA Big Read library now includes a selection of 50 titles culled from years past that showcase a wide range of genres, perspectives, and geographic regions.

Applicants will facilitate book discussions, writing workshops, and creative programming that celebrates the unique aspects of their communities. Activities will seek to include local artists and welcome participation from a wide range of audiences.

Applications for the 2024-2025 cycle were due Wednesday, January 24th.


In June 2023, 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 $1,075,000 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.


To help applicants choose a book that inspires community programming and relates to the theme WHERE WE LIVE, the NEA Big Read has gone back to its roots. This year’s NEA Big Read applicants can select one of 50 titles featured in the NEA Big Read library.  The NEA Big Read library now includes selections culled from years past that showcase a wide range of genres, perspectives, and geographic regions.




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.
  • 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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