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NEA Big Read FAQ

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.  

A group of smiling people holding up copies of Sandra Cisneros's novel, "The House on Mango Street."
Photo Credit: Alley Theatre

About the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read

NEA Big Read supports nonprofit and community organizations across the country in developing community-wide reading programs that encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. These programs include activities such as author readings, book discussions, art exhibits, lectures, film series, music or dance events, theatrical performances, panel discussions, and other events and activities related to the community’s chosen book. Activities focus on one book from the NEA Big Read library.

Selected organizations receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to support their NEA Big Read projects. In addition, the National Endowment for the Arts offers online content for each reading selection.

Prior to starting their projects, NEA Big Read grant recipients participate in a series of online activities to prepare them to host and promote the NEA Big Read in their communities. Online presentations include grant award management, strategies for hosting effective book discussions, and question-and-answer sessions featuring past NEA Big Read grantees and experts on a wide variety of topics.

NEA Big Read grantees also have access to a special website with resources to help them conduct a successful NEA Big Read program and downloadable public relations templates and design elements. Grant recipients also receive publicity materials such as banners and bookmarks.

The list of books available for NEA Big Read programming changes each year and can be found in the NEA Big Read library. Applicants that have received an NEA Big Read grant in the past must choose a different reading selection from any previous awards.

Suggestions for new titles are collected from a wide variety of sources, including readers from around the country, as well as NEA Big Read grantees, participants, and past Big Read panelists. The National Endowment for the Arts then seeks advice from additional readers, literary presenters, and community organizers nationwide to help narrow the list of suggestions based on criteria including the capacity to incite lively and deep discussion; the capacity to expand the range of voices, stories, and genres represented in our Big Read library; the capacity to interest lapsed and reluctant readers and/or to challenge avid readers and introduce them to new voices; and the capacity to inspire innovative programming for communities.

Applicant organizations for NEA Big Read must be a 501c3 nonprofit; a division of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library. Eligible applicants include organizations such as arts centers, arts councils, arts organizations, colleges and universities, community service organizations, environmental organizations, fairs and festivals, faith-based organizations, historical societies, housing authorities, humanities councils, libraries, literary centers, museums, theater companies, trade associations, and tribal governments.

Local education agencies, school districts, and state and regional education agencies are also eligible applicants. We do not fund individual elementary or secondary schools—charter, private, or public—directly. Schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. If a single school is also a local education agency, as is the case with some charter schools, the school may apply with documentation that supports its status as a local education agency.

Absolutely. As an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, NEA Big Read grants are open to organizations across the nation. Since the program’s inception in 2006, NEA Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country.

No, applicants for NEA Big Read must be a 501©(3) nonprofit organization; a division of state, local, or tribal government; or a tax-exempt public library but there are many ways individuals can participate in, and/or benefit from, the NEA Big Read. You may:

  • Get some ideas for books to read and recommend to friends or for a book club by perusing the books that are part of the NEA Big Read program. You can find materials about each of the books at arts.gov that may include: author bios, book descriptions, discussion questions, podcasts, and blog posts.
  • Follow NEA Big Read on Twitter. Use #NEABigRead to share your experiences about the program and see how others are participating around the country.

Application Process

Each October, Arts Midwest posts a new set of Guidelines and Application Instructions and opens the online application. Applications are due at the end of January. Award notifications occur in April and organizations conduct their NEA Big Read programming at any point between September and June.

The application and guidelines for NEA Big Read, developed by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest, are available on Arts Midwest’s website and distributed nationwide to arts, cultural, literary, and civic organizations, such as libraries, museums, and local arts agencies. Organizations chosen to receive an NEA Big Read grant are selected by a panel of outside experts who review the proposed projects for artistic excellence and merit. Competitive applications demonstrate strong literary programming, experience in building effective local partnerships, reaching and engaging new and diverse audiences, working with educators, involving local and state public officials, and working with media.

Yes, we encourage you to submit another application. If your first attempt at grant funding is not fruitful, for whatever reason, it will not negatively impact your likelihood of receiving a grant award for the next grant cycle. If you would like feedback about your application, please contact the NEA Big Read staff at Arts Midwest.

If your organization has never applied or received federal funding, it is important to keep in mind that the grant application process, management process, and reporting requirements take some time and effort. Eligible organizations must be able to demonstrate their ability to effectively manage federal funding. We make every effort to ensure that applicants have adequate resources and information during each stage of the granting process.

Program Planning and Implementation

No two NEA Big Read programs are alike, and we encourage grantees to think creatively about how to promote active reading and learning in their communities. However, we do require certain types of programs that can be found in the application guidelines. Several requirements can be met in a single event.

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

Before you begin planning your NEA Big Read, we recommend that you assemble a planning committee made up of individuals with knowledge and experience in diverse areas that will contribute to your program’s goals. As the program committee develops these goals, you may want to start by thinking about the types of programs with which your organization has already had success and the audiences with which you have already established relationships. Your NEA Big Read could be a good opportunity to strengthen and expand these programs and relationships, and promote reading and active learning. Also, consider thinking beyond what your organization has done in the past. Your community boasts many assets. Be sure to look first at these assets and consider how to best leverage them in your effort to engage your community in literary-based programming. Don’t place the burden of programming on one organization, if possible, have multiple organizations hosting events.

Partnerships are strongly encouraged as they can expand the impact of your NEA Big Read program and increase your capacity to deliver community-wide literary events and activities. The benefits of partnerships are many; most can bring additional resources, along with new or different ideas and perspectives, and can result in long-term relationships that last well beyond your NEA Big Read.

Your NEA Big Read should promote active reading and learning in your community and you are the expert at determining what that should look like. Just like every community is different, so is every NEA Big Read. What makes your community unique? What role does your organization play in your community? Ask yourselves how you can best utilize community assets and your organization’s history of past programming success.

After you’ve done a thorough assessment of your organization and the assets and resources in your community, it may be helpful to do online research and find examples of literary-based activities and events that other organizations have delivered.

No, author visits are not a requirement of the NEA Big Read grant. While some organizations do choose to use author visits to fulfill the keynote event requirement of the grant, there are a number of other events that you could consider for a keynote. Past NEA Big Read grantees, for example, have hosted talks from scholars who have studied the title, delivered speeches by people associated with the author or book, and presented panel discussions with local luminaries.

Contact information for NEA Big Read authors and their publicity agents is available from the NEA Big Read team at Arts Midwest. If you are considering an author visit as part of your programming, please be aware that honoraria and availability vary by individual. Please contact us at [email protected] for more information. A visit from the author of the NEA Big Read book is not required.

Still have questions about the NEA Big Read?

We’re happy to answer any questions you have about the NEA Big Read. We’re just an email or a phone call away.  612.238.8024 [email protected]