Kansas City Public Library Wins Fifth Big Read Grant

For Immediate Release:
June 3, 2013
Contact: Lorenzo Butler

The Kansas City Public Library will lead a community-wide celebration of Charles Portis’ iconic western novel True Grit when this year’s Big Read takes place during fall 2013. This is the fifth time in six years that the Library has won this competitively-awarded designation from the National Endowment for the Arts, which includes a $17,000 grant to cover programming and production costs.

Partners in this year’s Big Read include the American Royal, Emporia State University, the US Marshals Service-Western Missouri Region, and Women Writing the West. Through these partnerships, readers will be able to connect with True Grit through a wide range of free public events, programs, book discussions, and a special exhibit at the Central Library. Additionally, several hundred copies of True Grit will be available for check-out from all ten Kansas City Public Library locations.

This is the first year True Grit is a Big Read selection, making the Library among the first in the nation to orchestrate a large-scale campaign to encourage reading and discussion of the Charles Portis novel.

True Grit is a perfect fit for Kansas City,” said Henry Fortunato, the Library’s director of public affairs, who will be co-directing this year’s Big Read with Kaite Stover, the Library’s director of readers’ services. “The essence of the Kansas City Spirit is a mix of tenacity, endurance, and never-say-die – in other words, the very forces that animate the protagonists in Charles Portis’ classic novel. Combine that with our Library’s time-tested and multi-faceted approach to executing Big Reads successfully and we expect this to be our biggest Big Read ever.”

The formal public kick-off of this year’s Big Read takes place on the morning of Saturday, September 28, 2013 during the 88th annual American Royal Parade, when Library Director Crosby Kemper III portrays True Grit’s Marshal Rooster Cogburn – complete with period western wear and eye-patch – and rides a horse up Grand Boulevard in the company of others playing additional characters in the novel.

A series of public programs, primarily at the Central Library and the Plaza Branch, will also be getting underway around that time. Currently confirmed Big Read signature events include:

  • Tom Averill, professor of English and writer-in-residence at Washburn University, will examine the American West as a literary genre in “True Grit as True Grist for Exploration of the Western Novel”
  • Jim Hoy, professor of English at Emporia State University and longtime interpreter of the American cowboy, will offer a visual exploration of the historical period in which True Grit is set in “What True Grit Looks Like: The Cowboy Photographs of F.M. Steele” which will complement an exhibit of Steele’s photographs on display in the Central Library’s Guldner Gallery
  • Brett Cogburn, the great-grandson of the actual Rooster Cogburn, will discuss his biography Rooster: The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired True Grit and compares truth with fiction as he contrasts his great-grandfather’s true life with its literary and cinematic versions
  • Michael Searles, emeritus professor of history at Augusta State University will look at the life and times of Mary Fields (a.k.a. “Stagecoach Mary”), a real-life African American counterpart of fictional heroine Mattie Ross in “True Grit and Black Women of the West”
  • Jane Wood, outgoing dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Park University, will lead an examination of the role of feminism in True Grit in a panel discussion titled “Mattie Ross—A Portrait of Feminist Heroism or Traditional Masculinity?”
  • Jeff Harshbarger, a Kansas City musician, composer, and bandleader, performs a selection of musical compositions intended to evoke an auditory appreciation for the Portis novel in “Music to Read True Grit By”
  • Former U.S. Representative Ike Skelton, author of the forthcoming memoir, Achieve the Honorable: A Missouri Congressman's Journey from Warm Springs to Washington and Chinese immigrant and Kansas City businesswoman Bambi Shen, author of the memoir, The Uncrushable Rose, will present contemporary takes on individual resilience in a two-part series called True Life True Grit
  • Anthony Gasaway, chief deputy U.S. Marshal, US Marshals Service-Western Missouri Region, will present a program examining the professional duties the character of Rooster Cogburn may have experienced as a U.S. Marshal

Complementing these signature events, The Big Read in Kansas City will include book discussion groups at numerous Library locations as well as via The Big Read-Corporate Edition, an outreach initiative that brings True Grit to local corporations, non-profits, and government agencies for lively and informative conversations about the book with skilled facilitators provided by the Library. Details for all Big Read activities will be available online at kcbigread.org beginning July 1, 2013.

Previous Big Read efforts coordinated by the Kansas City Public Library have celebrated A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway in 2007; Old School by Tobias Wolff in 2009; Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson in 2010; and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain in 2011.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with The Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. Support for The Big Read has been provided by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; The Ruffin A. Cooper, Jr., Endowment; the Poetry Foundation; and Ford Motor Company.

The National Endowment of the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts—both new and established— bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit arts.gov.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. For more information, please visit imls.gov.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. A non-profit regional arts organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest serves audiences, arts organizations, and artists throughout the nine states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and beyond. For more than 25 years, Arts Midwest’s portfolio of programs has evolved to include performing, visual and literary arts and leadership development initiatives that provide opportunities for communities large and small to engage with arts and culture.

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