NEA Big Read Celebrates Old School in Kansas City

For Immediate Release:
March 19, 2009
Contact: Paul Smith
NEA Big Read Celebrates Old School in Kansas City

In an unprecedented display of regional cooperation to promote the reading life, the Libraries of Greater Kansas City have joined together for The Big Read, which returns to Kansas City in April - May 2009 to celebrate the Tobias Wolff novel Old School.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The Big Read features an array of free public programming designed to encourage Kansas Citians to read, contemplate and discuss this modern classic – which is an accessible and quick read.

"It's not surprising that Greater Kansas City should serve as a model for our first Big Read consortium grants,” said David Kipen, literature director for the NEA, “considering what superlative reads the area has already created. Trust the savvy souls of the Midwest to make common cause around a terrific book like Old School."

The novel begins in November 1960, when the unnamed narrator is in his final year at an elite Eastern prep school. Every year, the school invites three famous writers to visit and give a public talk. In anticipation of these visits, senior students submit their own poems or stories to a competition, and the author of the winning submission is granted a private interview with the writer. The lives of the narrator and his friends revolve around these visits, and the competitions produce pressures and strains in their relationships, raising issues of honesty and self-deception.

Wolff is an English professor at Stanford University. Earlier this month, he won The Story Prize for short fiction for his latest collection of short stories, Our Story Begins. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1985 for his novel The Barracks Thief. He is also a two-time finalist for the National Book Award. His memoir This Boy's Life was made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

The Big Read in Kansas City will be distinguished by three signature events:

  • Rockin’ Sixties: The Big Read Kick-Off on Saturday, April 4, starting at 1 p.m. at the Legends Shopping Center, located at 1843 Village West Parkway in Kansas City, Kansas. A KC-based trio, The Krazy Kats will play hits from the 1960s – the era depicted in Old School – by the scenic courtyard fountain at the Legends. Presented by the Johnson County Library, Kansas City Kansas Public Library, and Olathe Public Library.


  • Meeting Frost, Hemingway, and Rand on Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. in the Jenkin and Barbara David Theatre at Park University, located at 8700 NW River Park Drive in Parkville, Missouri. This panel discussion explores the lives and works of Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, and Ayn Rand – the three celebrated writers depicted in Old School. This presentation includes: Jonathan Barron, president of the Robert Frost Society; Suzanne del Gizzo, board member of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society; and Jeff Britting, archivist for the Ayn Rand Institute. Presented by Mid-Continent Public Library and the North Kansas City Public Library.


  • A Conversation with Tobias Wolff on Tuesday, May 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch, located at 4801 Main St. The author discusses our Big Read selection and his literary career with Angela Elam of New Letters on the Air, who will record the conversation before a live audience for later broadcast. This presentation is a Bradbury Speaker Series event. Presented by the Kansas City Public Library.


The Libraries of Greater Kansas City have also partnered with KKFI 90.1 FM – Kansas City’s independent community radio station – to produce a serial reading of the novel. Starting Monday, April 6, tune into The Big Read on the Air on KKFI every weekday at 11:30 a.m. for a half-hour reading series featuring some of Kansas City’s favorite voices. This series premieres with a reading by Dana Gioia, the immediate past chairman of the NEA whose vision and leadership created The Big Read initiative.

For more details on all Kansas City Big Read events and programs – including detailed listings for book discussion groups, scholarly presentations, film screenings and a teen writing contest – visit

The Libraries of Greater Kansas City consortium includes the Kansas City Public Library and the Johnson County Library as well as Mid-Continent Public Library, North Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City Kansas Public Library, and the Olathe Public Library. Reader’s Guides and companion audio CDs for Old School are available at most library locations while supplies last.

The Big Read is an initiative of the NEA designed to restore literary reading to the center of American culture. 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 is provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The National Endowment for 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 nation’s largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. For more information, please visit

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

Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 25 years. For more information, please visit

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