Past Big Read Programs

The Big Read 2017: The Things They Carried

During fall 2017, the Kansas City area's six public library systems join together for a community-wide reading and discussion of Tim O'Brien's seminal work about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried.

The local edition of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read offers programs exploring veterans' war experiences, music of the period, Hollywood's handling of the war, comparisons of 1960s protests with present-day movements, writing about war, civil rights, and the era's cultural and political legacy. The initiative also coincides with the premiere of the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

The Big Read KC offers special events, book conversations, film screenings and presentations, community activities, and more. You can also find more regional programming at bigreadkc.org.

About the Big Read

Fifty years ago, amid rising anger and unrest, America was grinding through its long, painful and ultimately unwinnable war in Vietnam. Nightly newscasts took grim account of the dead and missing. Nearly half the country considered it "a mistake." Weary and dispirited, Lyndon Johnson would announce within months that he'd end his presidency after a single term.

It played out against an iconic soundtrack—We gotta get out of this place—that reverberates to this day.

In a remarkable collaboration, the Kansas City area's six public libraries are revisiting that turbulent period in history through a community-wide reading and discussion of Tim O'Brien's seminal book The Things They Carried. This local edition of the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read initiative features speaking presentations, film screenings, youth activities, and group discussions of O'Brien's evocative collection of stories about a fictional platoon of U.S. soldiers before, during, and after the Vietnam War.

The Things They Carried is a modern classic, a meditation on the Vietnam War by a former Army foot soldier who was drafted out of college in 1968, began a 13-month tour in Vietnam the following year, and returned home with a Purple Heart for a shrapnel injury suffered in a grenade attack. O'Brien's book consists of 22 interrelated stories illuminating both the physical horror and emotional toll of the conflict. It sold more than 2 million copies and made O'Brien a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1991.

NEA Big Read KC offers a broad and illuminating examination of the Vietnam War era with signature presentations that delve into topics including the music of the period, Hollywood's handling of the war, comparisons of 1960s protests with present-day movements, and writing about war.

The Vietnam remembrance coincides with the September premiere of Ken Burns' latest documentary series, The Vietnam War, on KCPT-Kansas City PBS and other public television stations across the nation. Burns and co-director Lynn Novick kick off Big Read KC with a KCPT-sponsored appearance Sept. 8. The 10-part, 18-hour series begins airing on PBS on Sept. 17.

For details on all Big Read KC programs, activities, and other resources, visit bigreadkc.org.

NEA Big Read

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery.

Learn more at neabigread.org.

How to Participate

  • Get a copy of The Things They Carried from your local library: Books may be available for checkout in print, eBook, audiobook, and large print formats. Select libraries may have a limited supply of complimentary copies available.
  • Attend an event or activity.: Whether at your favorite library location or another site in the metro area, NEA Big Read KC offers many author presentations, music performances, film screenings, and more. Check out programs at the Kansas City Public Library including Tim O'Brien's visit to the Plaza Branch on Oct.12—or discover activities throughout greater Kansas City at bigreadkc.org.
  • Watch the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War.: The 10-part, 18-hour series, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, premieres September 17 on KCPT - Kansas City Public Television. Learn more about KCPT’s Sept. 8 Kansas City event featuring Burns and Novick.
  • Join a book discussion.: Want to explore The Things They Carried with others? Join a featured discussion or find opportunities at various library locations or other community sites. Connect with a Library book group >
  • Engage on social media.: Connect with the Library on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. Join other readers and share your Big Read KC experiences by tagging your posts with #bigreadkc. You can also follow the latest updates on the Big Read KC Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/2017bigreadkc.

About the Book

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is considered one of the finest books about the Vietnam War. Far from a combat story of pride and glory, it is a compassionate tale of the American soldier, brimming with raw honesty and thoughtful reflection.

The book's narrator follows a platoon of infantrymen through the jungles of Vietnam. We see them trudge through the muck of a constant downpour, get hit by sniper fire, pull body parts out of a tree, laugh while they tell their stories to one another, and fall silent when faced with making sense of it all—both in the moment and twenty years later.

The Things They Carried is not just a tale of war, and the book's themes are no less relevant today than they were decades ago. This award-winning work is a brutal, sometimes funny, often profound narrative about the human heart—how it fares under pressure and what it can endure.

About the Author

Raised in a small prairie town, Worthington, in southern Minnesota, Tim O'Brien attended Macalester College in St. Paul. He earned good grades, became student body president, and occasionally attended peace vigils and protests against the burgeoning war in Vietnam. Upon graduating in 1968 with a B.A. in political science, he thought of becoming a writer—inspired in part by his father's personal accounts of World War II battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which were published in The New York Times.

Then he got his Army draft notice. O'Brien served a 13-month tour of duty in 1969-70 as a foot soldier with the 46th Infantry in Quang Ngai province, returning home with a Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel in a grenade attack.

He first wrote about his war experience in a memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, published in 1973 while he was pursuing graduate studies in government at Harvard University. O'Brien spent a year as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post, then turned fulltime to writing books. The Things They Carried, released in 1990, was his third about the Vietnam War and made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (won in 1991 by John Updike's Rabbit At Rest).

O'Brien, 70, now lives in Austin, Texas, and teaches creative writing at Texas State University.

Big Read KC offers a wide array of programs that explore the legacy of the Vietnam War. The following list highlights a handful of notable Library events; you can find additional activities online or by contacting your local library or by visiting bigreadkc.org.

Featured Events

  • The Vietnam War: An Evening with Ken Burns & Lynn Novick | Friday, September 8 | Program: 7 p.m. | Arvest Bank Theater at the Midland, 1228 Main St, Kansas City, MO 64105 (Get directions >). Presented by KCPT- Kansas City PBS | ** Please note that this is a paid ticket event hosted by KCPT. **
  • Writers at War: Literature and the Wartime Experience | Matthew Eck, H.C. Palmer, Whitney Terrell | Wednesday, September 27 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • The Things They Carried | Tim O'Brien | Thursday, October 12 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch | Watch a video of this event at youtube.com/kclibrary.
  • Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam | Mark Bowden | Wednesday, October 18 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War | Doug Bradley | Thursday, October 19 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • Standing Up and Sitting Down: Protests and Dissent in the 1960s and Beyond | Rebecca Davis, Sandra Enriquez | Wednesday, October 25 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • Viewing Vietnam: A Matter of Time and Place | Tuesday, October 31 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • Hollywood and the Vietnam War: Echoes of the War in American Film | Mitch Brian | Thursday, November 2 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • Closing Chapter: End of the War in Vietnam | David F. Lambertson | Thursday, November 16 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch

Events for Kids & Teens

  • Friday Night Family Fun: Autumn Moon Festival | Friday, September 29 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • Wildcard Wednesdays: Mid-Autumn Festival | Wednesday, October 11 | 5:00 p.m. | Plaza Branch | For ages 12-18.

Special Activities

  • Vietnam Voices Storybooth | The Vietnam Voices KCPT Storybooth is touring the region collecting local stories, experiences, and thoughts related to the Vietnam War. During Big Read KC the booth will visit the Plaza Branch and Central Library, offering patrons an opportunity to share and record their own stories.

    Friday, September 22 to Thursday, October 12 | Plaza Branch

    Saturday, October 14 to Friday, October 20 | Central Library

  • Veterans Writing Workshops | The Missouri Humanities Council, The Writers' Place, the Moral Injury Association of America, and the Kansas City Public Library offer a series of workshops designed to help veterans and their families develop writing and narrative skills that can empower them to tell their stories, whether they be true-life accounts or wholly original tales. Each of the four-hour workshops is free and conducted by professional writers and educators; they provide the same high level of instruction as a college or university writing course. Sessions cover a variety of topics, ranging from understanding genre and building narratives to editing and collaboration and publication. Workshops are FREE, but space is limited and registration is required.

Film Screenings and Discussions

  • Hollywood and the Vietnam War: Echoes of the War in American Film | Mitch Brian | Thursday, November 2, 2017 | Program: 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • Coming Home (1978, R) | Saturday, October 7 | Central Library Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987, R) | Saturday, October 14 | 1:30 p.m. | Central Library Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault
  • The Deer Hunter (1978, R) | Saturday, October 21 | 1:30 p.m. | Central Library Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault
  • The Killing Fields (1984, R) | Saturday, October 28 | 1:30 p.m. | Central Library Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault
  • We Were Soldiers (2002, R) | Friday, September 22 | 12:00 noon | Waldo Branch
  • Good Morning Vietnam (1987, R) | Tuesday, October 3 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault

2017 Big Read KC Partners and Sponsors

The Big Read 2013: True Grit

The Kansas City Public Library will lead a community-wide celebration of Charles Portis’ iconic western novel True Grit.

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.

Signature Events

Speakers, author events, discussions and more

  • The American Royal Parade: A Star Spangled Salute | Sat. September 28, 2013 at 9:45 a.m. | Grand Blvd. from Pershing Rd. to Truman Rd. | Joining forces for the first time in Kansas City Big Read history, the Kansas City Public Library and the American Royal will mark the public kick-off of this year’s celebration of Charles Portis’ True Grit at the American Royal’s 88th Annual Parade.
  • Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp – Ann Kirschner | Tues. September 24, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • True Grit as True Grist for Exploration of the Western Novel – Tom Averill | Wed. September 25, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • True Life, True Grit: The Uncrushable Rose – Bambi Nancy Shen | Sun. September 29, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. | Central Library
  • The Sound of True Grit: Music Inspired by the Novel – Jeff Harshbarger and The Revisionists | Wed. October 2, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • True Grit and Black Women of the West: The Story of “Stagecoach” Mary Fields – Michael Searles | Fri. October 4, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • Saddle Up with Bluford: Tales from the Trail – A Little Big Read Family Event | Sat. October 5, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. | Bluford Branch
  • Rooster: The Life and Times of the Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired True Grit – Brett Cogburn | Sun. October 6, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. | Central Library
  • True Life, True Grit: Achieve the Honorable – Ike Skelton | Tues. October 8, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • Meet the Past with Crosby Kemper III: A Conversation with Tom Bass | Thurs. October 10, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
  • What True Grit (Might Have) Looked Like: The Photographs of F.M. Steele – Jim Hoy | Sun. October 20, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. | Central Library
  • Mattie Ross: A Portrait of Feminist Heroism or Traditional Masculinity? – Jane Wood, Brenda Bethman, Crystal Gorham Doss & Adrianne Russell | Thurs. October 24, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
  • The U.S. Marshals: A Popular History of the Nation’s Oldest Law Enforcement Agency – Anthony Gasaway | Wed. October 30, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. | Central Library

Exhibit

A photo exhibit celebrating the mythology of the West

Sponsors

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.

Local 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.

The Big Read 2011: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Big Read

Welcome to The Big Read in Kansas City! – a citywide celebration of the Mark Twain classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, coordinated by the Kansas City Public Library and Kansas City Ballet.

About the Book

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not merely a literary classic. It is part of the American imagination. More than any other work in our culture, it established America's vision of childhood. Mark Twain created two fictional boys, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who still seem more real than most of the people we know. In a still puritanical nation, Twain reminded adults that children were not angels, but fellow human beings, and perhaps all the more lovable for their imperfections and bad grooming. Neither American literature nor America has ever been the same. A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.

About the Ballet

Tom Sawyer—A Ballet in Three Acts, music by Maury Yeston and choreography by William Whitener, is the first full-length ballet on an American subject, conceived by an American composer and presented by an American company in recent memory. Inspired by Mark Twain’s classic work that captures the eternal wonder and adventure of boyhood, the three acts portray all of the well-known episodes from the familiar tale—the painting of the fence, the love for Becky Thatcher, friendship with Huck Finn, the witnessing of the murder, the Trial, and the colorful and legendary life along the Mississippi of Twain’s era that has become part of our central American myth and our treasured heritage.

Special Events and Exhibits

The 2011 Big Read in Kansas City tooks its inspiration from the world-premiere production of Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts, commissioned by KC Ballet and featuring music by two-time Tony-Award-winning composer Maury Yeston. This Big Read collaboration connected readers with Tom Sawyer through a variety of free public events, such as:

  • An Evening with Maury Yeston and William Whitener | Thursday, September 8, 2011 | 6:30pm | Central Library
    Two-time Tony Award-winning composer Maury Yeston performed at the piano and discussed his latest work, Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts, commissioned by Kansas City Ballet. Serving as the inspiration for this Big Read, the ballet is based on the classic Mark Twain novel and made its world premiere in October 2011 as part of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ grand opening. Yeston composed the Broadway productions of Titanic and Nine, which both earned Tony Awards for Best Musical. He also wrote the score for Phantom and contributed to the score for the Broadway stage version of Grand Hotel. Well-versed in a variety of styles, he has written cello concertos for Yo Yo Ma, a choral symphony for the National Symphony Orchestra, and songs for Gloria Estefan and Barbara Streisand. Yeston holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and is author of The Stratification of Musical Rhythm, a seminal music theory text. KC Ballet Artistic Director William Whitener, who has choreographed the production, joined Yeston onstage. Presented in partnership with Kansas City Ballet.
  • Where the Twain Meet: The Enduring Cross-Generational Appeal of Tom Sawyer | Tuesday, September 20, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. | Plaza Branch
    Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in such a fashion that his first novel simultaneously addressed two divergent audiences: the young and the formerly young. At times, his story ridicules boyhood fantasies (such as finding buried treasure and rescuing a damsel in distress) and later grants these same ridiculous hopes and dreams. In creating a text that speaks to two age groups, Twain appears as the literary forerunner of Pixar Animation Studios. Twain scholar Robert Hirst detailed how the author maximized the appeal of his book for both young readers and adults – including changes he made to the text in order to preserve the necessary "proprieties," which can be rather mysterious to readers 135 years later. Hirst is the general editor and official curator of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the University of California – Berkeley, where he is currently developing the second volume of the bestselling Autobiography of Mark Twain. Presented in partnership with Park University.
  • Hal Holbrook Tonight | Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
    Renowned stage and screen actor Hal Holbrook visited the Kansas City Public Library on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 for a public conversation about his beautifully moving new memoir, Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain. Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain recounts Holbrook's troubled boyhood - and how he found a refuge onstage, eventually starring in the one-man Broadway show "Mark Twain Tonight." The role earned him a Tony Award in 1966 and opened the door to television and film stardom, including Emmy Awards for his roles as President Abraham Lincoln (in Lincoln) and Senator Hays Stowe (in The Bold Ones: The Senator) and an Oscar nomination for Into the Wild (2007). This public conversation with Holbrook was hosted by Library Director Crosby Kemper III. This was the finale event for The Big Read celebration of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - coordinated by the Kansas City Public Library and Kansas City Ballet.
  • The Glorious Whitewashers: A Community Fence-Painting Event | Friday, September 9, 2011 | 4:30 p.m. | Community Garden, 51st and Main
    Families got a chance to whitewash a Community Garden fence. Before the whitewashing, the Coterie Theatre presented a dramatic reading from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
  • Thomas Hart Benton on Tom Sawyer: Re-envisioning Twain in the 20th Century | Sunday, September 18, 2011 | 2 p.m. | Central Library
    A discussion by art historian and exhibit curator Joan Stack about how Benton responded to the challenge of illustrating this classic Twain novel
  • Read It / Watch It Discussion Group: Tom Sawyer (1973) | Sunday, October 2, 2011 | 2:00pm | Plaza Branch
    Big Read discussion facilitator Kaite Stover led a lively conversation comparing the written word to its dramatic interpretation after this screening of Tom Sawyer (1973).
  • Susan Harris: Mark Twain and the Philippines | Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. | Central Library
    Susan Harris, the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature at the University of Kansas, examined the rarely seen political side of Twain, who was actively interested in world events – and deeply patriotic.
  • Mark Twain and Tom Benton: Pictures, Prose, and Song | September 3 – October 30, 2011 | Central Library
    The Kansas City Public Library united Missouri’s most renowned author and its most prominent artist with this exhibit.

Supporters

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore 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 has been provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Boeing Company, the Poetry Foundation, and the Ford Motor Company. Additional support for The Big Read in Kansas City comes from the Kauffman Foundation and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. Additional partners for The Big Read in Kansas City include: Park University; the State Historical Society of Missouri; the Coterie Theatre; and the UMKC Communications Studies Department.

The Big Read 2010: Housekeeping

A sprawling home in a remote western landscape that witnesses fire, flood, abandonment, and death is the setting for the Marilynne Robinson novel Housekeeping, which is the subject of a community-wide celebration as the Big Read returns to Kansas City during April-May 2010.

About the book

Renowned for its haunting poetic language as well as its ability to adapt to interpretation, this modern American classic has rewarded readers for 30 years. The story is focused on three generations of women living in an isolated community, as told from the perspective of a quiet teenage misfit. Its many unique qualities – from the vivid sense of place to its accessible style and keenly depicted characters – inspire contemplation and discussion, vital elements to the success of the Big Read and its campaign to restore reading to the center of American culture.

In Kansas City, the Big Read features: an appearance by Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michael Dirda; a public conversation with Robinson conducted by Angela Elam; and a regular serial reading on KKFI that brings Housekeeping into the living room, workplace, or car. One of the book discussions will be led by Library Director Crosby Kemper III.

Signature Events:

  • Housekeeping Tips from Michael Dirda
  • A Conversation with Marilynne Robinson

This Big Read effort includes opportunities to engage other readers online by featuring a special webcast discussion hosted by Channel 9 morning news anchor Donna Pitman.

Funded primarily by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, this Big Read project is a partnership spearheaded by the Kansas City Public Library, Park University, and The Central Exchange. Reader's Guides and companion audio CDs for Housekeeping are available at all Kansas City Public Library locations while supplies last.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services as well as Arts Midwest.

In partnership with the Kansas City Public Library, KKFI presents The Big Read on the Air on weekdays from April 5 - April 23 at 11:30 a.m. Every 30-minute installment of this serial reading of Housekeeping will feature a different reader, including some of Kansas City’s most notable public officials, community leaders, and media personalities.

The first installment of The Big Read on the Air features former Mayor Kay Barnes, with subsequent readers including National Council on the Arts member Joan Israelite, Missouri Sen. Jolie Justus, and Sprint Center GM Brenda Tinnen.

Whether at home, at work, or in the car, KKFI's Big Read on the Air brings literature to you every weekday with insightful readings that can offer either a compelling introduction to the novel or another perspective on its events and significance.

The complete list of readers and corresponding dates is as follows:

  • Monday, April 5: Kay Barnes
  • Tuesday, April 6: Jane Chu
  • Wednesday, April 7: Donna Pitman
  • Thursday, April 8: Miriam Pepper
  • Friday, April 9: Laura Lorson
  • Monday, April 12: Sen. Jolie Justus
  • Tuesday, April 13: Nancy Cervetti
  • Wednesday, April 14: Heidi Van
  • Thursday, April 15: Brenda Tinnen
  • Friday, April 16: Joan Israelite
  • Monday, April 19: Mary Sanchez
  • Tuesday, April 20: Gwen Grant
  • Wednesday, April 21: Dianne Cleaver
  • Thursday, April 22: Billie Howard Barnes
  • Friday, April 23: Angela Elam

The Big Read 2009: Old School

Related Reading

A National Endowment for the Arts initiative, The Big Read returns to Kansas City in April 2009 to bring readers the Tobias Wolff novel Old School.

Through the combined efforts of the Libraries of Greater Kansas City, there are more opportunities than ever to join The Big Read – and the Kansas City Public Library is doing its part with a series of discussions focused on themes presented throughout Old School. Get acquainted with the novel or enhance your understanding of its meaning through these presentations.

The Big Read 2009: Events

  • Real Characters: The Writing Lifestyle Depicted in Old School | Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 6:30 pm | Central Library
  • The Forked Tongue: Truth and Fiction in Old School | Wednesday, April 22, 2009 | 6:30 pm | Plaza Branch
  • Beyond Mere Embarrassment: Jewish Identity in Old School | Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 6:30 pm | Plaza Branch