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DeKalb’s library Big Read goes West

Library earns 7th grant for community reading project

DeKALB – The Wild West is coming to DeKalb County in October with the DeKalb Public Library’s seventh consecutive Big Read.

The library received a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this month to celebrate American literature and to encourage DeKalb County residents to read. This year’s Big Read will focus on “True Grit” by Charles Portis. 

The DeKalb Public Library is among 77 libraries to receive this grant.

“We are very proud of the fact we’re one of three organizations in the nation to receive this grant seven years in a row,” said Edith Craig, DeKalb Public Library communications manager.

“True Grit” is a 1968 novel about a young girl seeking revenge for her father’s murder. Library officials chose the book because they haven’t focused on the Western genre before. Last year, they held about 60 events surrounding “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.

Library officials are planning several events this fall with help from other steering committee members: Altrusa International of Sycamore/DeKalb, Kishwaukee College Family Literacy program, DeKalb School District 428, and Northern Illinois University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

The first event will be a double-feature of the 1969 and 2010 film adaptations of the book at the Egyptian Theater, 135 N. Second St., DeKalb. The library also is partnering with NIU to give away free copies of the book at NIU’s homecoming football game.

Craig said library leaders continue to receive the Big Read grant because of their unique ideas for programming and widespread community support. 

“Our library services encompass the whole county, not just the city,” Craig said. 

When the Big Read is over, library leaders will give any books they have left to the DeKalb County jail, Hope Haven, which serves homeless people, and Safe Passage, a domestic violence agency. The library also orders books in Spanish.

“That’s a way to inject literature into areas that are not normally introduced or highlighted,” Craig said. 

The Sycamore Public Library sees the NEA’s goal of revitalizing literature in American culture as a goal of library service in general, said Katherine Keyes, assistant director for the library. 

While their library has not received a Big Read grant, for the past 11 years they’ve held a summer community reading program on one book with tie-in events. This year the program will allow participants to read a best seller book they select for themselves and share their reading experiences with others, Keyes said.

Unlike the NEA’s selection of classic American literature, the Sycamore library focuses on more modern books, including nonfiction, she said. 

“They’re books that we think suits the needs of our community,” Keyes said. 

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