2021 Big Read Lakeshore: How to participate

There are lots of ways to participate in the upcoming NEA Big Read Lakeshore and the Little Big Read. This year's month-long activities – from Oct. 25 - Nov. 20 – center on the community reading the 2021 Big Read book, An American Sunrise, a collection of poems by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The 2021 Little Book Read accompaniment, geared to younger children, is Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Pura Belpre Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Juana Martinez-Neal.

One way is through an authentic natural ceramic experience presented by CultureWorks and the Outdoor Discovery Center. During this two-day Indigenous Clay workshop, participants have the opportunity to work with local Potawatomi ceramicist Jason Wesaw while engaging in a traditional approach to pottery. Details can be found below.

“With a workshop like this, I want people to understand the beauty and power in the process, not just the objects they create. Harvesting and gathering in a respectful way from the land; experimenting and building work without the fear of failure; putting their best thoughts and efforts into the work; recognizing the ingenuity, intellect, and value in some of these traditional technologies,” Wesaw says.

Local Potawatomi ceramicist Jason Wesaw will teach a traditional approach to pottery

All clay will be locally harvested and processed, and participants will have the
opportunity to work alongside Wesaw in hand-building and pit-firing in order to take home their own creation inspired by his work.

All of this will be enjoyed as an indoor-outdoor creative experience at the Outdoor Discovery Center’s Cultural History Center, a 15-acre site on the ODC campus that serves as the launching pad for cultural history programming. The Cultural History Center features a replica indigenous people’s village, a replica winter house, exhibit building with historical artifacts, archery range, an amphitheater, fur trader’s cabin, and three sisters garden. While the workshops are happening, school groups will be visiting to learn more about the process as well.

Below, you’ll find a list of ways to participate in the 2021 Big Read Lakeshore.

The program will highlight poetry and Native American history this November.

Harjo’s An American Sunrise is a collection of poems that traverses the homeland from which her ancestors were uprooted in 1830 as a result of the Indian Removal Act. 

A writer of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation, Harjo celebrates her ancestors and reminds the reader to remember the past. 

“While the Big Read has not yet focused on poetry, I’m excited for the Lakeshore to be immersed in Joy Harjo’s beautiful verse and the history it tells,” says Deborah Van Duinen, director of both the Big Read and Little Read and an associate professor of English education at Hope. “Harjo’s poems encourage us to contemplate whose histories are told and whose are silenced, and why we must learn about history and culture. They also remind us of the ways reading poetry can lead to greater empathy and understanding.”

Maillard's picture book Fry Bread is an evocative depiction of a modern Native American family.

Hope College programs

NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that seeks to broaden understanding of the world, community, and self through the joy of sharing a good book. NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore are Hope College programs that are presented in collaboration with 50 community partners, including Lakeshore libraries, nonprofits, businesses, school districts, and academic institutions. The program puts on numerous events each November, using a specific book as a springboard for discussion and learning. 

More than 12,000 people participated last year.

The Little Read books are geared to 5th grade and younger, while the Big Read books are geared to 6th grade and older.

"Last year, 800 middle and high school students across local school districts participating in our Big Read program by reading the book with their teachers. We also have close to 1,000 elementary students who will read and take part in Little Read activities with their schools," Van Duinen says.

The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received NEA Big Read support during each of the program’s eight years, for a total of $126,500. The Little Read Lakeshore, which began in 2017, has received Michigan Humanities grants throughout the past three years, for a total of $45,000.

The Big Read Lakeshore encourages book clubs interested in reading any of the chosen titles to sign up on the program’s website. Book discussion material and information on how to get involved are also available on the website, bigreadlakeshore.combigreadlakeshore.com.

Big Read schedule

Oct. 28, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
What: Indigenous Clay workshop with Jason Wesaw
When: Thursdays, Oct. 21 and Nov. 4 (two-week gap ensures proper drying time) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: $200, all materials and tools included
Where: Outdoor Discovery Center Cultural History Center, 5675 142nd Ave. Holland, down the street west from the main entrance.
For more information: Email info@thecultureworks.org or visit thecultureworks.org

Oct. 14 through Dec. 22
Mini-Exhibit: Mariah Meawasige (Graphic Design Work)
Saugatuck Center for the Arts, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck
Visit the SCA to see the graphic design work of Ontario-based Anishinaabe artist Mariah Meawasige.

Oct. 24 through Nov. 30
Book of the Month Virtual Book Discussion: An American Sunrise
Howard Miller Public Library
A separate “Book of the Month” Facebook page will feature a different book and invite community members to join in the conversation via the FB page. 

Oct. 24 through Nov. 17
Voices Through Verse
Howard Miller Public Library
After reading and reflecting on Joy Harjo’s journey through verse, Big Read participants will have the opportunity to share their own triumph and tragedy. Voices Through Verse, an interactive community art project, invites participants to use various forms of poetry and materials available in the exhibit space to share life experiences with others.

Oct. 25 through Nov. 17
Striketime Video Episodes
Stay tuned for more information about the Striketime Video Episode release date.

Oct. 25, 10-11 a.m. 
Big Read Author Q and A Event with Joy Harjo for Local Students
In this virtual event for area students, Hope College professor emeritus and poet Jack Ridl will have a conversation with Joy Harjo about her poems. He will read some poems and play some tracks from her new album, I Pray For My Enemies. The event link will be sent to you after registration. The event is free.

Oct. 25, 7-8 p.m.
Kick-off Author Event: Joy Harjo
A virtual conversation with U.S. Poet Laureate and 2021 Big Read author Joy Harjo. . The event link will be sent to you after registration. The event is free.

Oct. 26, 7-8 p.m.  
Author Event with Kent Nerburn (Neither Wolf Nor Dog)
In this virtual event, Kent Nerbum, author of Neither Wolf Nor Dog, will share his reflections on writing the book and spending time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The event link will be sent to you after registration. The event is free.


Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.