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Big Read takes novel path to literacy Area selected for role in national project

A book about racial and class differences has been selected for the Big Read national literacy program, and Buffalo has been chosen as a participating city in implementing the project.

The Big Read -- a monthlong program started by the National Endowment for the Arts -- is a communitywide reading event designed to revitalize the role of literature in the United States. Schools, book groups, libraries and other community organizations are encouraged to read this year's selection, the 1937 novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston.

Just Buffalo Literacy Center is among 72 cultural organizations in cities nationwide invited to participate in the first year of the Big Read's national roll-out. Last year, Just Buffalo was among 10 cultural organizations across the country chosen to participate in the pilot phase.

"It's no surprise Buffalo was chosen again for the project," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, who pointed out that Mark Twain lived and wrote here for a time, as did William Wells Brown, whose 1853 book about Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings, a slave, was the first novel published by an African-American.

"Intellectual curiosity has always been a characteristic of Western New York," she added.

The national reading project doesn't begin until May, but the program was announced Friday at the offices of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo on Main Street so people can obtain the book before the starting date.

Organizers plan to distribute about 3,300 copies of the novel, primarily to schools and youth groups.

The Big Read is akin to a citywide reading program that began in the fall of 1999 and centered around live authors, said Laurie Dean Torrell, Just Buffalo's executive director. The Big Read started last year and focuses on classics by deceased authors.

The Big Read in Buffalo is funded by a $15,000 NEA grant, $12,500 from the Community Foundation, $500 from the Niagara Area Foundation and matching grants from the Kellogg Foundation. Supporters of the project expect to reach more than 30,000 adults and students.

The grants will pay for the books, project coordinators, performers, storytellers and speakers such as Lucy Ann Hurston, the author's niece, who attended Harlem Book Fair Buffalo two years ago, Torrell said.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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