Earlier today, the NEA Big Read program—the National Endowment for the Arts’ literature initiative—announced that it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary by adding 13 new titles to the books the organization uses in programs at schools and public libraries. The organization has switched its focus, according to the press release, from classic tales to “contemporary authors and books written since the founding of the NEA 50 years ago.”
Former NEA chairman Dana Gioia—appointed by President Bush at a time when government-sponsored arts programs were under fire for funding racy fare—implemented the NEA Big Read in 2006. Gioia, known for markedly conservative aesthetic values, kicked things off with classic American titles like The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God. The following years brought much of the same, with road-tested selections like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Things They Carried—the sorts of books one might find on a high school English syllabus.
More recently, the NEA has endorsed more contemporary novels like Dinaw Mengetsu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine. Current NEA literature director Amy Stolls (author of the lauded YA novel Palms to the Ground) has consistently chosen books by living, diverse authors. This year’s selections far outnumber those in previous years, a move that, along with Stolls’ relative adventurousness, has garnered far more publicity than the initiative has seen in years past. It’s very well-deserved. To follow is a list of this year’s selections linked to Booklist reviews when possible. To see the full list of NEA Big Read titles, click here.
Five Skies by Ron Carlson
The Round House by Louise Erdich
How We Became Human by Joy Harjo
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
Book of Hours by Kevin Young
To Live by Yu Hua, translated from the Chinese by Michael Berry
Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra