The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced today the launch of the Big Read Egypt/U.S., the second international component of the organization's community-based literary program. As part of the U.S. State Department's Global Cultural Initiative for international diplomacy, the NEA will fund Big Read events in both Egypt and the United States that are designed to bring communities together to read and discuss a specific work of literature from a country other than their own. The Big Read Egypt/U.S. follows the NEA's inaugural program with Russia, which began last October.
In the United States, four organizations will receive grants of ten to twenty thousand dollars to coordinate events focusing on the novel The Thief and the Dogs (Doubleday, 1989) by Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz. Between September 2008 and June 2009, Columbia University in New York City, Florida Center for the Literary Arts at Miami Dade College in Miami, Huntsville-Madison County Public Library in Alabama, and the South Dakota Humanities Council/South Dakota Center for the Book in Brookings will each present their communities with a literary program involving book discussions, lectures, readings, and multimedia presentations.
Meanwhile, three institutions in Egypt—the American University in Cairo, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and the Egyptian Association for Educational Resources—will each organize programming centered around the novels Fahrenheit 451 (Ballantine, 1963) by Ray Bradbury, To Kill a Mockingbird (Lipincott, 1960) by Harper Lee, or The Grapes of Wrath (Viking, 1939) by John Steinbeck. The NEA is also planning cross-cultural activities, which may include virtual exchanges and the involvement of Egyptian authors and cultural figures in U.S. events.
"Cultural exchange needs to play a more important role in international relations," said Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA, in a press release today. "And there is no better way to understand another nation than to read one of its great books."