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Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library Director Joy Garretson holds a copy of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library has been selected to receive a $12K Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The library is one of 61 organizations nationwide and the only public library in state selected to receive a 2021-2022 NEA Big Read grant.

The grant of $12,398 will support a community reading program focusing on the book “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. The program, called The Big Read: Clayton, will launch in Sept. 2021 and encourages community members to read the book together.

“For 15 years the NEA Big Read has supported opportunities for communities to come together around a book, creating a shared experience that encourages openness and conversations around issues central to our lives,” said Ann Eilers, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We congratulate the Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library for receiving a NEA Big Read grant and look forward to a wide variety of meaningful community events.”

There were six books available through the 2021-2022 NEA Big Read grant, and each of the books explored different aspects of American history and culture. The library selected “The House on Mango Street” because of the strong themes of neighborhood and family that are present in the book.

“This book’s themes tap directly into what it means to live in a tight-knit community like Clayton,” said Library Director Joy Garretson. “We know it will resonate well with the community.”

Another key aspect of the book is that it was written by a Latina author and that the main character, Esperanza, is very grounded in her Mexican heritage.

“Clayton has a growing and vibrant Hispanic community,” said Garretson. “Because this grant, we are going to be able to host events in which people from diverse ethnic backgrounds can gather around a common work.”

At the launch event on Sept. 18, the library will have copies of the book available for the public in English and Spanish. Additional copies will also be provided to local schools and book clubs.

The community reading program will run through May 2022 and will feature numerous public events during that time. The culminating event will be curated art show themed around the book that will be held at Town Hall on May 5.

The library has many community partners that it will be working with as part of The Big Read: Clayton. Each of the partners play an important role in the success of the program. These partners include HEML Friends of the Library, Johnston County Public Schools, Carolina Youth Theatre, Clayton Visual Arts, Racial Equality Coalition, Johnston County Writers Group, Johnston County Association of Realtors, Clayton Farm and Community Market, Clayton Chamber of Commerce, Country Superstars 102.3 FM, and Barbourshop Creative.

“We're inspired by the creativity of this year’s NEA Big Read grantees, who are finding new ways to bring people together after a challenging year,” said Torrie Allen, President & CEO of Arts Midwest, whose organization manages the grant program. “We are proud to support these organizations and communities as they explore the richness and diversity of American history and culture together through reading.”

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,700 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $23 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past 15 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, over 90,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and over 40,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, visit arts.gov/neabigread.

The Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library (Clayton Library) was founded by the Woman’s Club of Clayton in 1929 and has been located in downtown Clayton since 1931. This municipal library is a much-loved destination in Clayton, and its core mission is to foster learning and connection to the community. Clayton’s library staff builds bridges all over the community and regularly reaches out to local businesses, civic groups, the Chamber of Commerce, and schools. Staff strives to provide diverse programs and collections in order to make the library welcoming to all community members.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.

Arts Midwest believes that creativity has the power to inspire and unite humanity. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest grows, gathers, and invests in creative organizations and communities throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six nonprofit United States Regional Arts Organizations, Arts Midwest’s history spans more than 30 years. For more information, visit artsmidwest.org.

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