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ODU's Big Read project to kick off May 1 in conjunction with Asian Fest

The Darden College of Education at Old Dominion University will kick off its Big Read program Saturday, May 1, at this year's Asian Fest, scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. at the Chesapeake Central Library, 298 Cedar Road.

The Big Read, which debuted in 2006 with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), brings communities together to read, discuss and celebrate one of 30 selections from U.S. and world literature. Locally, the focus will be on Amy Tan's popular 1989 novel, "The Joy Luck Club." Participants in the program will be given a copy of the book to read and later have opportunities to engage in discussions and to take part in various other activities related to the novel's themes.

"The Joy Luck Club" tells the stories of four Chinese American immigrant women who share their own views of the world, based on their experiences of growing up and living in China, with their American-born daughters.

ODU's Big Read project will target all members of the community, from high school age on up, with an emphasis on reaching the area's minority communities.

"The timing of the project will allow ODU's Big Read to leverage related Asian heritage activities at Asian Fest, which is sponsored by the local Asian Pacific American Heritage Organization," said Lea Lee, ODU associate professor of teaching and learning and principal investigator for the grant. "Our goal is to promote a culture of reading in our community."

Lee announced that two well-known experts on reading education, John Manning, a former president of the International Reading Association, and reading specialist Verla Klassen will be keynote speakers at the May 1 Big Read/Asian Fest event, where a limited number of free copies of "The Joy Luck Club" will be available.

"There is a need in Hampton Roads, as in most areas throughout the world, for a project like the Big Read," said Lee. "People are reading less and less as technological advances make access to information and entertainment more readily available through non-written formats. We want to reach out to our communities primarily, and in particular to reluctant readers, or lapsed readers. Our hope is that more people will develop a daily habit of reading - for the pleasure of reading."

Selected classes at Suffolk's King's Fork High School, Chesapeake's Deep Creek and Grassfield high schools, and Norfolk's Granby High School will be given copies of the book to read. A number of book discussions and other related cultural activities are scheduled at public libraries and other venues throughout the month of May. Details, including locations, dates and times, are posted at http://www.neabigread.org/events/.

"We want to reach people who don't read on a regular basis so that they can develop a literary reading habit," noted Zhongtang Ren, research scientist with ODU's Center for Educational Partnerships, who is serving as one of the Big Read project leaders. "We also hope to arouse interest in other cultures through this project, and in so doing bring about a sense of shared community."

Ren added that a Web site has been developed to support the project with online discussions and to serve as an ongoing tool for encouraging participants to continue their reading. Those who wish to participate in Big Read conversations online during the month of May should register to be a member of ODU Big Read at http://odubigread.ning.com.

In addition, ODU's Big Read organizers are sponsoring a haiku writing contest; submitted poems should be inspired by "The Joy Luck Club." Winners and runners-up will be selected to read their poems at the Big Read closing ceremony, scheduled for 1-2:30 p.m. May 29 at the Chesapeake Central Library. To participate in the contest, go to http://odubigread.ning.com.

The ODU faculty members' $10,300 NEA grant was matched with $10,000 from Darden College of Education Dean William Graves; Charlene Fleener, chair of the teaching and learning department; and Mohammad Karim, vice president for research.

The funds were used to purchase 650 copies of "The Joy Luck Club," cover program implementation costs and host a variety of related activities.

KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson and Gail Singleton Taylor from ODU's teaching and learning department are co-investigators for the grant and are also serving as Big Read project leaders.

ODU's grant, announced on June 23, 2009, was one of 269 NEA Big Read awards totaling $3.7 million. More information about the program is available at www.neabigread.org.

This article was posted on: April 26, 2010

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