The NEA Big Read
Reconsidering the "American Dream"
Illinois Humanities is proud to partner with the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest to present this year’s statewide book group series, The NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream. Free book groups and events will be centered around two books: Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh, and Infinite Country by Patricia Engel. Receive these titles for free by signing up below.
Join a Book Group
Book groups meet primarily in person and are hosted independently by nonprofits, libraries, and other community hubs.
Beardstown Houston Memorial Public Library – Beardstown
If you haven't gotten to know your local library in Beardstown, this is the perfect opportunity!
Long Overdue Book Group – Little Village, Chicago
Long Overdue Book Groups are facilitated by Odyssey Project alumni. The Little Village is a hybrid group meeting virtually and in-person on the 1st Sunday of the month.
- Sunday, December 3, 2023: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, January 7, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, February 4, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, March 3, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Little Village Public Library: 2311 S Kedzie Ave (small meeting room)
This book group is facilitated by Mateo Gonzalez and Lucia Wrooman.
Booth Library, Eastern Illinois University – Charleston
The academic library at Eastern Illinois University emphasizes public engagement and cultural activities for residents of the region.
Long Overdue Book Group – Rogers Park, Chicago
Long Overdue Book Groups are facilitated by Odyssey Project alumni. The Rogers Park group meets virtually over Zoom on the 3rd Sunday of the month.
- Sunday, December 17, 2023: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, January 21, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, February 18, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Sunday, March 24, 2024: 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
- Virtually via Zoom
This book group is facilitated by Jo McEntee.
DeKalb Public Library – DeKalb
Meet fellow readers and dive into two insightful new books in DeKalb.
- December 21, 2023; 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. (Heartland Part I)
- January 18, 2024; 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. (Heartland Part II)
- February 15, 2024; 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. (Infinite Country Part I)
- March 21; 2024; 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. (Infinite Country Part II)
- Dekalb Public Library: 309 Oak St
Midwest Partners – Princeton
Midwest Partners will also host a free public program for the NEA Big Read – stay tuned!
Fulton County Arts – Canton
Residents in and around Fulton County can get to know this multifaceted arts and cultural organization and the public events they produce.
Midwest Writing Center – Rock Island
Offers writing-related activities and learning opportunities in Quad Cities.
Galesburg Community Art Center & the Galesburg Public Library – Galesburg
Two Galesburg area organizations are teaming up for a joint reading group experience!
Oglesby Public Library and LaSalle Public Library - Oglesby/LaSalle
Harvard Diggins Library - Harvard
The public library in Harvard, Illinois hosts opportunities for residents to learn and meet other community members.
Six Mile Regional Library District – Granite City
Fans of the NEA Big Read can join the Six Mile Regional Library again this year for a new reading group focused on this year's title!
Havana Public Library – Havana
Get to know Havana, Illinois's public library in a new reading group.
Walnut Public Library – Walnut
The Walnut Public Library is committed to serving its community and surrounding area with free and accessible programming and resources.
Illinois State Museum – Springfield
Stay tuned for more information about available branches of the Illinois State Museum where you can join a Reconsidering the American Dream reading group.
Watseka Public Library – Watseka
Friends in Watseka are encouraged to get to know their public library and attend an upcoming event.
King Branch, Chicago Public Library – Chicago
Support your local library and join the King Branch for a reading group this fall!
WRWO radio/Here and Again – Ottawa
This community radio station in Ottawa, Illinois produces unique programs for public radio.
Long Overdue Book Group – Bronzeville, Chicago
Long Overdue Book Groups are facilitated by Odyssey Project alumni. The Bronzeville group meets virtually over Zoom on the 2nd Friday of the month.
- Friday, December 8, 2023: 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, January 12, 2024: 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, February 9, 2024: 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
- Friday, March 8, 2024: 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.
- Virtually via Zoom
This book group is facilitated by Sylvia Taylor and Wanda Obazee.
Stay Tuned for Upcoming Events
Resources & Additional Reading
About The NEA Big Read: Reconsidering the American Dream
This year's program is a series of critical conversations across Illinois that explore the evolving idea of the "American Dream." These conversations will be framed by reading and discussion groups engaging with two books -- Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth and Patricia Engel's Infinite Country. They will be punctuated by public discussions in different parts of the state that help us deepen our reflection on the books and our own beliefs. Through this series, we'll be asking: How have our personal definitions of the "American Dream" stayed the same or changed over time? Does the "American Dream" seem achievable? How do mythologies around the "American Dream" obscure or illuminate inequalities around geography/region, race, gender, class, and national origin that exist in the U.S.? What might new "American dreams" look like if we center the stories of people in small towns, working people, women, immigrants, young people, and people of color?
About this year's theme: The "American Dream"
The concept of the "American Dream" has woven through our national political and cultural conversations since the phrase was first coined by historian James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America. Then, as now, the United States was facing a crisis of identity. Then, as now, the economy was unstable (these were the early years of the Great Depression, after all) and then, as now, the nation's role on a rapidly changing world stage was uncertain. In peacetime and prosperity, it can be easy to take dreams for reality, as many Americans did in the years following the Great Depression and World War II. But most of us today will agree that our dreams of America and for America are more fractured than they have been in at least a generation. We believe now is a good time to reignite our imaginations and start dreaming together again.
Browse these studies and other resources to learn about contemporary issues in rural areas.
- What is the status of educational opportunity in rural America? –BROOKINGS
- Bibliography on the American Dream –The American Dream Reconsidered
- Rural Matters
- Rural Opportunity Institute
- "Americans take a dim view of the nation's future, look more positively at the past," Pew Research Center
- A Brief History of the American Dream –George W. Bush Institute
Director of Teaching and Learning