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Let’s read, Roswell

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Christina Stock Photo Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell Learning Resource Center director Rollah Aston is seen here with Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art director Nancy Fleming looking at a chapter of the Big Read book of choice, "Into the Beautiful North."

National endowment for the Arts Big Read event to be held — part 1

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

After 10 years, a new group of local educational institutions, museums and community leaders is bringing back a community reading event. Hopefully, if the grant is approved, the Big Read program will be funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

According to its website, the NEA Big Read program has funded more than 1,500 programs since 2006 and its grant ranges from $5,000 to $15,000.

Busy spreading the news and looking for support in the community are committee members Rollah Aston, Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell (ENMU-R); Robin Billington, ENMU-R; Douglas Texter, ENMU-R; Leslie Lawner, Sidney Gutierrez Middle School; Jori Flom, Roswell Independent School District; Enid Costley, Roswell Public Library; Nancy Fleming, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (AMoCA); and Mary Lou Trujillo, Literacy Council.

Aston and Fleming took time out of their busy schedule to explain the program and how artists, businesses and individuals can help.

“ENMU-R is leading the NEA Big Read project this year,” AMoCA director Fleming said. “The Roswell community has done at least five (reading programs), some of them were with the Big Read grant. The High Plains Society did some; we did everything from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to ‘The Dust Bowl;’ we did short stories by Mexican writers; we did ‘The Maltese Falcon.’”

Aston is the director of ENMU-R’s Learning Resource Center and in his spare time, performs in a band. He is working on the writing of the grant, which he compared to recording a song in one take. “This is my first experience,” he said. “We put together an eight-person committee that started meeting in mid-September and we have very qualified people.

“Right now, I am looking at the application grant and getting ready to start writing. Once you start the application you have to go through all nine pages,” Aston said.

“We (ENMU-R) are the lead sponsoring organization in this effort. The last time, the lead organizations were the groups Roswell Reads and the High Plains Writing Project — they both disappeared,” Aston said.

According to Aston and Fleming, the committee members chose their book for the program already, the title is “Into the Beautiful North,” by Luis Alberto Urrea.

“The committee did look at the 32 books that were on the 2020-21 Big Read list,” Aston said. “We didn’t read them all, but we looked carefully at the synopsis of each one. We all tried to read several of the final ones.”

Asked if it was a unanimous vote or a close call, Fleming said, “After discussing them, it came to the top very easily.”

Aston confirmed the choice being an easy one. “We thought this book (“Into the Beautiful North”) was the most appropriate for our community because we’re roughly half and half between Anglo and Hispanic, and this book is a border story that takes place between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California,” he said. “It is a search book, a quest book, but also a buddy book. The characters are a bit unusual, off-beat. The author was born in Tijuana to an American mother with English ancestry and a Mexican father with Basque/Spanish ancestry, and had experiences as a young man on both sides of the border. He has a strong love in his heart for both countries.”

Aston was impressed with the sense of humor of Urrea and the storyline that is wrapped around the Japanese original movie, “The Seven Samurai,” and the American version, “The Magnificent Seven.”

Other reasons to choose the book were the ideas of activities that will be taking place during the main event in the fall. “You have to have 15 events associated with the book (for the grant to be approved),” Fleming said. “You want to have something already — think of things right away. We (committee members) were spouting away: We could have mariachis and folkloricos — the culture is already here. So the idea of showcasing it with the book was perfect.”

Aston and Fleming confirm that even if the grant is denied, the project will still go through.

“We won’t find out anything about what — if anything — we get until April 27/28,” Aston said. “That is when the NEA will be reading all the applications, and they will select 75 organizations all around the country, not just libraries, including city governments, hospitals, whoever wants to participate and based on the merits of the applications, they will let us know,”

If the grant over the full amount of $15,000 comes through, they hope to get the author to come to Roswell as the highlight of the events. According to Fleming, matching funding or in-kind donations are needed and, while waiting for the confirmation of the grant, the community is asked for support.

“Our own ENMU-R president Dr. Powell, and our acting vice president for academic affairs, Annemarie Oldfield, had been very generous with a donation from the upcoming 2021 budget to help us with expenses, whether buying books or the other expenses, as have some of the local businesses in town. I won’t name them at the moment, they will be listed as sponsors on our program. They will certainly get their kudos. We are very grateful for all who have contributed so far, especially our own university,” Aston said.

Fleming said that the name and support of ENMU-R spearheading the project will look favorable on the grant application. “They are leading by example,” she said.

“Technically everyone can participate,” Fleming said. “The book is geared to late high school to adult, but we are going to have recommended books for middle school and elementary, so that they are not left out. We’re going to have our kick-off event, and that’s going to have music and food, entertainment and book giveaways. That’s when most of the people will be reading the book.”

Asked what is needed or how to sponsor the event, Fleming said, “If they have an idea or are in a book club or they want to participate, they can just let Rollah (Aston) know. They can email him and say, ‘I want to participate in this particular way.’”

The committee is also looking for artists, hosts, sites for one of the many activities planned; and monetary donations or pledges to help pay for the 500 to 750 books that will be distributed throughout the town.

In the next Sunday edition of the Daily Record’s Vision section, the NEA Big Read events, activities and some details about the chosen book, “Into the Beautiful North,” will be featured.

For more information, email rollah.aston@roswell.enmu.edu or call 575-626-2373.