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‘Big Read’ comes to Roaring Fork Valley

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

If there is a single person in the Roaring Fork Valley who is not an enthusiastic and dedicated reader, it is not for a lack of trying by the region’s literacy boosters.

Next month, a new effort to get people to read more seeks participation from area Spanish speakers, as well as the more traditional English-speaking target popula­tion. It also will reach out to younger readers.

The latest effort to encourage people to pick up a book instead of turning on the television is “The Big Read,” a national program scheduled locally from April 4 through May 5. As part of the effort, communities up and down the valley are being invited to all read the same book, at the same time, and then talk about what they’ve read.



The book selected for this region is “Bless Me, Ultima,” by celebrated Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya, a one-­time Chicano-rights activist, former teacher and recip­ient of the 2001 National Medal of Arts. The book is a coming-of-age story about a young Latino boy living in New Mexico who is guided by a mysterious curandera, or traditional healer, as he confronts problems and puz­zles in his life.

The program is being sponsored by the Aspen Writ­ers’ Foundation, in partnership with the Pitkin County Library and “scores of [area] nonprofits, busi­nesses, book groups, educators and individuals,” according to a statement from the foundation.




AWF last month announced a $20,000 National Endow­ment for the Arts grant for the program and its com­panion program, “The Little Read.”

The Big Read was created by the NEA in response to a 2004 study that showed reading was not only on the decline in the United States, but that the decline was accelerating. “The Big Read” launched in 2006 with 10 pilot communi­ties and was expanded in 2007; this year, some 200 commu­nities around the United States are expected to participate. The Aspen chapter of The Big Read was launched last summer when Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA and a fre­quent Aspen visitor, walked into the Aspen Writers’ Foun­dation offices and introduced himself, according to AWF staff members.

The Anaya book, according to AWF special project con­sultant Julie Comins Pickrell, was selected largely because it is available in both English and Spanish, and a number of events planned for the month-long Big Read are aimed at Spanish speakers, as well as those who speak and read Eng­lish.

For example, launch parties for The Big Read are set for April 4 in Carbondale, which has a large Spanish-speaking population, and April 5 in Aspen, which has a significant Hispanic workforce. Both events will feature another cele­brated Hispanic author, Luis Urrea, reading from Anaya’s work.

Other Carbondale events include a reading by Urrea at Roaring Fork High School on April 4, a concert on April 25 that will feature Latina rock diva Perla Batalla at the Thunder River Theater, and the Gordon Cooper Library will host book discussions in Spanish facilitated by Carlos Herrara.

Other events geared toward the valley’s Hispanic residents include courses at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen and Glenwood Springs, using the book as the focus of discussions among English language learners, and a joint reading exercise among Spanish-speaking employees at the Aspen Alps and the Aspen Square ” two lodging complexes at the base of Aspen Mountain that together have been striving to provide English language instruction to their workers.

“Typically, that’s not our constituency,” said AWF’s Pickrell, referring to the area’s Spanish-­speaking population. “And that’s why this is exciting and has enormous potential.”

She noted that the NEA has supplied posters in Spanish and English to help publicize the pro­gram.

Other literacy advocacy programs with similar goals previously have been put together, such as the “One Town, One Book” program lead by Marilyn Murphy at the Gordon Cooper Library for the past couple of years, and the “Reach Out and Read” pro­gram launched by the Pitkin County Health and Human Services agency, which puts books into the hands of families who visit the Pitkin County clinics.

But this is the first time The Big Read has come to the valley, and it is being promoted by libraries in Basalt and Carbondale and by bookstores up and down the valley.

Pickrell said that books are being distrib­uted free to schools and other public agen­cies, and that AWF and other sponsors will do whatever they can to see that no one is left out because they couldn’t afford the book.

“Anybody who wants the book will have access to the book … in both English and Spanish,” she said.

In addition to The Big Read, The Little Read is under way. Its sponsors include Spell­binders, Raising A Reader, and Reach Out and Read.

Like its bigger cousin, The Little Read involves communities up and down the val­ley, explained Jayne Poss, director of Raising A Reader, which provides bilingual books in bright red book bags to area preschoolers.

Poss said The Little Read will involve roughly 600 kids in 36 preschool classrooms from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, all reading another of Anaya’s books, “Roadrunner’s Dance,” on April 30. The book is a children’s fable about using one’s own gifts and abilities to help others overcome obstacles and prob­lems.

Poss said the preschool teachers also will be getting copies of “Bless Me, Ultima” for their classrooms.

In addition to the preschool classes, Poss said the libraries in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will feature “Road­runner’s Dance” on April 30 in their children’s storytime hours.

jcolson@aspentimes.com