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Pensacola Celebrates Poetry With 'The Big Read'

A nationwide program that encourages reading will take up residence in Pensacola for a month.

“The Big Read is a program organized by the National Endowment of the Arts and Arts Midwest that encourages communities to all join together with the simple pleasure of reading a good book,” said Anna Wall, the Chief Curator of the Pensacola Museum of Art.

The museum will be hosting the Big Read events around Escambia County along with the West Florida Public Library. She says they will be concentrating on a book called “An American Sunrise,” a book of poems by Native American and 2019 U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

“We chose the book ‘An American Sunrise’ because of our region’s rich indigenous history and to overlap with Native American Heritage Month in November.”

During The Big Read there will be a limited supply of free copies of the book available. The program begins on Wednesday, October 28.

“It’s a month of programming, so it runs through November 28. It is an opportunity for everyone to read Joy Harjo’s poetry. You can pick up a copy of her book at the Pensacola Museum of Art or any of the West Florida Public Library branches. And then we have a wide variety of programming throughout the month.”

Wall says that because of the coronavirus pandemic, many of the events surrounding The Big Read have been converted to virtual events, including a presentation by Joy Harjo herself on November 19.

“In-person you can come to the museum for an open studio day to learn traditional Native American craft techniques, we’re doing a foraging workshop at Odd Colony Brewery, and we have a parent’s night out event for kids with local poet Quincy Hull. Another great opportunity is there are kid’s craft kits available at the downtown library branch for free. So when you go pick up your copy of 'An American Sunrise,' be sure to get a craft kit for your children.”

And the craft kit is not the only way young people can be a part of The Big Read.

“With every Big Read there’s also a series of little reads geared towards younger readers. Luckily with poetry it’s pretty easy to tap in because you can read just one or two short poems if you’re in the younger grades. But the public library will have several book bundles for K-12 readers, geared toward different reading levels, that explore different aspects of Native American history, culture and poetry.”

The Big Read runs through November 28. The first of the virtual discussions will be on November 12. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.