Metro State is participating in The Big Read. Are you?

TBR-Logo-BWMetropolitan State University, Saint Paul Public Libraries, and the East Side Freedom Library invite your participation in the Metro Big Read, a community-wide reading program featuring the book Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Starting with the kickoff event on Jan. 28 and continuing through March, the read will include a series of cultural events and discussions on issues of race, class, gender and the African American experience.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. This initiative offers grants to support innovative community reading programs designed around a single book and broadens our understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves. Saint Paul is one of 75 communities nationwide selected to participate in The Big Read between September 2015 and June 2016. Metropolitan State received a $14,200 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to promote and host The Big Read.

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston.

The public kick-off program features the opening of the exhibition Guiding Lights: Inspired by Folklore and Literature at The Gordon Parks Gallery. Artist and guest curator Seitu Jones will moderate a panel discussion. Following the discussion, The Big Read’s keynote address will be delivered by Dr. John S. Wright, Morse-Amoco Distinguished Teaching Professor of African American & African Studies and English at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Wright’s address, Hurston as High Priestess: Their Eyes and the Hieroglyphs of African American Culture, will reference Hurston’s 1934 essay, “The Characteristics of Negro Expression,” and act as the pivotal point of reference for approaching the novel and its contexts.

The exhibition features the artwork of five local emerging African-American artists who have created mixed media works inspired by African-American folklore and literature. Participants include: Jeremiah Bey-Ellison, Minneapolis, Loretta Day, Saint Paul, Christopheraaron Deanes, Minneapolis, Chrys Carroll, Minneapolis, and Jordan Hamilton, Minneapolis.

Regarding the exhibition, curator Seitu Jones says,“The participating artists consistently approach their work as interventions in eliminating systemic racism, while maintaining their individual artistic visions. Their artwork is framed by tradition, vision and culture.”

The kick-off event on Thursday, Jan. 28 is free and open to the public. The art exhibition reception opens at 5 p.m. The panel discussion runs from 6 to 6:45 p.m. The keynote address begins at 7 p.m. The exhibition is on display through Feb. 26. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The gallery is located in the Library and Learning Center, 645 East Seventh Street, on the Saint Paul Campus.

Metropolitan State University’s Big Read selection, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a novel frequently described as an African-American feminist classic. The grant provides funding for events, reader’s and teacher’s guides, and audio guides designed to support and promote literacy and reading within the community. Those who wish to participate may obtain a free copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God by signing up for a Big Read discussion group at Saint Paul Public Libraries or Metropolitan State University.

The Big Read began in 2006 and to date, the NEA has funded more than 1,100 Big Read programs and has provided more than $16 million in grants. This year’s recipient list includes 74 other organizations throughout the country. NEA Chairman Jane Chu says of this year’s selection, “The Big Read is a powerful example of how the arts can bring communities together and help us connect with one another. These 75 organizations are creating valuable opportunities for their communities to share wonderful stories and characters and to have meaningful conversations.”

For more information about Metropolitan State’s participation in the Big Read initiative, contact Evelyn Rolloff, associate director, Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship at Metropolitan State University, at 651-793-1291 or e-mail her at For more information about the exhibit, contact Erica Rasmussen, gallery director, at 651-999-5942 or e-mail her at For more information about The Big Read, visit View a full calendar of events for The Big Read in Saint Paul online at