The National Endowment for the Arts and local Kore Press present months’ worth of events in a push called Big Read Tucson. It’s a celebration of the works of Emily Dickinson to inspire more reading in the community — and the UA is getting in on the act.
Art critic and poet Eva Heisler teaches in Heidelberg, Germany, but came to Tucson to discuss reading and art in American culture with UA art professor Barbara Penn.
Hosted by feminist publisher and nonprofit arts organization Kore Press, the initiative is part of a 10-week series of literature projects that are formatted to restore reading — and a love of it — to American culture. The press teamed up with 40 local partners, including many UA artists, alums and professors, in order to create 25 unique events for the program.
“The events coincide the idea with different kinds of literacy,” said Lisa Bowden, publisher and co-founder of Kore Press. “It’s about scholarship of all different types, and the thing I love about Tucson is that it’s such a rich cultural crossroads. We have so many writers and artists in this town and I wanted to involve everyone.”
The NEA provided an original list of classical literature approved for a project like Big Read. Of 30 writers, only three were poets, and only one was a woman — Emily Dickinson. Bowden said she thought that having the first Big Read in Tucson, and receiving the first grant from the NEA because of it, was a good way to bring the city into the Big Read event and “cast the city in a finer light” after the Jan. 8 shooting.
“And I thought, ‘What an exciting way to bring the community together with the work of a female poet,’” Bowden said.
She added that Kore Press wants to target those that have lost the art of reading for pleasure, such as younger generations and people for whom English isn’t their first language. Bowden said the project will also inspire people to create their own work.
That’s how Penn got involved. In the early 1990s, Penn created a body of installation artwork inspired by the life and poetry of Dickinson. Bowden asked her to present a slide show of that work for Big Read.
The press is also inviting people to create pieces of writing based on Penn’s images, which were originally based on Dickinson.
“It’s an interesting translation and re-translation of poetry back into poetry,” Bowden said. “But more than that, it’s asking people to generate creativity.”
The focus on creating several different events inspired by reading — aimed at people such as dancers, choreographers, poetry slams and visual artists, even chefs — and developing high school curriculum to increase visibility in the community should be a way to heighten creativity long after the end of the event, Bowden said.
“We want to contemporize her (Dickinson), keep her relevant, keep her interesting,” she said. “She’s not just some mad woman in the attic. She’s a creative genius years before her time. We’re trying to install Emily Dickinson and embed her in interesting ways.”