The Department of Cultural Affairs 2019-2020
Big Read Program in Los Angeles

Each year, the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiative brings communities together around the shared activity of reading and discussing a book.

For 2020-2021 the City of Los Angeles has selected The Round House by Louise Erdrich (2012).

Award-winning author and Minnesota bookstore owner Louise Erdrich hails from North Dakota and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. “While Erdrich is known as a brilliant chronicler of the American Indian experience,” writes Reader’s Digest, “her insights into our family, community, and spiritual lives transcend any category.” Erdrich’s 14th novel, The Round House (Harper, 2012), tells the suspenseful tale of a 13-year-old boy’s investigation and desire for revenge following a brutal attack on his mother that leaves his father, a tribal judge, helpless in his pursuit to bring the perpetrator to justice.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in partnership with Arts Midwest designed to restore reading to the center of American popular culture. Generous support is also provided by Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the NEA hope to unite communities through literature and intra-cultural connections, as well as to inspire teens to become life-long readers with the Big Read Program in Los Angeles.


Highlights from NEA Big Read 2019-2020

Advice from the Lights, by Stephanie Burt (2017)

Watch Language of the Senses, a Conversation about how Authors Convey Sensations in Poetry, Fiction, and Literature

Watch a Conversation with Stephanie Burt

View Advice from the Lights Gallery, 2020. Student submissions from Franklin High School, Los Angeles, made in response to reading Advice from the Lights.


The 2019-2020 program featured title is Advice from the Lights, a collection of deeply personal poems by Stephanie Burt. The book invites Angelenos the opportunity for self-reflection and contemplation of ourselves and those around us. The questions of who we are, how does it feel to not fit in, and how do we thrive in such circumstances will drive the program.  Burt’s work and the Big Read programming will underscore our personal stories and the value in sharing those with others.

The program kicked off in October 2019, with a launch at the Models of Pride Conference, hosted by the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Throughout fall and winter, students at Los Angeles public high schools participated in in-school reading and discussion groups. Afterschool programs, including the Sony Pictures CalArts Media Arts Program, integrated a reading of Burt’s book to inspire middle school youth to create original animated short films.

In April, as part of national poetry month, organization partners, such as the Los Angeles Public Library, kicked off free virtual events. Programs that would have invited Angelenos to public activities throughout Los Angeles at libraries, museums, parks, theaters, and other public spaces were shifted for online audiences. The NEA Big Read Program in LA has continued to bring Angelenos dynamic, culturally-relevant, and accessible events. A few of the many cultural programs are included here.

The Big Read Program in LA brings together cultural and community partners through reading groups; live performance; festivals; conferences; lectures; panel discussions; exhibitions; animation courses; art classes; live readings; writing workshops; museum tours; and more. All events are free and open to the public, via online applications. 

Partner organizations include the Los Angeles Public Library, Chinese American Museum, the Los Angeles Unified School District, California LGBT Arts Alliance, Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, Libros Schmibros Lending Library, Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory, United Voices of Literacy, CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP), and artworxLA. The Department of Cultural Affairs facilities offering classes for youth include the Canoga Park Youth Arts Center, the Lincoln Heights Youth Arts Center, and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.

For more information, please email

Watch Language of the Senses, a Conversation about how Authors Convey Sensations in Poetry, Fiction, and Literature Language of the Senses, a Conversation about how Authors Convey Sensations in Poetry, Fiction, and Literature. For more information about the authors and to see their recommended reading lists, go to

Watch a Conversation with Stephanie Burt. Burt discusses her collection of poems about memory, gender and identity with Edwin Rodarte and Celia Avila, chairs of the Los Angeles Public Library’s LGBTQIA committee. The discussion is followed by questions from the audience.

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