The University of Southern Mississippi Department of English will host the Big Read kickoff event from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Hattiesburg Cultural Center, giving the community an opportunity to learn more about the area-wide initiative while enjoying a concert of African-American music inspired by the Harlem Renaissance.
The department was one of just more than 200 organizations across the country to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant to promote and celebrate literacy.
Lending support of the kickoff event, Southern Miss President Dr. Martha Saunders will open the evening and read a small passage from Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the title selected for the local Big Read program.
Dr. Kimberley Davis, a lyric soprano and voice faculty at the Southern Miss School of Music, along with special guest Jacqueline Hairston, an award-winning composer and pianist, will perform. Children from the House of Sankofa of Palmer’s Crossing will join Davis and Hairston, reciting poetry.
John Brown of the City of Hattiesburg closes the evening, reading a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Johnny Dupree to designate Big Read month. A reception and distribution of materials will follow.
The program provides opportunities for communities to come together to read, discuss and celebrate one of 23 selections from American and world literature. The department received a $9,500 Big Read grant to operate the program locally, which runs from Sept. 25 – Oct. 25.
Hairston, who is making a return appearance to Hattiesburg, has a distinguished record in arranging African-Diaspora music. She received her training at The Juilliard School of Music, Howard University Music School and Columbia University.
She is particularly known for her arrangements of concert spirituals, including eight for soprano Kathleen Battle’s Grammy-winning album with guitarist Christopher Parkening and a score for Denyce Graves and the Orlando Opera in conjunction with the Negro Spiritual Foundation as its composer-in-residence, among others.
In March of 2007, she was the recipient of the esteemed Jefferson Award, which honored her as the “Preserver of the Negro Spiritual.”
Davis has given many European performances and recitals, but is also known for her artistry nationally, particularly in the Southern region of the United States. She has performed frequently with Hairston and developed an extensive repertoire of spirituals, art songs and folk arrangements by African-American composers.
After the kickoff event, Hurston’s niece Lucy Hurston is scheduled to appear at Southern Miss Oct. 21-22 and participate in the local Big Read program by giving a talk on her aunt’s work.
The NEA presents the Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest, along with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For more information about local Big Read programming, contact Sarah Lowery White at 601.266.4593. To learn more about The Big Read, online visit http://www.neabigread.org.
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.