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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

'Big Read' Making Reading More Accessible

With an audience of more than 50 people at Barter Theatre's Stage II, local college students read aloud from
With an audience of more than 50 people at Barter Theatre's Stage II, local college students read aloud from "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." (Photo courtesy Bristol Herald Courier)

Inclement Weather Doesn't Stop 'Big Read' Kick-Off in Abingdon

By Debra McCown | Bristol Herald Courier | February 14, 2009

*** This story was published Feb. 12, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

ABINGDON, Va. — There was barely room to move inside the Barter Caf? Wednesday evening as 100 people kicked off the Big Read, a coordinated set of activities centered around a book.

Despite torrential rain and a tree-toppling windstorm, they kept coming in the door, filling the seats at Barter Theatre's Stage II to hear local college students read aloud from "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." The book by Carson McCullers follows the lives of five outcasts and their experiences of isolation in a Depression-era mill town of the rural South.

It's Abingdon's second year in the Big Read program, which is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and encourages community-wide dialogue about a book that addresses issues relevant to the community.

"It's just making reading a little more accessible than it might be otherwise," Charlotte Parsons, director of the Washington County Public Library said of the book-related events that will be going on around town until March 27 as part of the Big Read.

"There are a lot of fun things and exciting things that are going along with this project, and it also gives people an opportunity to see that reading a book isn't an isolated activity," Parsons said. "Reading a book gives you an opportunity to take part in and appreciate other things that are related in your community."

Parsons said the program began in response to a study showing drastic declines in the percentage of the adult population that reads literature ? and in hopes of sparking intelligent conversation in everyday situations.

"All arts are allies," said Evalyn Baron, director of outreach for the Barter Theatre, which applied for and received the grant. "The power of reading takes us into the world of books. It also takes us into the world of theater."

Others at the event said the Big Read doesn't have to stop in March. More than 14 book clubs operate in the Abingdon, Emory and Glade Spring area, said Mary Dudley, a member of the No. 1 Ladies Book Club. "They usually meet monthly ... and they select a book ... and then we discuss it and just have a good time," Dudley said.

Will Stein, reference librarian at the main library branch in Abingdon, said books can have a way of finding even the busiest of people. He's an advocate of "bookcrossing," the practice of leaving books in public places where others can find them, enjoy them and then pass them along again. "You release books out into the wild," he said, adding that those who participate can track the fate of these "traveling books" online at

"To me, it's like the next step beyond the library," Stein said. "It's like the next step ? pass it on."

A! ExtraTopics: Literature