March 30, 2020

Like many activities previously scheduled for this spring, the organizers of the NEA Big Read: Central Florida had to rethink their programming. The event, which was set to take place at UCF Celebrates the Arts and the UCF Art Gallery, will continue on, but differently. The exhibitions, readings and in-person discussions have been replaced with a virtual launch and series of online discussions titled “Artist and Scholars Respond to War.”

Rather than cancel or postpone the activity, Keri Watson, director of the NEA Big Read: Central Florida, says it is important to forge ahead with the Big Read. “A great book brings people together and it is critical that we maintain our connection to one another, especially in times of crisis.”

This is the fifth year UCF is participating in the NEA Big Read, and organizers have partnered with the University of Central Florida’s Veterans Legacy Program to celebrate Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried. The speakers in the series include visual artists, a playwright and a military historian; they have been asked to address the questions “Can art adequately respond to war? How do artists represent the unrepresentable?”

To kick off the virtual series, on April 2 artist and UCF Associate Professor of Art and Jenkins Distinguished Scholar in Community Arts Kevin Haran will discuss the process and meaning of his drawings, paintings and sculpture that comment on subject of war. The talk will commence at noon.

Other speakers include Jave Yoshimoto (April 9), Bruno Cabanes (April 16), Darcy Parker Bruce (April 23) and Sisavanh Phouthavong (April 30). The talks will be hosted live via Zoom conferencing on five consecutive Thursdays and participants will have the chance to ask questions of the speakers. For those not able to attend in real time, the videos will be shared on UCF’s Big Read page.

Readers may pick up a free book at the mobile library outside of St. Richard’s Episcopal Church in Winter Park (5151 Lake Howell Rd, Winter Park, FL 32792) or can check with their local library for online copies.

More information about the NEA Big Read: Central Florida, including biographies of the speakers, information about virtual book clubs, links to partnership sites and details about how to join the virtual calls is available at

Over the past five years, the NEA Big Read: Central Florida has offered programs inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (2016), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (2017), Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2018) and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (2019).

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. NEA Big Read is designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.