February 7, 2024

As part of the NEA Big Read, the UCF College of Arts & Humanities is celebrating Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic with book clubs, special lectures, book signings, theatrical productions and art exhibitions throughout the Central Florida community. This is the seventh time the university has received this funding, and is one of just a few organizations that is a repeat grantee of the nationwide program.

The NEA Big Read was created to revitalize the role of literature and reading in American culture by supporting innovative community programs designed around a single book. As one of just 62 communities nationwide participating in the 2023-24 NEA Big Read, the Central Florida organizers selected Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic.

Published in 2019, Deaf Republic tells the story of Vasenka, a fictional town occupied by oppressive military force. The collection of lyric poems, told in two acts, starts when soldiers kill a deaf boy, Petya. In response to his murder, the townspeople collectively feign deafness and use puppets, along with the invention of their own sign language, to resist their oppressors. The book explores war, resistance, loyalty, and the power of silence. Inspired by these themes, various programs and exhibitions below have been curated for the community.

“We are delighted to have received such a prestigious grant,” said Keri Watson, project director and assistant professor of art history at UCF. “With this grant, we join a select few ‘repeat readers’ who have received the grant more than once, in fact, this is our seventh Big Read grant. Each year, we challenge ourselves to add new partners and extend our impact, and we are especially excited to contribute to UCF Celebrates the Arts at Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and to bring reading groups to three prisons in Central Florida.”

Seminole County Public Libraries will host book clubs at each of its five branches, offering daytime and evening discussion groups. Additional book clubs are planned at the John C. Hitt Library, the Rollins Museum of Art, the Central Florida Reception Center, Lake Correctional Institution and Polk Correctional Institution.

The other events in the free series include:

  • Deaf Republic is being distributed to the community and readers may contact Keri Watson for a complimentary copy of Deaf Republic while supplies last.
  • The Silent Protest: Perspectives on War and Disability exhibition addresses themes from Deaf Republic, including the impact of war, displacement and the experience of trauma on those living with a disability. The exhibition – drawn from the Rollins Museum of Art’s permanent collection –brings together a selection of works that address these themes from multiple artistic perspectives. This exhibition is co-curated by  Watson and Gisela Carbonell, curator of the Rollins Museum of Art. The exhibition is being displayed January 20 through May 14 at the Rollins Museum of Art in Winter Park.
  • The Finding Their Voice exhibition draws from collections in the UCF Libraries Special Collections & University Archives department. This exhibition’s artwork, literature, and stories capture the essence of introspection, offering a poignant reflection on the power of self-discovery and authentic expression that sets individuals apart and defines their identity. The exhibit will be held in the Special Collections & University Archives Gallery on the fourth floor of the John C. Hitt Library on UCF’s main campus during the Spring semester.
  • Book club discussions will be held at the Seminole County Libraries in March and April.
  • Keri Watson will discuss the impact of war and displacement on those living with a disability, and the power of art to transform society. The March 26 lecture will be at the Rollins Museum of Art.
  • The #Faces of Russian Resistance Art Exhibition, sponsored by the NEA Big Read and the Florida Prison Education Project, tells the story of sixteen Russian citizens who openly oppose the War in Ukraine. The exhibit will be located at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts during UCF Celebrates the Arts, April 3-14.
  • Author Ilya Kaminsky will give a poetry reading and book signing. Named among “12 artists who changed the world,” Kaminsky is a USSR-born, Ukrainian-Jewish-American poet, critic, translator and professor best known for his poetry collections Dancing in Odessa and Deaf Republic. The reading will take place as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts on April 6 at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Join Theatre UCF for a theatrical adaptation of Deaf Republic, followed by a talkback with the creative team on April 7 as part of UCF Celebrates the Arts at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Burhan Sönmez leads a book club discussion on the literature of Kurdish writers on April 15 in the John C. Hitt Library.

Previous books selected by UCF have been Their Eyes Were Watching God (2016), The Grapes of Wrath (2017), The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2018), Station Eleven (2019), The Things They Carried (2020) and Silver Sparrow (2020).

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 are available at bigread.cah.ucf.edu.