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Bethel joins second “Big Read” program, focused by Poe bicentennial

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Following the success of the Wichita area’s first Big Read last year, Bethel College and its Kauffman Museum will again join the initiative for 2009.

Vicki Tiahrt, wife of U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, appeared at a media conference June 24 at the Wichita Public Library – along with WPL Director of Libraries Cynthia Berner Harris, Wichita Art Museum’s chief curator, Stephen Gleissner, and other community partners dedicated to the project – to announce the second year of participation in the Big Read. Mrs. Tiahrt will again serve as honorary chair of Wichita’s reading initiative, which this year features “Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe” throughout October and November.

“Todd and I are delighted that the Big Read-Wichita continues in 2009,” said Vicki Tiahrt. “For the first time in 26 years, adult literary reading has gone up, largely because of the Big Read.

“We invite our fellow Kansans to join us in reading selections from Edgar Allan Poe this fall,” she continued. “We also encourage families and school children to read the companion books and we hope all our neighbors will join us in the planned community events that not only support literacy but foster friendships.”

As they did last year, Kauffman Museum, Bethel College and Newton Public Library will participate in the Wichita Big Read by co-hosting several public programs.

Already on the calendar are a presentation by Aimee Siebert, Bethel College senior from Topeka, on “Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher: How to Think about Tearing Down the House of Disregard for Mental Health,” Sunday, Oct. 25, at 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, Nov. 8, also at 3:30 p.m., Ami Regier, Bethel College professor of English, will use a Kauffman Museum taxidermy specimen in her discussion of “Consciousness, Living Art and Taxidermy in The Raven.” Both programs will be held at Kauffman Museum on the Bethel College campus and are free and open to the public.

One of the components of Wichita’s 2008 Big Read program that caught national attention was the integration of arts and natural science elements into the reading program, most notably with the award-winning posters and bookmarks created to promote the program. The Wichita Art Museum will again provide appropriate artwork to be used in conjunction with the Big Read.

One of the museum’s oil paintings, Mortality and Immortality (1876) by William Michael Harnett, evokes Poe’s somber yet intriguing moods. It will be among the works featured in a special exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum during the Big Read kickoff, Saturday, Oct. 3.

Internationally renowned Poe interpreter David Keltz, who has brought Poe to life on stage and screen, comes to the Orpheum Performing Arts Centre Saturday, Nov. 7. Additional companion exhibits, gallery talks, museum tours, lectures and, naturally, book discussions will provide a multitude of ways for Wichita area readers to experience and celebrate Poe’s literary works.

Events can be found on the Big Read-Wichita Web site at, with more to be announced as the Big Read dates draw nearer. The national Big Read Web site is

The NEA began the Big Read in 2006 in response to the report Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. After the success of last year’s Big Read, featuring Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, partners looked for another work that would also spur the community to pick up and read books.

The selection of Edgar Allan Poe fit well with his historical background: 2009 is the bicentennial of his birth and October marks the 160th anniversary of his death. Poe shaped many of the most popular types of fiction today, including detective, horror and science fiction genres. His stories and poems are part of

American cultural literacy – references to his writings appear in countless other creative works.

The NEA presents the Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and in cooperation with Arts Midwest, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and transportation by Ford. The Wichita Public Library is one of 269 nonprofits, including arts, culture and science organizations, libraries and municipalities, that received a grant to host Big Read celebrations between September 2009 and June 2010. Wichita and Junction City are the only two communities in Kansas for the 2009-10 cycle.

“The Big Read highlights not only literature but also what can be accomplished in partnership,” said NEA Acting Chairman Patrice Walker Powell. “I’m grateful to the IMLS, Arts Midwest and the many, many nonprofits, local governments and media outlets around the country that have partnered with the NEA to present hundreds of Big Read projects nationwide.”

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities and military bases. For more information, see

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. For more information please visit

Kauffman Museum, located on the Bethel College campus at 27th and North Main Streets in North Newton, is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its Web site,

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel web site at

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