Arts & Culture

Gantt Center Set to Kick-Off Five Months of Literacy Festivities

Programming to be spread over five months

An adult and toddler, both holding drums, perform with the KanKouran West African Dance Company
KanKouran West African Dance Company will perform at the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Kickoff Celebration on Feb. 24. (Photo courtesy of KWADC)

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture recently announced that it will launch its National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program, a five-month series of free events designed to inform, engage and promote literacy within the Charlotte area. 

The Gantt Center will host the Big Read Kickoff Celebration on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m., located at the Wells Fargo Auditorium below Knight Theater and featuring a festive dance performance and presentation by the Maryland-based KanKouran West African Dance Company to set the tone.

The celebration will also include poetry by the Gantt’s Golden Year Poet Laureate, Boris “Bluz” Rogers, and guests will receive the book that inspired the entire initiative: Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. 

That event will be followed by 20 more similar events held in partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Cabarrus County Library, and UNC Charlotte’s J. Murrey Atkins Library, among others. 

Supported by a $20,000 Grants for Arts Projects award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced last June, Charlotte will join 61 other communities nationwide that are participating in the 2023-’24 NEA Big Read. Local events include poetry, arts, and writing workshops; book clubs; school events; expert panel discussions; and more.

Events include the Building Your Human Museum Workshop featuring NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, similar to a workshop Green hosted during the African American Heritage Festival at Charlotte Museum of History in 2023. 

“I have lived the legacy of poet [and] of serving the people,” Green told Queen City Nerve in a discussion about the workshop last year. “I love being poet laureate, but I don’t need the title. I built this. I built the tables, that’s what I teach people to do. You’re not being served at the table you think you want to be at? Build your own table. There’s enough wood, there’s enough work. The need is there.”

The Gantt Center will host Green’s workshop on March 16. 

The programming will be part of Gantt Center’s Golden Year celebration, marking 50 years since its founding in 1974. Other Golden Year events scheduled throughout the year include an appearance from The 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones in July

In December 2023, the Gantt Center announced that the museum’s longtime chief operating officer Bonita Buford would step into the role of president and CEO, replacing the outgoing David Taylor following his 14-year tenure. 

“We are thankful for the NEA grant and are excited to launch the Big Read and offer a diverse range of arts and cultural programming, centered on the community-wide reading of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, in the Charlotte region,” Buford stated in a release announcing the Big Read’s kickoff.

Published in 2016, Homecoming was the debut historical fiction novel from Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi, who traces 300 years of Ghanaian history and, along the way, creates a truly great American novel. 

Spanning eight generations, the story begins with two Ghanaian sisters in the 18th century who lead parallel yet divergent lives; one stays in Ghana and becomes a wealthy slave trader’s wife while the other is sold into slavery and sent to America. 

The novel follows the lives of the two women’s descendants — from Ghana’s beaches to the plantations of Mississippi, the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem — offering an essential examination of power and privilege, memory and legacy. 

The Big Read page on NEA’s website shares other books that are part of the program around the country, while the Homegoing page suggests questions to be used in discussions of the book.

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