Shake Rag Alley Hosts NEA Big Read

Together with the Mineral Point Public Library and Mineral Point School District libraries, Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts invites the public to come together during the rescheduled NEA Big Read of “Citizen: An American Lyric” running through November. 

Originally scheduled for April, a month of activities had been planned around Claudia Rankine’s award-winning innovative work of poetry, prose, and art that addresses the individual and collective effects of racism. But when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the statewide shutdown this spring, the NEA Big Read was put on hold and a program of free and largely virtual events is being developed for this fall. 

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Shake Rag Alley was one of 78 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading program in 2019-20. 

The NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery during dynamic community reading programs designed around a single selection.

“When our NEA Big Read Committee chose ‘Citizen’ in 2018 from among more than 30 books for its use of poetry and art to explore the impact words have on concepts of identity and inclusion, we could not have anticipated the nationwide protests against systemic racism touched off this summer by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis,” said Shake Rag Alley Executive Director Sara Lomasz Flesch. “Claudia Rankine’s book remains as relevant as when it was first published in 2014 and turned a spotlight on the microaggressions that compound the trauma of racism.”

The NEA Big Read of “Citizen” virtually kicked off via Zoom on Sept. 24 and continues through November with events and ways to access and engage with the book and its themes including: 

•   a free virtual craft talk was held Sept. 26 on writing about race during the fourth annual Shake Rag Alley Writing Retreat;

•   a free virtual lecture about James Baldwin in Paris was held Sept. 27 as the culminating event of the Writing Retreat and can be viewed on the Shake Rag Alley website; 

•   book discussions, including a seven-week virtual Shake Rag Alley Chapter Book Club beginning Oct. 1, Oct. 9 in-person discussion at the Mineral Point Public Library and the Oct. 10 in-person Driftless Poets Workshop at Shake Rag Alley; 

•   the Oct. 21 in-person Women’s Art Party focusing on a collage project reflective of artist Wangechi Mutu, whose work is featured in “Citizen;” 

•   youth take-and-make art kits being developed in collaboration with the Mineral Point Elementary School Library and public library; and

•   the Nov. 1 keynote panel, “Citizen Author and the American Story,” which is in a collaboration with Hypertext Magazine & Studio, a Chicago-based social justice nonprofit organization.

Free copies of “Citizen” are available to program participants and are available at the Mineral Point and Platteville public libraries, at the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce and at Shake Rag Alley. Additional resources are available on the NEA Big Read page on the Shake Rag Alley website, including reading guides, video lectures and audio recordings of the Virtual Community Conversation series on systemic racism that Shake Rag Alley hosted in June-August. While not an official part of the NEA Big Read, Shake Rag Alley is pleased to support the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums’ three-part lecture series on slavery in Platteville. For more information and to register, see mining.jamison.museum.

For more information to register for NEA Big Read events or to request a copy of the book, see www.shakeragalley.org/nea-big-read/ or call (608) 987-3292.

A nonprofit school of arts and crafts founded in 2004 by local artists and community members, Shake Rag Alley’s 2.5-acre campus at 18 Shake Rag St. in Mineral Point (population 2,500) is a national destination for participants of adult workshops, a robust summer youth program and a host of annual special events. In addition, Shake Rag offers on-site lodging and custom facility rentals for meetings, events and celebrations. For additional information about Shake Rag Alley’s 2020 workshops and events, or to request a catalog and information about facility rentals and volunteer opportunities, see www.shakeragalley.org, call (608) 987-3292 or email