Officials kick-off Big Read festivities

ALBANY -- Albany State University's James L. Hill was applauded several times at The Big Read Gala Celebration at the Albany Municipal Auditorium Monday night.

Before a crowd of about 75 people, Hill, ASU's chair of the Department of English and modern languages and mass communications, was recognized for his efforts in securing a $20,000 grant for the National Endowment for the Arts to have Dougherty County host its first Big Read event. Albany was one of 269 organizations nationally selected.

Ernest J. Gaines' 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying" is the book Albany and Dougherty County citizens will be focusing on this month. Free events, book discussions and a movie screening of "A Lesson Before Dying" at Carmike Cinemas' Wynnsong 16 are all part of the festivities.

Albany State University is partnering with the Dougherty County Library for The Big Read program, along with 25 other Albany organizations including The Albany Herald.

"It is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and we will be a better community for participating in this endeavor," Albany State President Everette Freeman said.

Dougherty County Public Library Director Teresa Cole said you couldn't overemphasize the significance of reading.

"As librarians and libraries, we know how important books and reading are to our culture and would like to thank Albany State University for allowing us to partner with them," Cole said.

Improving reading habits would help solve many problems, Mayor Willie Adams said. NEA research revealed in 2004 and 2006 that Americans' interest in literary reading had sharply declined in all groups, especially among young people.

"Reading is the foundation to all of life and education is the answer to all of poverty," he said. "You can hardly find kids today who can read a newspaper."

ASU senior English major Jamal Alexander said his fraternity, Sigma Tau Delta, was helping to partner with Hill during The Big Read.

"Our main focus is to bring literacy back to the community," Alexander said. "We live in a technologically advanced culture and the youth is all into video games and they don't take the time to read. This will give them a better perspective of what is ours in the world and a better foundation for literacy."

The 256-page "A Lesson Before Dying" is a quick read, Alexander said.

"It brings to light a lot of lessons to young and old," he said. "The importance of family and a sound foundation."