Answering the Call of the Wild

by Press Release | Jul 9, 2009
Answering the Call of the Wild More than 6,000 Camden children and adults are expected to participate in a national literacy initiative thanks to a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant presented to the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts.

Rutgers–Camden will serve as a host site for the NEA’s The Big Read program, which promotes a lifelong love of reading by uniting communities across the nation in discussion and celebration of one of 30 selections from U.S. and world literature. In Camden, the literary selection is the beloved classic The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Rutgers–Camden is one of only seven Big Read sites selected in New Jersey during 2009-10. In southern New Jersey, the Rutgers campus is one of only three Big Read communities.

Big Read grants range from $2,500 to $20,000 to promote and carry out community-based programs. Participating communities also receive high-quality, free-of-charge educational materials to supplement each title.

Starting in February or March, the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts will launch Camden’s six-week The Big Read, in partnership with the Camden City Free Public Library. A number of events will be organized at both Rutgers–Camden and the Camden City Library around The Call of the Wild, including at least 10 book discussion groups, a family film series, a progressive reading, lectures, and other special events. Public programs will be free of charge and open to all Camden residents.

“Camden’s The Big Read will be a true community initiative,” explains Noreen Scott Garrity, deputy director and curator of education for the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts. “Each discussion group – including several Spanish-language groups – will hold several meetings during a four-to-six week period. Moderators at each session will keep the discussion going and encourage readers at every level.

“Various adult and youth literacy groups in Camden will adopt the book for reading and discussion and may have the opportunity to work with a professional artist to produce a multimedia commentary on The Call of the Wild or a live rap/hip-hop re-telling of the story, which would be presented to the larger community. “

Literacy is important to community growth, says Margaret Marsh, dean of the Rutgers–Camden Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Rutgers is honored to deliver the Big Read to the citizens of Camden,” says Marsh. “Reading opens our minds to new ideas and connections, and discussions about what we read build our communities and bring neighbors closer.”

While The Call of the Wild details the life of a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1800s, Scott Garrity says that the book has a great many enduring themes that will resonate for contemporary city audiences. “Since the story is told through the perspective of Buck, a dog, cultural barriers are lessened,” says Scott-Garrity. “Maybe best of all, The Call of the Wild is a superb adventure, with characters who appeal to males and females, young and old alike.”

The Call of the Wild is on the required reading list for Camden students in grades 7, 8, and 9 and collaborative programs will take place with Camden City schools. Parochial and charter schools throughout the city also will be invited to participate in The Big Read. Educators will be provided with The Big Read Teachers’ Guide, and in-service support.

Reader’s guides include features such as author biographies, historical context for the book, and discussion questions. Teacher’s guides are developed with National Council of Teachers of English and State Language Arts standards in mind and include lesson plans, essay topics, and classroom handouts. The Big Read Audio Guides feature readings from the novel along with commentary from renowned artists, educators, and public figures such as Sam Waterston and Aimee Mann, and The Big Read authors such as Cynthia Ozick and Tobias Wolff.

More information about The Big Read is online at neabigread.org. For additional information about The Big Read at Rutgers–Camden, contact Noreen Scott Garrity at (856) 225-6306.

The Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts seeks to provide performances, exhibitions, education programs, and community projects, that inspire a full appreciation and enjoyment of the arts, create meaningful opportunities to participate in the arts, advance the central role of the arts in preK-12 education, and increase awareness of the arts as essential to cultural, economic, and community vitality. More information is available at rutgerscamdenarts.org.

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