In an attempt to bridge the cultural gap between Egypt and the United States, while solving the problem of reading deficiency that persists in both countries, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, is launching the Big Read Initiative in Egypt.
The program was announced on Jan. 31 at the Cairo Book Fair by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Alina Romanowski, who stressed on the need for having a better understanding of each other s culture in order to achieve improved relations between the two countries.
Egypt is the first country in the Middle East, and second country worldwide, to be selected to participate in the US Department of State s Global Cultural Initiative launched in early 2007 to encourage literary reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
One outstanding novel was selected from each country s literary heritage, The Thief and the Dogs by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz and The Grapes of Wrath by American author John Steinbeck, to be translated, read and discussed within each country s libraries, schools and other participating institutes.
Additionally, there is a planned trip to Egypt in April of 2008 led by the staff of Arts Midwest to explore the Egyptian culture, history, religion, lifestyle and traditions, as well as learn more about world-renowned author Naguib Mahfouz. Cultural exchange programs will also take place between the participating organizations in Egypt and the US, and may include virtual exchanges or the participation of literary and cultural figures in the programs.
The Big Read, as a global initiative, was launched in the US following an alarming report by the NEA that revealed that literary reading is declining rapidly among all groups in the US, particularly the youth, and that the rate of decline is accelerating significantly.
In order to solve this issue, the Big Read provides US citizens, from a selected community approximately every month, with the opportunity to read and discuss one book. By 2009, approximately 400 communities in the US will have participated in the Big Read Initiative.
Egypt faces a similar problem to that of the US, as a UNESCO report recently revealed that citizens of the Arab world read an average of four pages a year.