Highlights from the 2022-2023 NEA Big Read Program

A Catalyst for Community Participation, Civic Engagement, and a Celebration of  Los Angeles through Art and LiteratureThe Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to bring communities together, inspire conversation, and broaden our understanding of our world and ourselves. The NEA presents the Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest. The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), in partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library, marks its 15th year as a recipient of an NEA grant to host DCA’s Big Read: Los Angeles with the 2022-2023 selection of Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, the story of actor Willis Wu who is doomed to play various generic Asian characters on the screen.

The companion book, American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang will also be read. American Born Chinese is the story about a thirteen-year-old who is dealing with issues fitting in at his new school. The 2022-2023 program will be presented both virtually and in-person, with the books’ themes of: popular culture, identity, and representation; Chinese American history in Los Angeles; and storytelling framing all activities.

Partners include the Los Angeles Public Library, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory, Grand Park – The Music Center, Tía Chucha’s Cultural Center, CalArts Community Arts Partnership, Collage: A Place for Art and Culture, Libros Schmibros Lending Library, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Chinese American Museum, Culinary Historians of Southern California, and DCA’s Community Arts Centers including: Art in the Park, Barnsdall Junior Arts Center, Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, and Lincoln Heights Youth Arts Center, among others.

All DCA Big Read: Los Angeles programs are free and open to the public.


Culture and Characters In Fiction – The Authors’ View

Saturday, September 17, 2022 – 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – FREE

How does an author create bilingual characters who move between cultures? There are subtle shadings of meaning that need to be conveyed in translated conversations, hierarchies within families that need to be clear without long explanations, and other challenges. The payoff when this is done well is a story with depth and the ring of truth in the setting.

In this program, three authors who write novels and stories set in Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican communities in Los Angeles will discuss how they weave culture into their plots and characters.

Our panelists are:

  • Maria Amparo Escandon, NY Times bestselling contemporary fiction author
  • Naomi Hirahara, Edgar-winning mystery author
  • William F. Wu, science fiction and fantasy author
  • Moderated by Richard Foss, journalist and author

COLLAGE: A Place for Art and Culture
731 South Pacific Avenue, San Pedro CA 90731
Also available as a livestream program – sign up for either at Eventbrite.com

This facility is wheelchair-accessible.
For further information, contact Richard Foss at richard@collageartculture.com

For this iteration of the NEA Big Read: Los Angeles, DCA and participating teachers and students selected The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. The work is a personal story with universal themes around family connection, the importance of identity, and the very meaning of home. The story is told with poignant illustrations, exemplifying the symbiotic relationship between language and the visual-arts. The Best We Could Do expands one family’s personal story into a global, historic context. While this illustrated work is a memoir, it is a portrait of the human experience and has universal appeal – desiring a better future for our families while longing for a simpler past.

The 2021-2022 NEA Big Read: Los Angeles partner organizations include: Sony Pictures Media Arts Program (SPMAP), a DCA program in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment and the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts); the Los Angeles Public Library; and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Additional partners include cultural organizations and individuals such as: artwoxLA; Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory; the Culinary Historians of Southern California; Grand Park (Music Center for Los Angeles County); Libros Schmibros Lending Library; United Voices of Literacy; TeAda Productions, a theater of color organization with a mission to tell stories of immigrants and refugees; and Lalo Alcaraz, film advisor, author, and creator of the syndicated comic, La Cucaracha to amplify the program’s cultural relevance and authenticity and host special events.

For more information about DCA’s Big Read Program in Los Angeles, please email elizabeth.morin@lacity.org.

The Story Behind the Story: Meet Author, Thi Bui

A conversation with graphic novelist and author, Thi Bui, a widely celebrated graphic novelist and author of this year’s #BigRead selection, The Best We Could Do. ⁣Produced by DCA’s Lincoln Height Youth Arts Center, the event originally streamed live on May 3 2022.

Reading Guides in English and Vietnamese:


The Big Read – Create an Image of Your Story

The Canoga Park Youth Art Center Presents a two-class series via Zoom in which students will develop a single image, similar to a book cover or poster that tells their family’s personal story of arrival to Los Angeles. The project is inspired by Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do.

The first thirty students to sign up will receive a free copy of the book, and a package of art supplies (local pick up only) needed for the project.
Ages 12-17
Instructor, Geoff Seeligner

Choose between the following schedules:
Wednesdays, May 4 and 11, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
Saturdays May 7 and 14, 12:30 to 2:00 p.m.
Email thebigread.cpya@gmail.com for more information and to register.

Introductory Videos:

Story Telling Through Graphic Novels: a Virtual Workshop with Donna Letterese

Join Teaching Artist Donna Letterese in this virtual exploration into the storytelling of Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do”. Using pages of the graphic novel, students will learn how each panel works together to tell a story by creating a new narrative.

Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could” is a graphic novel memoir that explores her and her family’s experience immigrating from Vietnam to their new home in America.

Students enrolled in this mini virtual workshop can pick up a free art kit at the BJAC!

Register on Eventbrite! First Day to Register is March 21!

2-week class from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays
Beginning April 9, 2022
*Max. 10 students*
Ages 10 to 13
Online (Zoom)

Comics and You, Telling Your Story: a Virtual Workshop with Donna Letterese

Turn your life into a comic with Donna Letterese! While reading pages from Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could ”, students will learn how they can share their lives through comics and drawings.

Thi Bui’s The Best We Could is a graphic novel memoir that explores her and her family’s experience immigrating from Vietnam to their new home in America.

Students enrolled in this mini virtual workshop can pick up a free art kit at the BJAC!

Register on Eventbrite! First Day to Register is March 21!

2-week class from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays
Beginning April 23, 2022
*Max. 10 students*
Ages 10 to 13
Online (Zoom)

Past Events

Book Club Discussion with Wednesday Book Club Westchester Branch Library

Please join the Wednesday Book Club as we discuss this year’s Big Read title “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” by Thi Bui on Wednesday, February 23, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.

Please email wstchs@lapl.org for the Zoom link, thank you.

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