After receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read initiative, the Ackland Art Museum will host a virtual community reading program this month.
NEA Big Read at the Ackland will highlight LGBTQ+ perspectives and focus on the poetry collection "Advice from the Lights" by Stephanie Burt.
The NEA Big Read program helps organizations around the country host community reading events. When Ackland’s Head of Public Programs Allison Portnow Lathrop heard the NEA was accepting applicants, she knew the Ackland was up to the challenge.
“This is the first time the Ackland has applied,” Lathrop said. “But we have been doing a book discussion program with Carolina Public Humanities on campus for the last four or five years, where we would use a book to compare with art that's on view at the museum.”
"Advice from the Lights" was chosen with this purpose in mind.
“At the time when we were applying, we had hoped that an exhibition called 'Transamerica/n: Gender, Identity, Appearance Today' would be traveling to the Ackland,” Lothrop said. “Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we were not able to have that show in person.”
However, the Ackland will still be showing some work from the Transamerica/n exhibition online, including work from Nelson Morales. His photography highlights muxes, a gender-fluid community native to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Lothrop says Morales' work will pair nicely with "Advice from the Lights," which illustrates author Stephanie Burt’s journey toward coming out as a transgender woman.
“I think that a lot of the book is about growing up,” Burt said. “Trying to be a child and sort of failing at it.”
Burt’s audience has grown since her coming out. A lot of readers want to talk to her about what they have in common such as being transgender or queer and being parents. Burt aims to make the communities she belongs to feel seen through her poetry, but also to reach beyond them.