Blount County celebrates The Big Read with smorgasboard of activities

After a successful debut in Blount County last year, The Big Read returns to celebrate “Bless Me, Ultima,” a novel by Rudolfo Anaya set in post-World War II New Mexico. The Big Read is a national program to encourage reading for pleasure.

Blount County has partnered once again with the Knoxville YWCA and Knox County Public Library to host events that reflect themes in the book and to make it a regional event. The Big Read began on Sept. 15 and runs through Oct. 15. Blount County has participated in a variety of events. The Blount County Public Library is making available “Discover Spanish,” a new language software online program through the library’s Web site, The program is designed to assist people wanting to learn to speak conversational Spanish.

Bonnie Trentham Myers led a workshop in “Smoky Mountain Remedies” at the library that correlated with Ultima’s methods of curing with herbs and magic in “Bless Me, Ultima.”

At Last Friday Art Walk on Sept. 25, students from Alcoa High School read selections from “Bless Me, Ultima,” and AHS English teacher Kelly Wallace offered an interpretation of the novel. Activities included making Hispanic crafts, led by Maryville High School Spanish III students of Sra. Deb Lamine.

Loida Velazquez, a teaching assistant at the University of Tennessee, led a discussion on “Culture and Identity: The Hispanic Experience” on Monday, Sept. 28. The discussion of contemporary Latino culture in East Tennessee was compared to the experience with the Latino culture as it was during the 1940s timeframe.

Still to come is the Monday, Oct. 12, presentation by Cindy Atchley, Enrollment Services Coordinator, and Holly Burkett, Assistant Dean at the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Technical Community College. The 7 p.m. presentation, which is open to the public, is on “What Now? Careers, Changes and Re-training.” This correlates to the book by following a theme of career choices that are in the book. Atchley and Burkett will discuss ways to select a first-time career path as well as how to go about making a job change after having been previously employed. They will discuss career interest and personality tests, assessment tools and other resources that are available for those shifting career directions. Burkett will also discuss opportunities to be available at the new Blount County campus facility currently under construction. The presentation will be in the Dorothy Herron room at the Blount County Public Library.

In addition to these events, Maryville College’s students are participating in The Big Read in a big way. Third-year Spanish students will create a glossary for the Spanish vocabulary found in “Bless Me, Ultima.” The college will provide both an audio and visual online glossary, which will be located on a separate Web page on the college’s Web site:

All first-year students at the college will read the novel. “Bless Me, Ultima” will be incorporated in the college’s “Perspectives on the Individual” class. Focusing on the theme of the Individual, the class is the first in a series of related first-year seminars designed to provide academic and personal skills essential for college success. Sense of identity, vocation, spirituality and wellness philosophy are topics covered. Using the book to connect to these themes, nearly 350 students and 19 professors will use Blount County Big Read events to connect to the broader community, signifying that reading and community are important parts of life.

Day of the Dead Mexican Holiday masks created by Maryville High School students will be on display in the Rotunda in addition to two other Big Read displays in the library. Copies of the book, readers guides and other materials will be available free of charge at events while supplies last. Blount Discount Books and Hastings Book Music & Video will have copies available for purchase, and the library has several copies available for check out.

For more information on the national The Big Read program, visit the Web site at

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest. In Blount County, the events are sponsored by the Blount County Public Library, the Blount Education Initiative, Alcoa, Blount County and Maryville school systems and Maryville College.

For information, contact Bonny Millard at 865-273-1210 or

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