January 28, 2020

Photo of April Kent

April Kent

Las Vegas, N.M. – [Update 2.14.19: There will be a change in schedule for the Little Reads events scheduled at the Las Vegas Carnegie Library on the date of February 19 at 2 p.m. The new starting time will be February 19, 3:30 p.m. All other Little Reads events occur as scheduled.]

New Mexico Highlands University kicks off its National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program Feb. 7 at 5 p.m. The program aims to foster a love of reading in Las Vegas.

The Big Read kick-off features a performance by legendary Las Vegas cowboy sculptor and poet Duke Sundt at the Highlands Student Center Ballroom, 800 National Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. Highlands President Sam Minner will welcome the community, and there will be refreshments and cowboy-themed activities.

Also on Feb. 7, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Student Center Theater, Highlands will show a free screening of the John Wayne film version of “True Grit,” a 1969 blockbuster Old Western. Highlands is hosting a number of Big Read activities for the public in February, March and April with an Old West theme.

“The Big Read grant program is an excellent opportunity for the Highlands community and the greater Las Vegas community to come together to discuss a classic American Old West novel, ‘True Grit,’ said April Kent, a librarian and head of public services at Highlands’ Donnelly Library. “The series of events surrounding the book are varied and everyone should find something interesting to read, watch and discuss.”

Kent took the lead in writing the competitive NEA grant proposal for the Highlands Big Read program and is coordinating the events. English faculty members Lauren Fath and Benjamin Villarreal also helped with the grant, along with Donnelly librarian Josephine Sena.

American author Charles Portis wrote “True Grit” in 1968. All of the the events for the Big Read connect with the novel. Free copies of the book are available at the Feb. 7 kick-off and at Donnelly Library, 802 National Ave.

“We selected Charles Portis’ novel True Grit for its Old West connection to our community,” Villarreal said. “The spirit of that age lives in the collective memory and culture of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Portis’ protagonist, Rooster Cogburn, even mentions Las Vegas: ‘I found myself one pretty spring day in Las Vegas, New Mexico…and I robbed one of them little high-interest banks there.’”

Villarreal said the Coen Brothers’ 2010 film adaptation of the “True Grit” novel was filmed nearby, along with several other Westerns, new and old, a fact many New Mexicans remember with pride.

“In short, this piece of American literature offers our community a lens through which to view the Old West in ways that both younger and older generations can appreciate, a way of looking at the past to consider our present,” Villarreal said.

Other February Big Read events in Las Vegas include:

Little Read Story Times: Las Vegas Carnegie Public Library, 500 National Ave., Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 10 a.m. These story times will take place in the children’s area of the library and will include a book reading and crafts that tie into the Western themes in “True Grit.” Gina Centineo, Donnelly Library associate, will lead the story times. Contact Centineo at gcentineo@nmhu.edu.

“True Grit” Book Discussion: Carnegie Public Library, 500 National Ave. Feb. 26 at 12 p.m. and Feb. 29 at 11 a.m. The adult book discussions will be led by Highlands English faculty member Lauren Fath and Carnegie Library manager Zachary McNellis. Contact Fath at lfath@nmhu.edu.

“‘True Grit’ is more than just a classic Old West novel,” Fath said. “It is also a compelling work of literary merit. Its young heroine, Mattie Ross, is precocious, wildly funny, and a feminist before her time.”

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. Las Vegas is one of 78 communities nationwide participating in the program.

Upcoming Big Read events sponsored by Highlands in March and April will be announced at a later date. For more information about the Big Read in Las Vegas, contact Kent at ajkent@nmhu.edu. A web page for the Big Read events is online at www.nmhu.edu/neabigread.