AIU’s Big Read

Lee Friederich and Yuko Taniguchi, leading a final discussion with Big Read Lab students
Lee Friederich and Yuko Taniguchi, leading a final discussion with Big Read Lab students (Dec 2022)

What is a Big Read?

AIU’s Big Read is an outreach project to Akita-area high school students, community members, AIU students, and AIU faculty and staff members that “creates a community of diverse readers for conversation and discovery through the reading of a book,” according to AIU literature instructor Lee Friederich, who organized the semester-long event. A concept imported and adjusted for an AIU and community audience from the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program in the US, AIU’s first big read, or “little big read” as Friederich-sensei puts it, took place last fall. Before coming to AIU in 2019, Friederich-sensei conducted several Big Read programs in her former position at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire-Barron County, the last with renowned Native American author Louise Erdrich and her award-winning book The Round House, an NEA-funded Big Read that featured community events around the state of Wisconsin and culminated with a reading by Erdrich at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University.

The 2022 Big Read title featured Japanese author Yuko Taniguichi’s English-language novel The Ocean in the Closet,a young adult novel exploring transnational adoption after World War 2 through two very different voices: 9-year-old Helen, living near San Francisco, and her Great Uncle Hideo living in Kamakura.

Lee Friederich (left) and Big Read lab class with Yuko Taniguchi (4th from left)
Lee Friederich (left) and Big Read lab class with Yuko Taniguchi (4th from left)
Author Yuko Taniguchi

AIU’s 2022 Big Read offered reading programs in variety of settings, including ZOOM discussion groups for high school students, separate in-person discussion groups for EAP students and more advanced AIU students in the LDIC, a faculty and staff discussion group at a local coffee shop, a community discussion group at an Akita City community center, and class discussions in particular courses such as Digital Story Telling, Literature in English, Creative Writing, and Japanese Literature. Students in the new Big Read Lab class led the discussions with high school and AIU students, while Friederich-sensei and her husband Joel Friederich, who teaches literature and creative writing at AIU, led faculty and community discussions, together with Kazuhiko Takeuchi, head of the Faculty and Staff Support Office at AIU.

Big Read Lab students and discussion leaders for high school students
Envelope simulating one of the letters from the book
A letter from one character to another as a teaching tool

All of the discussion groups came together for a reading and final discussion with author Yuko Taniguchi at the end of the semester-long project. This final event was moderated by the Big Read Lab class, the group of 6 students who carried out the workshops with high school and AIU students as service learning for the Big Read Lab class. The program was sponsored at AIU. Friederich-sensei hopes the Big Read will be a recurring program each year at AIU from 2024, with a new book each year, though funding for books and the author’s visit still needs to be secured.

An Interdisciplinary Project

One aspect of doing a Big Read on a university campus is developing interdisciplinary partnerships and events. Friederich-sensei will join forces with AIU Political Science professor Dr. Kevin Hockmuth to promote the 2024 title, Banned Book Club (2020), a graphic novel by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and Ryan Estrada that depicts an underground banned book club that cropped up among students at a South Korean university during the violent militarist dictatorship known as the Fifth Republic. In addition to bringing in the author(s) from nearby South Korea, we will explore the book through history and political science as well as literature with possible lectures by AIU faculty and others.

Big Read logo
Big Read logo (by AIU student Kotoha Ohata)

Get Involved in the Big Read Project

If you are interested in joining the project in any way (collaborating as a partner school, leading discussions, lecturing, etc.) please contact Dr. Lee Friederich at lfriederich@aiu.ac.jp.