BIG READ books focus on Hmong cultural identity

The Young Auditorium bring’s the Hmong Culture to the Community


It was storytime, and Shannon Dozoryst read Louie’s book out loud. When Dozoryst spoke, the community curiously listened, and were eager to learn. – photo courtesy of Young Auditorium

Lizzy Rost, Arts and Recreational Editor

The Young Auditorium received a federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Sept. 2020. NEA partnered with a not-for-profit organization, The Arts Midwest. This organization administers the Young Auditorium’s upcoming program called the BIG READ. The BIG READ program will help the Whitewater community engage while reading a common book. 

They chose two books called, ‘The Latehomecomer’ and The ‘Map into The World by Koa Kalia Yang. 

Shannon Dozoryst, the Young Auditorium’s director said, “We thought it would be a really nice opportunity to provide some nice cultural opportunities and perspectives.” 

They will dedicate a whole month towards these books and towards learning about the Hmong culture, which begins the first week in Apr. 2021. 

Since 2009, the Young Auditorium has hosted several BIG READs including, ’To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Our Town’, and ‘Fahrenheit 451’. And in 2018, they did a BIG READ on Native American women with domestic violence. 

“The BIG READ offered a roster with about 15 to 20 different books that you could select from,”Dozoryst said.

They are excited for the BIG READ because it will be their 9th year hosting it. The NEA first started this program in 2008 with urban libraries in Atlanta, as well as the Chicago public libraries. Then, Whitewater received a grant, and they showed that anyone could participate.

“We want to plan for an in person BIG READ, but we have to be prepared if the university does have to be digital. We may have partners that need to be virtual like libraries, and schools that aren’t open to the public. We have to be really, really flexible,” Dozoryst said.

She wanted everyone to stay safe, but also experience; diversity, tradition, and Yang’s culture. In specific, her books will bring friends, and family closer to the Hmong culture. It’s important that the faculty, staff, students, and community still joins together. 

“We do ask for people to sign up to read ‘The Latehomecomer’ and ‘The Map into The World’, because the seats are limited. And we typically read the books over 6 weeks, or so and meet once a week to discuss the book,” Continuing Education outreach program manager Kari Borne said.

They can sign up at the Hedberg in Janesville, Whitewater’s public library, and other libraries. Otherwise, if the book club is virtual, then more people could join through Webex. 

“We only do the BIG READ every 2 to 3 years, but we stay connected. Oftentimes the books  have some sort of relevance to our campus community. For example, one year we read about student veterans, and it helped us understand them. It is a nice way to keep faculty, and staff connected to each other, and it helps them understand our students better,” Borne said. 

In their book clubs they; discuss themes, point out different perspectives, motifs, and grow as a community. No matter if they are in person, or virtual they can still experience the Hmong culture. 

On the BIG READ’s first day, and throughout the month there will be additional events around town. 

“We’ll be hosting a kick off event at the Hoard Museum in Fort Atkinson, a traditional performance by the Borealis dance company, and a finale at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle. We will also have free books/bookmarks, collaborations, and story walks,” the Young Auditorium Education and Outreach Coordinator Keriann Krikeng said.  

Throughout the NEA BIG READ, the community can learn more about the Hmong immigrants, values, and culture. If interested, check out Young Auditorium’s website or contact Shannon Dozoryst at [email protected]