NEA Big Read: Northeast Nebraska
The NEA Big Read in Northeast Nebraska consisted of a variety of engaging events for people of all ages and abilities. The events were aimed at broadening understanding of our world, our neighbors and ourselves through the power of a shared reading experience.
Below is an overview of events that took place in the Spring of 2023.
Copies of the NEA Big Read featured title Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig and the companion titles, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (grades 9-12) and Can You See Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott (grades 5-8) were given awa throughout the community. Copies can also be checked out from the Norfolk Public Library and the Northeast Library. Multiple formats available.
The kick-off event featured a keynote address by Edison McDonald, Executive Director of The Arc of Nebraska — an organization that advocates with and for people with disabilities to have full inclusion into their communities—and author of Sowing the Seeds of Change: The Organizers Handbook. Music was performed by Gotta Be Me's Heartlight Choir, a group composed of people of all abilities, and by local drummer Paul Markhoffer with David Chamberlain as his band, and by guitarist Ethan McCorkle Deiken from Kearney. The event included a disability services fair to help individuals and families connect with organizations that offer services and benefits.
The Elkhorn Valley Museum featured a special NEA Big Read exhibit, American Dream: The ADA & Nebraska, exploring the history of the ADA, the role Nebraskans played in its passage, and how the ADA continues to make an impact. Free admission available through May 12, 2023.
Film Viewing & Discussion
CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion (Gold Pictures) was shown and discussed. The film examines how disability portrayals have evolved in entertainment and focuses on the impact of media on society and inclusion of people with disabilities. Paul Muncy, Northeast history and geography instructor, facilitated the event, focusing on how the film intersects with issues addressed in Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig and the lived experiences of those in attendance.
Read Aloud Event
Northeast’s Early Childhood Education students and faculty hosted a read aloud event for children age 3 through 3rd grade. Attendees were encouraged to wear pajamas and participated in four 15- to 20-minute stations, each featuring a book read aloud, discussion, and activity. Books focused on disability, accessibility, inclusion, and empathy. Each child received a book to take home.
The Norfolk Public Library hosted eight listening sessions for Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig. Each session focused on listening to the audiobook version of one chapter. Print copies and magnifiers were also be available. The end of each session had time for a reflection period for attendees. Participants were welcome to bring a small project to work on while listening to the audiobook. Coloring pages and sensory fidgets were available. Fenders Coffee and light refreshments were provided.
Theatre Workshops & Performance
The Sharing Our Stories theatre workshop series was led by visiting director and playwright Fran Sillau, a multidisciplinary theatre artist with a disability, who serves as Executive Artistic Director of Circle Theatre—a theatre for individuals of all abilities—and Director of Accessibility at The Rose Theatre, both in Omaha.
- Workshop 1: Discovering Strengths and Abilities to Tell Your Own Story. Utilizing theatre techniques such as story dramatization, improvisation, and forum theater, Sillau enabled students and community members to discover their strengths and abilities to tell their own stories.
- Workshop 2: Crafting Stories. Sillau built on the foundation established in the initial workshop and led attendees in further developing their stories.
- Workshop 3: Best Practices for Inclusion of Individuals with Disabilities in Theatre. Drawing on his personal and professional experience, Sillau shared inclusive practices and addressed questions and concerns raised by attendees. Anyone who works in theatre or similar activities or who is interested in increasing inclusion was invited to attend.
- Workshop 4: Individuals who developed their stories through theatre workshops 1, 2, and 4 presented their stories to an audience.
- Story Presentation: Individuals who developed their stories through theatre workshops 1, 2, and 4 presented their stories to an audience.
Beth Plisek, League of Human Dignity Independent Living Advocate, offered four educational sessions.
- Exploring Our Disability Identity
- Statewide Support for Those Who Experience Disabilities
- Inclusion in Our Community
- Stigma of Mental Health in Society and Existing Supports
Packing Tape Arm Casting
Students in grades 5-8 were invited to the Norfolk Arts Center to engage in this activity that promotes unity, welcoming, and partnership. Participants worked with a partner and were challenged to pick a hand gesture that two people do when they interact. Then, working together, they created body casts of hand gestures made of packing tape.
Can You See Me? Book Discussion
Beth Plisek, League of Human Dignity Independent Living Advocate, will facilitated two mixed panels composed of people who experience disability and professionals who provide disability services. Conversations will center on topics from Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, to increase understanding and empathy and build a more close-knit community. Panels were held at the District Event Center.
- Panel 1: Business leaders and city planners are invited to learn how to best create inclusive, accessible spaces that welcome and serve people of all abilities.
- Panel 2: Community members are invited to engage in conversation about disability, accessibility, and inclusion and how best to respect and serve one another.
Young adults were invited to the Norfolk Arts Center to join in this exquisite corpse experience, a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Through a series of instructor-guided steps, each collaborator contributed to a composition that in some way represented individuals in the group. The final product resulted in a giant, standing, rotating exquisite corpses that can be manipulated by viewers to create different combinations of a “person.”
Turtles All the Way Down Book Discussion
Professional Development Session by Author Rebekah Taussig
Anyone who works in an educational setting was encouraged to join author and educator Rebekah Taussig for this free professional development session.
Somewhere between 15-20% of our students have some kind of disability. The needs of our students can vary tremendously, and the number of students who need accommodations is only increasing. The passage of laws like the ADA and IDEA required schools to provide appropriate access and resources for these students, but many are still falling through the cracks. The task of catching all these students might feel daunting, but what would happen if we saw disability in our classrooms as more than a checklist of accommodation requirements? What if disability could be a source of innovation in our approach to teaching? With a lifetime of experience in a disabled body, experience as a student and a teacher, and an education in Disability Studies, Rebekah Taussig invites teachers to reframe our thinking from mere accommodation to deep and meaningful inclusion in our classrooms. Attendees left with a new lens for looking at disability as well as a range of ideas to apply in their own classrooms.
Reading by Rebekah Taussig
Members of the public were invited to attend this event where Rebekah Taussig will read from her book Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body and answered questions from the audience. Taussig is a writer and teacher with her doctorate in Creative Nonfiction and Disability Studies. She runs the Instagram platform @sitting_pretty, where she crafts “mini-memoirs” about her daily life. She lives in Kansas City with her fussy family of tender-hearted snugglers. An informal reception was held in the lower level of Union 73 prior to the reading.
Slam Poetry Event
Poets identifying as members of the disabled community joined at the Norfolk Arts Center in an evening of spoken word centered on disability, whether physical or invisible, congenital or acquired. Each artist will performed for 15-20 minutes. Nebraska State Poet Matt Mason served as Master of Ceremonies for this event hosted in coordination with Northeast’s Visiting Writers Series and the Nebraska Writers Collective, aiming to invite dialogue and inspire empathy.
Educational Poster Series
Northeast Media Arts students designed a poster series providing education about how to discuss disability and inclusion with children and others. Posters were on display for various NEA Big Read events.
Chapbook & Traveling Exhibit
Northeast art and creative writing students created work inspired by Rebekah Taussig’s stories or those shared by local people who experience disability. The work was compiled into a chapbook; free copies were available at select NEA Big Read events.
Libraries throughout Northeast Nebraska hosted book discussions for Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig, the featured title of the NEA Big Read: Northeast Nebraska.
Northeast Audio Recording Technology and Digital Cinema and Media students produced a video documentary chronicling NEA Big Read: Northeast Nebraska activities and participants, serving as a capstone presentation for the wrap-up event. All were welcome to view the film and enjoy a final reception celebrating the NEA Big Read. You can view the video here.
NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.
El proyecto NEA Big Read es una iniciativa del National Endowment for the Arts (el Fondo Nacional para las Artes de Estados Unidos) en cooperación con Arts Midwest.