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Virginia G. Piper Center to host events dedicated to Indigenous culture

The events are sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and will occur over the next month

Writing Center 0001.jpg

The Virginia G. Piper Writers House on the ASU Tempe campus is shown on February 21, 2021.

The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing will be hosting a Big Read event in Phoenix over the next month featuring over 25 talks, workshops, art shows, book clubs and other events to support Indigenous artists and speakers.

The events are made possible by a recently announced grant provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, which has funded over 1,600 NEA Big Read events since 2006, according to its website.

This year's event, hosted by the Piper Center, is titled "NEA Big Read: Phoenix." Typically, the NEA provides the organizations selected for Big Read events between $5,000 to $20,000 and additional resources to put the events together, according to the website.

Additional supporters of the series of events include Arizona Humanities, Phoenix Public Library, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Humanities Division at ASU, and over 40 authors, speakers and community organizations.

Jake Friedman, coordinating senior at the Piper Center, wrote in an email, this Big Read event is "one of the most comprehensive efforts to promote Indigenous literary arts and culture in Phoenix within the past several years."

The first Phoenix NEA Big Read event will begin on Feb. 27 and the final event is on March 27. The event series is inspired by "The Round House," an award-winning novel by Indigenous author Louise Erdrich.

Friedman said the Labriola National American Indian Data Center helped the Piper Center in planning for the large-scale event.

"They were one of our first partners," Friedman said in an interview. "We saw the work they were doing in community archives and we thought, 'Great, that’s awesome! Let's collaborate on some workshops that connect what they're already doing for Indigenous communities, but on a wider scale.'"

Lourdes Pereira, a sophomore double majoring in justice studies and American Indian studies, and a library aide for Labriola, said there will be a student panel in which Labriola workers, herself included, will talk about their experience with archiving.

"Me and my Labriola peers will actually be able to talk about our experiences archiving and basically indigenizing the space of archives right now, as well giving a voice on the panel to other BIPOC," Pereira said.

Community archiving will play an important role in the ASU NEA Big Read event.

Myra Khan, a junior studying sustainability, is a student worker at the ASU Community-Driven Archives Initiative, another group helping with the NEA Big Read event. She said archiving old documents and photographs is key to maintaining the history and culture of communities.

"It's really just the idea that instead of institutions being the primary holders of sources like documents or photographs or anything, specific communities should be the stewards of their own history, especially if they’ve been historically misrepresented or marginalized," Khan said.

The Initiative will be working with the Piper Center on the "Dispatches from the Field: Student Archivists and BIPOC Memory" event, which will be held on March 9, as a part of the Big Read event series. 

"We are working specifically on this event since it's all about student experiences with archives and specifically Indigenous student experiences with archives," Khan said.

Pereira said events like these will hopefully bring more positive representation to Indigenous communities in the future.

"There's always this disconnect between the government and Indigenous people and that, of course, stems from genocide and stuff," Pereira said. "I think having an event like this, allowing Indigenous people to have that space to speak for themselves," humanizes and makes the topics relatable to a wider audience, she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article spelled Virginia incorrectly in the headline. The error was fixed Aug. 22 at 4:30 p.m.

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