The University of Houston Downtown is one of three Texas institutions to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to host The Big Read — a program that aims to revitalize the role of reading by exposing citizens to great literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure.

The grant is for $15,000 and UHD will provide an in-kind match. Part of the money will be used to provide students copies of “A Lesson Before Dying,” by Ernest J. Gaines. Gaines is a former Distinguished Visiting Professor at UHD.

Set in rural Louisiana in the late 1940s, “A Lesson Before Dying” is the story of a young black man named Jefferson who is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot-out in which three men are killed. Jefferson, the only survivor, is convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Students and community members will be encouraged to read the book and analyze its major themes: race, education, extended families, food, prison and crime.

Gaines’ book will be given to all incoming UHD freshmen, says Claire Caton, director of media relations at the school.

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