State Historical Library to get "wild" Wednesday with "The Big Read"
Book discussion, reception for Jack London's "The Call of the Wild"

For immediate release May 23, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan,, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) –The State Historical Library will host a book discussion of Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and a reception as part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ The Big Read program in Iowa.

The book discussion and a reception will be at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. The event is free and open to the public. Visit or contact the State Historical Library’s Susan Jellinger at 515-281-6897 or for more information.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Art Midwest. It is designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.

The NEA developed The Big Read in response to a 2004 study that showed reading in America is on the decline – less than half of the country’s adult population read novels, short stories, drama or poetry, while the percentage of the U.S. adult population reading any book declined by seven percent over the past decade, with the steepest decline in the youngest age groups.

The study did make some positive correlations, too. It found that readers of literature exercise more than other Americans plus they are more involved in the cultural and civic organizations of their communities. 

To build on the positive and counter the negative, The Big Read began as a pilot program in 2006 with 10 communities featuring four books, and will expand next year to approximately 400 communities in the U.S.

This year, NEA awarded nearly $1.6 million in grants to 127 libraries, municipalities, and arts, culture and higher education, and science organizations throughout the country to host a Big Read celebration of one of 16 classic novels January-June 2008.

The State Historical Library received a $16,300 NEA grant to present The Big Read this year in Iowa, selecting Jack London’s classic “The Call of the Wild” to promote literature and history through book discussions, exhibits and presentations.

The book is about Buck, a pampered canine that is dognapped and forced to pull a sled in the frozen, dangerous Yukon.

In tracking Buck’s story, readers learn about self-sufficiency and what it means to be a family. They learn about acceptance, honor, loyalty and trust. Others may enjoy learning about the social aspects of wolves and competition to be the Alpha male.

The State Historical Library chose “The Call of the Wild” because of London’s historical ties to Iowa – he marched across the state in 1894 with Kelly’s Army, a group of men who traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for workers’ rights; his surname came from his stepfather, John London, a Moscow, Iowa farmer; and his second wife, Charmain Kittredge, was from Newton.

The State Historical Library will conclude its Big Read program with “Army and Guard: A Book Discussion from Iowa to London” at 1 p.m., June 14, 2008 at the Gold Star Museum, Camp Dodge, Johnston.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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