The-Round-House book cover

Sault Ste. Marie, MI — Lake Superior State University received a $14,850 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to host a campus and community program called the “NEA Big Read.” The NEA Big Read offers a range of titles to choose from for collective study, and the LSSU family and neighbors will peruse Louise Erdrich’s 2012 prize-winning novel, The Round House, a suspense tale set on the Ojibwe reservation of North Dakota. LSSU’s Big Read also includes several related features: a keynote speaker, panel discussion, documentary film screening, and gallery exhibit, all on overlapping themes.

LSSU was one of 84 nonprofit organizations nationwide to earn 2020 NEA Big Read grants, which range from $5,000 to $15,000, and which are managed by the Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest. LSSU students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to read the book, which they can get through the campus library, and participate in the other happenings. Free copies of The Round House are also being distributed to community partners. Multiple copies are further available at the Bayliss Library in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

“We’re excited to host the NEA Big Read program with our campus and community partners,” said Marc Boucher, director of library and academic services at LSSU and campus organizer of the initiative. “The NEA Big Read is meant to spark conversation and discovery, and to broaden understanding of the immediate and larger worlds, through the sharing of a good book. I can think of no better entry than The Round House for the Upper Peninsula. It’s a mystery yarn, a coming-of-age chronicle, and a family saga set against a Native-American backdrop—elements our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the community can relate to.”

Erdrich’s 14th novel won the National Book Award for fiction for its account of a 13-year-old Ojibwe boy’s quest for justice in 1988. His mother, a clerk of tribal records, is beaten and raped near a sacred round house on reservation land. She won’t name the attacker, and other murky circumstances prevent the pursuit of prosecution, despite efforts of the father/husband, a tribal judge. Narrating from hindsight as a public prosecutor, the son conveys a “voice so smart, rich and full of surprises,” praises National Public Radio, through which Erdrich crafts a “keenly made story of a peculiar history, in an out-of-the-way part of our continent, that touches on the hearts and souls of us all.”

The New York Times agreed. Erdrich “shows how a seemingly isolated crime has many roots.” In the “riveting” account, “this young boy will experience a heady jolt of adolescent freedom and a brutal introduction to both the sorrows of grown-up life and the weight of his people’s past.” Thus, “By boring deeply” into one trauma, “Erdrich hits the bedrock truth about a whole community.”

LSSU’s NEA Big Read is comprised of multiple activities. All are free and open to the public.

  • Book discussions
    • Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 7 PM at Bay Mills Community College Library, 12214 W. Lakeshore Drive, Brimley, Mich.
    • Thursday, Oct. 15 at 7 PM at Bayliss Public Library, 541 Library Drive, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
    • Wednesday, Nov. 11 at noon at the LSSU Native American Center
    • Thursday, Dec. 10 at 4 PM at Ojibwe Learning Center and Library, 523 Ashmun St., Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
  • Kickoff event on Thursday, Sept. 24 at 4 PM at the LSSU Library
    • Keynote speaker: attorney Bryan Newland, chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community; the first graduate of Michigan State University College of Law’s Indian Law Program; and a public adviser on Indian affairs to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior during the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2012
    • Screening of the 2016 documentary short, “This River,” Erika MacPherson and Katherena Vermette’s 19-minute firsthand examination from an Indigenous perspective of the search for a loved one who has disappeared
    • Panel discussion about the book and film with Newland; Hon. Jocelyn K. Fabry, chief judge of the Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) Tribe of Chippewa Indians; and Betsy Huggett, executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.-based Diane Peppler Resource Center serving domestic violence and sexual assault survivors
  • Exhibit at LSSU Library’s Art Gallery, Monday, Nov. 2- Saturday, Nov. 28. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 8:30 AM-midnight; Fri. 8:30 AM to 9 PM; Sat. 10 AM to 9 PM; Sun. 10 AM to midnight.
    • “The Cultural Significance and History of the Jingle Dress,” a display about the origins, components, and traditions of a distinctive type of Native American women’s outfit—whose sound of its cones signals the spirits to carry healing prayers to the Creator—curated by Tomantha Sylvester, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and a 2019 LSSU alumna and fine arts major

“The NEA Big Read as a concept and our programming around Louise Erdrich’s celebrated novel, The Round House, embody many LSSU core values: diversity, opportunity, ethics and values in the pursuit of truth, and excellence and relevance in teaching and learning,” said LSSU President Dr. Rodney S. Hanley. “This literary and multidisciplinary event also promotes several pillars in our strategic plan, such as community partnerships and engagement, plus the aforementioned diversity, inclusion, and belonging; and student learning and development.”

Since 2006, the NEA has funded more than 1,600 NEA Big Read programs, allocating $22-plus million cumulatively. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make the endeavors possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, including book and author information, podcasts, and videos, visit

“We have become even more aware this year of the important ways the arts help us connect with others, and how they bring meaning, joy, and comfort to our lives,” said NEA Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “By bringing the NEA Big Read to Lake Superior State University, we will provide opportunities for deep discussion and ways to help us better understand one another.”

Torrie Allen, president & CEO of Arts Midwest, added, “For more than 14 years this national effort has invested in communities as they gather to discuss the stories and ideas that connect us to one another.”