Elm Street Cultural Arts Village, formerly known as the Towne Lake Arts Center, is gearing up for The Big Read.
It's the third consecutive year the nonprofit has won a grant for the program from the National Endowment for the Arts to encourage literacy. Through the program, entire communities are invited to read the same book together and attend events celebrating the story.
This year's books are Thornton Wilder's classic three-act play, "Our Town," and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."
"Our Town," which is on the Cherokee County School District's 11th-grade supplemental reading list, talks about life in a small town in New England at the turn of the 20th century.
"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" documents the lives of five people after they perish when a bridge in Peru collapses.
Gay Grooms, artistic director of Elm Street, said the group received $17,050 in grants from NEA for this year's Big Read, down from last year's $20,000.
Mrs. Grooms said she hopes to reach at least 15,000 students, the same number last year's The Big Read touched with the southern fictional classic, "To Kill A Mockingbird."
"'Our Town' is a much-loved play," she said, adding is also is much produced.
Elm Street was one of four organizations that received grants in Georgia. In all, there $57,950 was awarded in grants across the state, said Liz Stark, public relations specialist with NEA.
Other grant winners include Atlanta History Center's Literary Center, South Georgia College's William S. Smith Library and Golden Isles Arts and Humanities Association.
Organizations may apply for grants from $2,500 to $20,000. Grant size is determined by community population, number of activities planned and overall strength of the application.
Jon Peede, literature director of the NEA, said Elm Street for the past three years has consistently proven its ability to effectively use the funding. That, he said, "says a lot" about its ability to engage the local community in promoting reading.
"I think that level of commitment is wonderful," he said.
He also noted the group has been successful because it uses theater to promote the books and reading.
Mrs. Grooms said 1,400 copies of the books were distributed this month at no charge to local high school students, and a slew of events are planned to commemorate both books.
The celebration will kick off the week of Feb. 14 when Elm Street will present assemblies at county middle and high schools.
At 1 p.m. on Feb. 19, Georgia author Kevin Prochaska will visit the Woodstock Visitor's Center at Dean's Store in downtown Woodstock to hold a free talk on "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."
At 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, a tea party with "Our Town" character Emily Webb and her friends will take place at Tea Leaves and Thyme in downtown Woodstock. Tickets are $14, and reservations are required.
Between March 5 and 13, the improv troupe will join forces with Preservation Woodstock to depict life in Woodstock in 1901 through performances in downtown Woodstock.
Elm Street Players will present its production of Our Town at 7:30 p.m. on March 18 and 19, 25 and 26 at Woodstock Community Auditorium downtown. Students who've read the books are admitted free. For all others, tickets are $11 for adults, $10 for seniors and $9 for children 12 and younger.
The closing ceremonies for The Big Read will be held after the last show on March 26.
The Sequoyah Regional Library System at 6 p.m. on March 24 will present a free talk on Wilder's novel at Yawn's Books & More in downtown Canton.
The library system will involve younger children through The Little Read, a spinoff of the main program.
During the week of Feb. 21, Elm Street's iThink Improv Troupe will perform Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who" and other stories for younger children at local libraries.
"I think it should go very well," Anita Summers, assistant director of public services for the library system, said of The Little Read programs. "Dr. Seuss is popular with all ages."
Mrs. Grooms said as there's been a lot of interest in this year's The Big Read picks so far, the initiative may once again be a hit this year.
"I hope it'll be close to 'To Kill A Mockingbird's' numbers, but it's a different animal," she said of this year's selection.