NEA Big Read

Advice from the Lights, by Stephanie Burt

Join us as we celebrate Advice from the Lights by Stephanie Burt, the Festival’s choice as “The Big Read” for 2020, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. 

The poetry collection Advice from the Lights (Graywolf Press, 2017) is a candid exploration of gender and identity that asks: How do any of us achieve adulthood? In her critically acclaimed collection, Burt engages with the transition from innocence to experience, contemporary politics, and parenthood. Her poems are fraught with fantastical sequences in which objects speak and animals grapple with their identities. This essential work asks who we are, how we become ourselves, and why we make art.

Stephanie Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt has published books of criticism and four collections of poems. Her book Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Burt is a Professor of English at Harvard University. 

Arts & Ideas partners with NEA Big Read to host a series of community events focused on a single book as a point of departure for conversations throughout New Haven. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.  

Read an interview with Burt about how science fiction led her to poetry, her kinship with Mr. Spock, and her affinity for mole rats. >


I can remember when I wanted X

more than anything ever—for X fill in

from your own childhood


[balloon, pencil lead, trading card, shoelaces, a bow

or not to have to wear a bow]


and now I am moved to action, when I am moved,

principally by a memory of what to want.


—From "A Covered Bridge in Littleton, New Hampshire"



As part of the 2020 Festival, Arts & Ideas will partner with the New Haven community to create free events highlighting the book's themes; past events have included book club discussions, panel discussions, lectures, exhibitions, and poetry readings. If your organization would like take part in the 2020 Big Read, please Submit an Event Here >