The City Library Invites All of Salt Lake City to The Big Read

SALT LAKE CITY—The Salt Lake City Public Library encourages members of the Salt Lake City community to read Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine as part of The Big Read, a program for which The City Library has been selected as a grant recipient.

The Big Read, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, is designed to revitalize the role of reading in American culture by exposing citizens to great works of literature and encouraging them to read for pleasure and enrichment.

The City Library is one of 77 nonprofit organizations across the county, and the only organization in the state of Utah, to host The Big Read. The Library received a grant of $15,000 to host events and book discussions focused on When the Emperor Was Divine.

The novel, which takes place during World War II, follows a Japanese-American family as they are uprooted from their Berkeley, California home and forcibly relocated to the Topaz Internment Camp located near Delta, Utah. The book encourages an exploration of poignant Utah history and offers rich fodder for discussion on topics that are culturally and geographically relevant for local teen and adult readers.

When the Emperor Was Divine sheds light on an important and often neglected moment in American history,” said John Spears, Executive Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library. “In 1942, as we were liberating people in other countries, we chose to put our own citizens in internment camps. Some of the topics covered in the book are issues we continue to deal with as a nation today: the definition of what it is to be an American, racial and cultural profiling, and the balance of freedom and fear in the provision of civil rights.”

The City Library will kick off The Big Read on October 23 by hosting Julie Otsuka, author of When the Emperor Was Divine, at the Main Library. Additional events will take place at various Library locations through spring 2015.

This is the second time The City Library has received a grant to host The Big Read. In 2007, the Library received a $20,000 grant to host events focused on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

By being selected as a host for The Big Read, The City Library joins a group of organizations devoted to increasing literary reading in America. The Big Read was established to address a declining reading rate and provides citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.

“Community reading programs like The Big Read provide an opportunity for readers to not only engage with great writing but also with each other,” Spears said. “I hope everyone in Salt Lake City visits their local library, picks up a copy of When the Emperor Was Divine, spends a few hours reading, and then spends much more time discussing it with their friends, families, and neighbors.”

For more information on The Big Read at The City Library, visit