Reading & Discussion Programs for Adults

"Books are to be call'd for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half sleep, but, in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay--the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework.”
                                                --Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas,” (1871)

Something special happens when we talk about what we read with others in our community. Texts become catalysts for civic engagement and cultural understanding, as well as for personal reflection. The Council invites New Yorkers to meet Walt Whitman’s call for active reading by participating in one of our reading and discussion programs for adults. Reading and discussion programs make time for thinking deeply about one thing, over time, from a variety of perspectives.

In each of the Council’s reading and discussion programs, participants read a series of thematically linked texts over the course of four, five, or six sessions. At each session, they come together with others in their community to discuss a text in conversation facilitated by a trained local scholar.

The texts in each series vary: novels, poems, speeches and essays; works of history, philosophy, religion, and criticism. Each series is organized around a significant humanities theme or important historical commemoration. In all cases the Council provides a list of texts from which the host site and the scholar-facilitator choose those they are most eager to discuss with their communities. Sites can either use texts provided by the Council or have participants borrow or purchase their own copies.

Who can host a series?

Any tax-exempt organization in New York State can host the Council’s reading and discussion programs. Traditional humanities organizations like libraries, museums, and historical societies often use the program to enrich their programmatic offerings or to build new audiences. But lots of non-humanities organizations have hosted the Council programs too, including AmeriCorps sites, prisons, veterans’ hospitals, and religious organizations. The Council is eager to place its programs at a wide variety of organizations.

Who runs the conversation?

Scholar-facilitators selected by the host-sites prepare for and facilitate four, five, or six sessions over the course of the series. A good scholar-facilitator is a careful listener and can manage the flow of the conversation, engaging everyone in the discussion and keeping the conversation on track.. Scholar-facilitators receive an honorarium of $150 per session directly from the Council. Scholar-facilitators are required to attend a one-hour training webinar presented by the Council and to check in with the Program Officer over the course of the series. Host sites must have their scholar-facilitators in place at the time of application.

How can my organization host a reading and discussion series?

The Council’s reading and discussion programs for adults are offered through a competitive application process. There are two deadlines a year:

  • Friday, June 24 to host for Fall 2016
  • Friday, December 15 to host for Spring 2017

There is no limit to the number of times sites can host a reading and discussion program, so long as the host site makes a compelling case for why it wants the program, exhibits the capacity to recruit an appropriate number of participants, and demonstrates the ability to fulfill the expectations of the program.

Host sites are responsible for identifying a local scholar to facilitate the discussion, for applying to host the series, for recruiting participants and managing the inventory of books provided by the Council, and for reporting final evaluations and attendance back to the Council at the conclusion of the series. Host sites pay a small fee of $25 per session (sites may request to have this fee waived if they can give a compelling reason in their application). Host-site coordinators are required to attend a one-hour training webinar presented by the Council prior to the start of their series.

How to host our adult reading & discussion programs:

#1 Choose a thematic series.
To learn about the Councils’ various series themes, see the series page. The Council currently offers seven series themes.

#2 Select the number of sessions you plan to host.
Host sites have the option to host four, five, or six discussion sessions.

#3 Choose a scholar-facilitator.
See more about what to look for in a scholar-facilitator in the Common Questions.

#4 Apply to the Council.
Please have a digital copy of your proposed scholar-facilitator’s resume or CV ready at the time you apply. You will be asked to upload it with the application. Late applications will not be accepted.

#5 Prepare for and host your reading and discussion series.
Sites will be notified within four weeks of the application deadline whether they have been awarded the program. Additional details about preparing for and hosting a series are outlined in the handbook “Administering Adult Reading & Discussion Programs.”

#6 Follow-up.
After the series is completed, the host-site coordinator and scholar-facilitator each complete a final evaluation. At the time of this submission, the host-site coordinator also uploads attendance information using the Council-supplied form.