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NEA Big Read: A Lesson Before Dying Reading Group and Workshop for Teens


Click 'Register' to Apply by Midnight on 3/28

Once a week Saturdays, 12:00 pm EDT - 2:30 pm EDT May 1 to May 22, 2021

Online via Zoom

An interactive close reading and personal narrative writing workshop for students in grades 10 through 12. Applications closed on March 28, 2021.

Ernest J. Gaines built his novel, A Lesson Before Dying, by asking questions and engaging with sheriffs, ministers, and inmates to try and understand what a person must go through in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to their execution.

The workshop will start with close reading activities designed to slow down “the skim” and dig into the text. Students will work together to evaluate the novel by asking each other three different types of questions: Factual, Interpretive, Philosophical. Everyone will be provided with a copy of the book and participants are expected to read assigned pages between sessions.

Students will then engage in peer interviews, ask questions, and actively listen to each other’s experiences to help find and shape personal narratives of their own in response to the novel.

a lesson before dying ernest gaines

Led by

  • KJFitzsimmons

    Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

    Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons

    Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons is a writer, educator, and storyteller who lives in Astoria, Queens. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Human Parts, Marie Claire, and Hippocampus magazine, among others. Her most recent play, a superhero comedy, All I Want Is One More Meanwhile… made its Midwest premiere at Otherworld Theatre in Chicago. Combining her love for narrative nonfiction and theater, Kelly Jean created No, YOU Tell It! a storytelling series dedicated to performing true-life tales with a twist. Learn more and listen to the podcast at