Big Read: Advice from the Lights

Through June 30, 2020 (all free, all online)

On May 1st, we will kick off a 2-month-long NEA Big Read project based on Stephanie Burt’s Advice from the Lights, a book of poetry that deals with assigned gender identity, and themes of childhood and personal evolution.

During this time, we will be giving away hundreds of free copies of the book and hosting a number related online events and activities in partnership with organizations across Milwaukee. Starting May 1st, free books are available for contactless pick-up Wednesday through Saturday from 2–6 PM, or you can request a copy by mail. Books will be available through June (or until we run out)!

Please check our Schedule of Events below for details on related programming.

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest created to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. 


Stephanie Burt’s “Advice from Rock Creek Park,” as performed (in order of appearance) by alida cardós whaley, CJ Scruton, Edie Roberts, SunShine RayPop, Vaughan Larsen, and Eliina Pajunen. Edited by Samantha Kirchoff. Released May 9, 2020.

About the book:

Written during the “five-year period from the beginning to the end of the decisions [she] made about coming out as a trans woman” (Queer Guru TV), Advice from the Lights—Stephanie Burt’s fourth full-length collection of poetry—is filled with talking objects and animals grappling with their unique identities: a hermit crab trying to find the right shell, a blue betta fish named Scarlet, and a roly-poly bug that doesn’t like the way it looks. Some poems imagine what her life would have been like if she had been raised a girl. They’re placed in stark contrast alongside other poems from her actual childhood raised as a boy. Burt’s collection is “deft, bubbly, poised, polished, consistently witty” (Lambda Literary), traveling “through a shape-shifting American childhood, a journey of multiple selves and genders that remixes ancient Greek poetry with ‘80s pop” (San Francisco Chronicle). “For all its insights into trans experience,” says the Boston Review, “Advice from the Lights is the brightest and most inviting of Burt’s collections for readers of any, all, and no genders.”

About the author: 

Stephanie (formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor with eight published books, including two critical books on poetry and three poetry collections. Hailed as “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation” by the New York Times, Burt has written a multitude of literary reviews and essays on poetry that have appeared in, among many other publications, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. She’s published several books of literary criticism, including The Poem Is You: Sixty Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them (2016); Close Calls With Nonsense: Reading New Poetry (2009), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and The Forms of Youth: Twentieth-Century Poetry and Adolescence (2007). She’s given a TED talk entitled “Why People Need Poetry” that’s been viewed more than a million times; is the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship; is the poetry co-editor of the Nation; and is the author of four collections of poetry, including Belmont (2013) and Advice from the Lights (2017), both from Graywolf Press.

Schedule of Events

Fri. May 1–Mon. June 1 | Open to the public

Collaborative Zine Project: The Bindery, bearbear creative, and Milwaukee Zine Fest invite participants to submit one-page responses for a collaborative “quaranzine” based on Advice from the Lights. Zine collaborators must sign up online by May 15th and submit their zine page by June 1st. The zine will be digitally featured at Stephanie Burt’s online reading on June 7th, and all participants will receive a handmade, risographed copy. 

Mon. May 11 | 6–8 pm CDT | Open to the public 

Book Discussion: Hosted by the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Led by Transgender Resource Coordinator Alex Corona, this discussion will take place as part of an adult peer support group for transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary folks. The group meets every Monday from 6–8 pm CDT via Google Hangouts. Call (414) 292-3074 for more details or click the button below to email Alex Corona.

Thurs. May 21 | 7 pm CDT | Open to the public

Book Discussion: About That Pronoun hosted by The Retreat. About That is a conversation series inspired by new works of art. Stephanie Burt's Advice From the Lights launches a discussion About That: Pronoun, and braving the terrain between etiquette and identity, resistance and respect. Stream LIVE at The Retreat MKE on YouTube and Facebook.

Sat. May 23 | 11–12:15 pm CDT | Open to the public

Book Discussion: Hosted by Lynden Sculpture Garden. This discussion will be led by writer and curator Carl Bogner of the UWM Film Department, who for over two decades directed Milwaukee's LGBT film festival. This discussion is free, but you must register to participate. 

Tues. May 26 | 6 pm CDT | Open to the public

Book Discussion: Join Milwaukee Public Library's virtual Book to Art Club for a special discussion of Advice from the Lights. We will read aloud and discuss excerpts from the book and together/apart create art inspired by Stephanie’s poetry. Join this meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone, or dial in using your phone: United States: +1 (872) 240-3311; Access Code: 997-790-733

Sun. May 31 | 1 pm | Open to the public

Book Discussion: with David Kruger, poet and PhD candidate in Creative Writing at UW-Milwaukee. Graduate students from UW-Milwaukee’s Department of English will discuss Stephanie Burt’s Advice from the Lights. 

Sun. May 31 | 2–3 pm (discussion) | $Give What You Can

Film Screening & Discussion: aCinema presents An Intangible Half, a curated group program of experimental film and video in conversation with themes central to Advice from the Lights. The title of this program comes from a line in “After Callimachus,” one of the poems in Burt’s collection. This hour-long screening will be presented virtually, and will be followed by a community discussion. Featuring works by Milly Cope, Emma-Kate Guimond, Bea de Visser, and Marthe Peters.

An Intangible Half will be available for viewing online starting at 2 pm CDT on Friday, May 29, and will remain available until 11 pm CDT on Sunday, May 31. For an immersive experience between film and Q&A, it’s best to start watching no later than 12:45 pm CDT on Sunday, May 31.

Tues. June 2 | 6–8 pm CDT

Book Discussion: Hosted by We Persist Book Club. We Persist is a discussion group for women and non-binary identifying folks to meet monthly and talk about books of various genres/formats by women, PoC, and LGBTQIA+ writers. June’s meeting will focus on Advice from the Lights. To participate, click the button below to contact Woodland Pattern Education Director Alexa Nutile.

Sat. June 6 | 2–5 pm CDT | Registration free and open to the public

Workshop: Poetry and Talking Objects with Stephanie Burt

Space is limited to 10 participants and will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so please register in advance to reserve your spot. 

Poems give voice to people—including the poet—but they can also let us speak through, or for, or to, or with, things and creatures that do not normally communicate in words: from an ancient vase to a lock and key to a giant toad to an upright piano, poets for millennia have found masks, personas, and ways to throw their voices. This workshop will help us find ways to speak for objects and creatures that might not speak for themselves: we can listen to them, or let them show us ourselves. We might also (shhhh) explore anagrams and rhymes.

Sun. June 7 | 7 pm CDT | $Give What You Can

Keynote Reading with Stephanie Burt: Our Big Read project will conclude with a special final event featuring a reading and Q&A with the author. Please join us!


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