Award-winning author Julia Alvarez, whose books are the focus of this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore, will deliver the event’s keynote address on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. at Hope College in the Concert Hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.
The public is invited. Admission is free.
Organized by Hope College, this year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore is exploring Alvarez’ books “In the Time of the Butterflies” and, for middle-grade readers, “Before We Were Free.” The Nov. 12 presentation by Alvarez is offered in conjunction with the college’s Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.
“In the Time of the Butterflies,” published in 1994, tells the story of the four Mirabal sisters — Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dede — who were among the leading opponents of the regime of Dominican Republic’s long-time dictator, Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo. Because of their activism, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa were murdered on Nov. 25, 1960.
“Before We Were Free,” like “In the Time of the Butterflies,” is set in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo era. The book, published in 2002, follows 12-year-old Anita, whose family is terrorized by the secret police because they are suspected of opposing his rule.
“We are thrilled to be reading ‘In the Time of the Butterflies’ in its 25th year of publication and look forward to hosting Julia Alvarez here at Hope College,” said Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is founding director of the programs as well as an associate professor of English education at Hope. “Her books encourage us to look more deeply into our own community as we explore how we identify ourselves, what ideals we value more than our lives and what it might mean to live out our beliefs in big and small ways.”
Alvarez is the author of several novels, collections of poems, nonfiction books and books for young readers. Born in New York City in 1950, she was three months old when she and her family moved to the Dominican Republic, her parents’ homeland. Her father became involved in the underground opposed to Trujillo, which the authorities discovered. Fearing for the family’s safety, the Alvarezes fled back to the United States in 1960, just months before the Mirabal sisters were murdered.
She graduated from Middlebury College in 1971, subsequently completing a master’s degree in creative writing at Syracuse University and doing additional graduate work at the Bread Loaf School of English. After holding teaching positions at institutions including Phillips Andover Academy, the University of Vermont, the George Washington University and the University of Illinois, she returned to Middlebury College as a member of the faculty in 1988. She left her tenured position at Middlebury in 1998 to focus on her writing, but continues to serve there as a writer-in-residence.
Alvarez has won numerous awards as an author, including the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature and the National Medal of Arts.
The recognition that she has received includes several awards for this year’s Big Read selections. Among other honors, “In the Time of the Butterflies” was named a Notable Book in 1994 by the American Library Association, a Book of the Month Club choice for 1994 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction in 1995, and was chosen as one of the Best books for Young Adults, 1995, by the Young Adult Library Services Association and the American Library Association. “Before We Were Free” was selected one of the best books of the year by the Miami Herald in 2002; was named an ALA (American Library Association) Notable and ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2002; and received the 2002 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature from The Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, and 2003 ALA Pura Belpré award, which honors an outstanding work of literature for children and youth which portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.
This year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore began with a formal kick-off on Monday, Oct. 28, and is continuing through Dec. 3. It is running in conjunction with the Little Read, which is focused on the children’s picture book “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!,” written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin.
The two programs are visiting the Caribbean and specifically the Dominican Republic of the late 1950s and early 1960s to explore the roles of story, memory, revolution and obedience. Together, they are featuring more than 60 events across the area for people of all ages, including film screenings, art exhibitions, a themed dinner, activity-events for children and multiple book discussions throughout the area that are open to the public.
In support of the programming, Hope has received grants from both the nationwide NEA Big Read, which is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, and the statewide Michigan Humanities, with additional funding coming from area partners and through local donations.
The NEA Big Read Lakeshore began by Van Duinen in 2014, with the Little Read Lakeshore added in 2017. Across the past six years, the programs have engaged an estimated 38,000 people, including thousands of students from pre-school through college-age.
Hope is one of 78 nonprofit organizations to have received a grant to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2019 and June 2020. The Little Read Lakeshore at Hope is one of 16 programs in the state to have received support from Michigan Humanities in its spring 2019 deadline cycle.
The NEA Big Read Lakeshore has received NEA Big Read support during each of the local program’s six years, for a total of $91,500. The Michigan Humanities support is new this year. Each of this year’s two grants is for $15,000.
The complete schedules for both the NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore are available online. More about the books, including book-discussion material, merchandise to purchase and information on how to get involved are also available on the website.
Audience members who need assistance to fully enjoy any event at Hope are encouraged to contact the college's Events and Conferences Office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 616-395-7222 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts is located at 221 Columbia Ave., between Ninth and 10th streets.