The community-wide NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College will open with a TED-talk-styled celebration on Monday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in the college’s Maas Center auditorium and continue through Tuesday, Dec. 3, with more than 60 events across the area for people of all ages.

This year’s NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore 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.  The NEA Big Read Lakeshore includes “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel of courage, love and the human cost of political oppression, and the middle-grade book “Before We Were Free,” also by Alvarez.  The Little Read Lakeshore is focusing on the picture book “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!,” written by Carmen Agra Deedy with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin.

The Oct. 28 kick-off is designed to provide literary and cultural contexts for the three books, and will feature insights from Hope faculty members Dr. Annie Dandavati, professor of political science; Dr. Jesus Montaño, associate professor of English; and Dr. Regan Postma-Montaño, assistant professor of English and Spanish.  Admission is free.

Highlights across the four-plus weeks that will follow will include presentations by Carmen Agra Deedy on Nov. 9 and Julia Alvarez on Nov. 12, film screenings, art exhibitions, a themed dinner, activity-events for children and multiple book discussions throughout the area that will be open to the public.

The book selections and program continue the NEA Big Read Lakeshore’s now six-year tradition of presenting an opportunity for members of the community to enjoy outstanding literature and discuss the themes and how they relate to their own lives, said the event’s founding director, Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is an associate professor of English education at Hope.

“Our previous Big Read programs have taken us throughout the United States to Macomb, Alabama, and an internment camp in Utah, across oceans to Haiti and Vietnam, and even into the unknown of the future,” said Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is founding director of the NEA Big Read Lakeshore as well as an associate professor of English education at Hope.  “This year, we will travel to the Dominican Republic and, through this, delve deeper into our own community, embracing and inviting diversity.”

Van Duinen noted that the event itself is seeking to celebrate the area’s diversity and draw even more of the community into its explorations.  “Our selected books will encourage us to connect with and more fully embrace the vibrant Hispanic culture in our own area,” she said.

“Unlike some of our other chosen titles from previous years, this book is readily available in Spanish,” Van Duinen said.  “In offering the book in Spanish and having Spanish-speaking events focused on Hispanic culture, we are hoping to expand our program to reach more Hispanic members in our community.  We look forward to using the book (in its 25th year of publication) to help us 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.”

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.

“In the Time of the Butterflies” 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 follows 12-year-old Anita, whose family is terrorized by the secret police because they are suspected of opposing his rule.

“The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet” centers on the happy-but-noisy fictional village of La Paz, whose residents believe that less noise will make things even better.  Soon, though, the mayor they’ve elected outlaws singing, an edict that the rooster ignores.

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 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.  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 events@hope.edu or calling 616-395-7222 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The Maas Center is located at 264 Columbia Ave., between 10th and 13th streets.