The community-wide NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore organized by Hope College have received grants from both the nationwide NEA Big Read and the statewide Michigan Humanities in support of this coming fall’s programming, which will visit the Dominican Republic of the late 1950s and early 1960s to explore the roles of women, memory, revolution and obedience.

NEA Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest that seeks to broaden understanding of world, community and self through the joy of sharing a good book.  The NEA Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore put on numerous events and book discussions centered on a specific novel between late October and the middle of November.

Running throughout the area for the sixth consecutive year, the Big Read Lakeshore will feature “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel of courage, love and the human cost of political oppression.  The program will also again include the Little Read Lakeshore for children, with the book “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet,” written by Carmen Agra Deedy with illustrations by Eugene Yelchin; and the middle-grade book “Before We Were Free,” also by Alvarez.

NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery.  Hope is one of 78 nonprofit organizations to receive 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 receive 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.

“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.

“This year marks the 25th year of publication for ‘In the Time of the Butterflies’ and we are thrilled to have Julia Alvarez be part of our program,” said Dr. Deborah Van Duinen, who is director of the NEA Big Read Lakeshore as well as an associate professor of English education at Hope.  “We’re excited to learn more about Dominican Republic culture and history and explore the roles of memory, of women, of revolution and obedience.”

“In the Time of the Butterflies” and “Before We Were Free” are each available in English and Spanish.  “The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet” is in both languages.

Since debuting in 2014, the NEA Big Read Lakeshore has engaged an estimated 38,000 people, including thousands of students from pre-school through college-age.  “In addition to area school students, we also have 500 Hope College students read the featured book as part of their classes,” Van Duinen said.

This year’s Big Read and Little Read will begin with a kick-off event on Monday, Oct. 28.   Details about this year’s food, music, art and lecture events, which will include keynote addresses by Julia Alvarez and Carmen Agra Deedy, and an exhibition of artwork by students on Thursday, Nov 14, will be released in the fall.

The Big Read encourages book clubs interested in reading any of the chosen titles to sign up on the program’s website.  Book discussion material and information on how to get involved are also available on the website.

NEA Big Read Lakeshore is a Hope program with many community partner organizations, including the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony, the City of Holland, CultureWorks, Fellowship Reformed Church, the Fennville District Library, the Georgetown District Library, the Herrick District Library, the Holland Area Arts Council, the Holland Museum, the Howard Miller Public Library, the Loutit District Library, the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, Ready for School, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library, the Spring Lake District Library, Western Theological Seminary, the Woman’s Literary Club and many individual area residents.

Hope and the other participating organizations will match the NEA and Michigan Humanities grants with additional financial and in-kind support, but committee members will also be contacting businesses and individuals in the area for sponsorships of book discussions and main events.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $20 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every congressional district in the country. Over the past 12 years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.

Arts Midwest promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Arts Midwest is one of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, and its history spans more than 25 years.

As one of 56 state (and territories) humanities councils in the country, Michigan Humanities was founded in 1974 as a result of federal legislation.  Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michigan Humanities also actively seeks grants, sponsorships and individual donations to further support cultural programming for Michigan communities.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.