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Getting us all on the same page: Mary Lyon gets grant for valley reading program

  • Luis Urrea, author of “Into the Beautiful North.” SUBMITTED PHOTO/JOE MAZZA

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/16/2016 11:09:25 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — “Into the Beautiful North” is a novel about a Mexican village where all the men have left to find jobs north of the border. A young woman, who misses her father, travels north to recruit seven men (“The Magnificent Seven”) to protect her hometown from outlaws.

The Mary Lyon Education Foundation has selected this novel by Luis Alberto Urrea hoping to get us all on the same page, with a community book-reading that will span the Connecticut River Valley, from Rowe to Springfield. Several local groups are contributing to this event, which will end with a visit to the area by the author, who has won American Book Awards, the Edgar Award for Best Short Story, and others.

Born in 1955, Urrea grew up in a poor neighborhood of Tijuana, the son of a Mexican father and an American mother. His family later moved to San Diego. “No one writes more tragically or intimately about border culture,” wrote journalist Bill Moyers.

“The Mexican border is a metaphor,” the author said in a 2011 magazine interview. “Borders everywhere are a symbol of what divides us. That’s what interests me.”

Mary Lyon was among 77 organizations nationwide to receive a “Big Read” project grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Also, it was the only Massachusetts organization to win a Big Read grant, which was for $14,000.

“The book is timely for obvious reasons with national debates about immigration and documentation, but we also (thought) it was a great book for thinking about “Place” and our sense of place here in the valley,” said Sheila Damkoehler, co-director of the Mary Lyon Foundation. “The village where the story begins is under threat and the main characters decide to fight for it … What makes a place worth fighting for?”

The Connecticut Valley Big Read will kick off with a “Spirit of Place Community Day” at Greenfield Community College on Saturday, Oct. 15, exploring our sense of place in the valley through the lens of migration and immigration. The day will include a morning family festival with a 10 a.m. performance by Bill Harley, a two-time Grammy Award-winning storyteller and musician. His performance will be followed by free activities, including music, dance and art. There will be a lunchtime community meal and an afternoon conference for adults and older students, beginning at 1 p.m.

On Oct. 21, there will be a free showing of the 1960 film, “The Magnificent Seven” at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls, with an hour-long concert by eight members of the Mariachi Mexico Antigua band, starting at 6:30. The movie is being shown because, in the novel, it inspires Nayeli, the book’s heroine, to go north and recruit a similar band of defenders to save her village.

Other activities will include: a Latino film series, to be shown from Sept. 28 through Oct. 26 by Holyoke Community College’s Latino International Student Association; and a children’s program in the United Way’s preschool read-aloud progam, using the book “Abuela.”

Urrea is to speak at both Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges in April.

Some local libraries will be planning book discussions or related programs from now through the spring. More details will be available at www.marylyonfoundation.org

Partners with Mary Lyon in this “Big Read” include: GCC, Holyoke Community College, the Latino International Student Association, the Care Center in Holyoke, Turners Falls RiverCulture, the Pioneer Valley History Network, Mohawk Trail Regional High School, United Way, WGBY, Hilltown Families and Boswell’s Books.

The NEA Big Read supports innovative community reading programs designed around a single book, to encourage reading and participation by diverse audiences. Organizations selected to participate receive a grant and access to online training and educational materials designed to support widespread community involvement.

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