‘NEA Big Read’ arrives in Columbia Gorge this October

Robert Shonbrun
rshonbrun@ci.the-dalles.or.us, (541) 296-2815

August 9, 2019

Starting this fall, people in Hood River, The Dalles and surrounding communities will celebrate reading in a very big way, as “The Big Read” brings book readings and discussions, folk dancing, artists, a comedian, theatrical troupe, musical performances and panel presentations to schools, libraries and the campuses of Columbia Gorge Community College.

The Big Read” is a National Endowment for the Arts partnership with Arts Midwest to broaden understanding of the world, its diverse communities and peoples through the joy of shared reading. Since the initiative began in 2006, more than 5.7 million Americans have attended a Big Read event.

That number will certainly grow this year, as Hood River and The Dalles join 77 other communities across the United States in the 2019 Big Read.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but participating in the Big Read will make you happy -- and it’s free!” observed Jeff Wavrunek, director of The Dalles - Wasco County Public Library.

Different authors and books are showcased in each community. Featured author for the Columbia River Gorge is Luis Alberto Urrea, whose book “Into the Beautiful North” sets the theme for dozens of Big Read events beginning Oct. 4 in The Dalles. The book describes the US-Mexico border – the subject of controversy today – as a “dream-line destination and departure point, surrounded by desperation and expectations,” according to the book’s preface.

Urrea was born in a poor neighborhood of Tijuana and moved with his parents to San Diego at the age of five. A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, he re-discovered Tijuana as a relief worker for a church mission. He later secured a writing position at Harvard, and today is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois – Chicago.

“No one writes more tragically or intimately about border culture than this son of a Mexican father and Anglo mother,” said journalist Bill Moyers of Urrea, author of numerous works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

“Into the Beautiful North” is Urrea’s third novel. He invites readers “to think of the border as more than a stark divide between nations … [but] a place of convergence where meaningful conversations, and even love, between cultures begins.”

Free copies of the book in English and Spanish will be widely available.

Urrea substantially reduced his speaking fee in order for “The Big Read” to come to the Columbia Gorge. Local co-sponsors are The Dalles - Wasco County Public Library and Columbia Gorge Community College, which are teaming up with 34 partner organizations including the Hood River County Library District, local school districts, Columbia Center for the Arts, The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce, The Next Door, Klindt’s Book Sellers, Immigration Counseling Services, local elected officials and many others.

The Big Read opens Oct. 4 in The Dalles Civic Auditorium, followed by a wide variety of events throughout the entire month of October in Hood River and The Dalles: Book readings, discussion groups in English and Spanish, film screenings, workshops, and panel discussions on issues affecting the Latinx community. A total of 44 separate events are planned. A detailed schedule will be posted on the college, Hood River County Library and The Dalles - Wasco County Public Library websites.

Columbia Gorge Community College is a Hispanic Serving Institution. In its successful grant proposal to The National Endowment Endowment for the Arts, Columbia Gorge Community College said its goal is to strengthen the college’s relationship with the Latinx community by providing events that honor their heritage, improve understanding of the immigration process, encourage inter-cultural dialog and strengthen partnerships.

People are invited to watch for upcoming events through local newspaper stories and radio public service announcements, the college and library websites and social media.