Award-Winning Author Reyna Grande Speaks at Marist

Her memoir, The Distance Between Us, is Marist's 2017-18 First Year Common Read

POUGHKEEPSIE (September 28, 2017) - On September 27, Marist welcomed award-winning author Reyna Grande to campus to deliver the College’s fifth annual First Year Seminar Lecture.  Ms. Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us (Washington Square Press, 2013), an inspirational coming-of-age story about the pursuit of a better life that is required reading this year for all Marist freshmen.  The book is based on the author’s childhood experience of immigrating illegally to the United States from Mexico and the long-term impact it had on her and her family.  She spoke before a crowd of more than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff in the McCann Center Arena. 

The subject of immigration is especially topical, given its prominence in the national political debate and the record numbers of migrants around the world.  Ms. Grande, who has been writing since the age of 13, was compelled to relate her own story because she couldn’t find any books about the experience of child immigrants.  She added, “We never talk about the mental and emotional toll [immigration] takes on immigrants.  Most immigrants suffer from trauma, and subconsciously I turned to writing to save myself.  It was a way to turn my pain into art.”  Fleeing dire poverty in Mexico, Ms. Grande’s father immigrated first to the United States when she was two, followed by her mother.  She and her siblings stayed behind with her grandmother before joining their parents in the United States several years later.  Ms. Grande was 10 years old.  The long separation took a toll, however, creating significant family discord and emotional fallout.  Through her writing, she has been able to explore the question of what immigration costs migrants.  Said Ms. Grande, “I’m still paying for my American dream.  The psychological violence of watching your family fall apart is the price I paid.” 

Reyna Grande at podium 

While the process of writing her memoir was painful, ultimately it helped Ms. Grande connect with her parents in a way she had been unable to before.  “I understood them better as human beings with flaws and virtues,” she said.  “My daughter is the same age now as I was when I crossed, and now I understand that my dad wanted to save me and give me a chance.  Now, I get to be the parent that stays, and I realize that this is the best gift my father ever gave me.”  Asked what she hoped Marist students would take away from reading her book, Ms. Grande responded that she would like students to “think about their own journey to adulthood.  I hope my story gives them guidance and hope to pursue their own dreams.”  

Kevin Gaugler, Associate Professor of Spanish and the Co-Director of First Year Seminars at Marist, indicated that the Common Reading Committee chose The Distance Between Us for several reasons.  Said Professor Gaugler, “Committee members were drawn to this well-written personal story of an individual’s struggles from childhood through adulthood, and they thought the book gave Marist students the opportunity to experience a modern immigrant story in the first person, as well as to consider the larger societal issues around that story.”  Added Professor of History Robyn Rosen, First Year Seminars Co-Director, “The committee
Gaugler, Grande, Rosentypically looks for a book that will start a meaningful intellectual conversation with freshmen in the hopes that it will carry through to residence halls, classroom discussions, and club activities throughout their first year at Marist.  In many ways, the common read sets a kind of academic theme to contemplate for the year.” 

About The First Year Seminar and Common Reading: 

The First-Year Seminar is the cornerstone of Marist’s Core curriculum, introducing students to the College as a learning community and offering them a wide range of topics designed to expand their academic horizons.  The campus-wide Common Reading provides a touchstone for First Year Seminar courses and for events and conversation throughout the Marist community as a whole.  This year, for the first time, the First Year Seminar Lecture was live-streamed so that students spending their freshman year at Marist’s Florence campus could also participate.  In addition to Ms. Grande’s talk, other events throughout the academic year invite students to reflect on the questions raised by the book.  The Common Reading is chosen by a committee that includes faculty from across the College and a student representative.  Past Common Reading selections include Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Crown, 2010), Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map (Riverhead, 2005), and Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore (Spiegel and Grau, 2011).   

About Reyna Grande: 

Ms. Grande has received an American Book Award, the El Premio Aztlán Literary Award, and the International Latino Book Award.  In 2012, she was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Awards, and in 2015 she was honored with a Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature.  Her works have been published internationally in Norway, South Korea, and Mexico.  She is a member of the Macondo Writer’s Workshop founded by Sandra Cisneros.  Currently, Ms. Grande teaches creative writing, travels across the country and abroad to give presentations about her books, and is at work on the sequel to The Distance Between Us.  Her earlier novels, Across a Hundred Mountains (Atria, 2006) and Dancing with Butterflies (Washington Square Press, 2009), were published to critical acclaim.

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