Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
Lamar State College-Orange in partnership with the Lamar University Department of English and Modern Languages, the Lamar University Mary and John Gray Library, the Orange Public Library, the Stark Museum of Art, the Port Arthur Public Library, Little Cypress-Mauriceville CISD, Bridge City ISD, West Orange-Cove CISD and AAUW Bookends book club announce the Big Read’s upcoming spring events.
LSC-O received a grant last fall to host the Southeast Texas Big Read in Orange and Jefferson Counties. The selection for the Big Read is the 1972 book “Bless Me Ultima,” by Rudolfo Anaya, a coming-of-age story about a young Hispanic boy set in 1940’s New Mexico.
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The grant is to help promote and carry out community-based reading programs, featuring several activities between LSC-O, Lamar University, the Stark Museum and the other partners. The month of April was declared Big Read Month by Jefferson County on March 4, and the Orange County Commissioner’s Court will hold a proclamation March 25 stating the same thing.
“This is a chance for Orange and Jefferson Counties to show the rest of the nation that we are more than just ‘Small Town, USA,’” said Mary J. McCoy, director of Library Services at LSC-O. “We believe in reading and we believe in our communities.”
Several years ago, Orange participated in the Big Read sponsored by the Houston Public Library and read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” According to McCoy, everyone enjoyed it and informally discussed writing a grant.
“The Stark Museum was very interested, but wanted to partner with others, and one of the partners needed to be a library according to grant guidelines,” said McCoy. “Several of us began calling those we thought would be interested and the partnership was born.”
The Stark Museum of Art is joining in on the Big Read with an exhibition entitled “Wild Beauty: the New Mexico Setting,” which drew inspiration from “Bless Me Ultima.” Visitors to the exhibition will see works by Taos and Santa Fe artists, such as Ernest Martin Hennings, Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest Leonard Blumenschein, Nicolai Fechin and Georgia O’Keeffe. To stress the connection with the novel, quotes from the book are placed in different sections of the exhibition, both in English and in Spanish. The museum will also provide tours in Spanish upon request.
While the Hispanic population continues to grow in the Southeast Texas area, they bring to each community many exciting and diverse cultural traditions. With this influx of cultural traditions, it provides opportunity for the community to make use of multicultural learning. Multicultural learning allows individuals from the Hispanic community, as well as people of other backgrounds, the chance to learn from each other and better understand each other as a people and as a culture.
Denise Chavez, a well-known Hispanic author, social activist, educator and performer, will read and discuss selections from “Bless Me, Ultima,” at 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, the Mary and John Gray Library at Lamar University, and at 6:30 p.m., April 25, at the Lutcher Theater. Chavez will be speaking about Anaya and his novel at the Lutcher Theater, and about her own works and expertise at Lamar University.
McCoy says Chavez’s writings are often compared to Anaya’s and that the two have had contact over the years. Chavez will read selections from “Ultima” and discuss issues surrounding Hispanic culture.
Jim Sanderson, chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Lamar University, and Catalina Castillon, associate professor of Spanish at Lamar will lead discussions about the book and its setting. Castillon will be at 6 p.m., March 26, at the Ron E. Lewis Library at LSC-O, along with the American Association of University Women’s book group. She will answer questions and highlight key points in the narrative, as well as place the novel in a real-world context.
“Very few people know, for example, how many Spanish newspapers were published in the United States in the 18th and 19th century,” said Castillon. “These publications really speak to the bilingual nature of the populations in different regions and how it affects the culture.”
“I am hoping Catalina’s discussion will light a fire within each of us to understand and to value the Hispanic culture in our community,” said McCoy.
Castillon will also discuss “Anaya’s ‘Bless Me,Ultima’ and the Literary Tradition of Hispanics in the US” April 11, at 7 p.m. at the Mary and John Gray Library. Sanderson will discuss the “History and Cultures of New Mexican-Americans and Texan Americans” April 4, at 7 p.m. at the Mary and John Gray Library. Sanderson’s presentation will look at the historical and geographical background of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, focusing on three groups. These groups include Native Americans, Anglos and Hispanics, and the tension that arose between them.
Castillon said reading Hispanic literature can help one gain insight into a growing population in the United States.
“Literature can really provide a window into another culture and teach you about a different way of life and a different way of looking at the world,” she said. “I encourage everyone to participate and learn about the Hispanic culture. By doing so, you will belong to the biggest book club in America just by reading the book and participating in the activities. Hopefully one will discover not only things about the Chicano culture, but also things about herself as well.”
The Lutcher Theater will also sponsor a theatrical showing of the movie adaptation of “Bless Me, Ultima” at 6:30 p.m., April 18. It is free and open to the community. It will also show in theaters in Houston and other large metropolitan areas.
The exhibition at the Stark Museum of Art will be open to the public during the museum public hours, from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and will be on display March 16 through June 8.
“We are pleased to be able to partner with groups in the area to bring the National Endowment of the Arts Big Read to Southeast Texas,” said McCoy. “Any programs and events that promote reading benefit all the members of our communities and make our communities better places to live. The partners organize programming, but only the community participation will ensure a successful SETX Big Read this spring.”