Art Works Blog

Nonfiction Joins the Big Read

Author Ellen Hopkins once said that, “Nonfiction speaks to the head. Fiction speaks to the heart. Poetry speaks to the soul.” But Edwidge Danticat’s memoir, Brother I’m Dying, simultaneously does all three.

Today, Brother, I’m Dying became the first nonfiction book to join the Big Read library, and will be available for communities applying for a 2015-16 Big Read grant. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the book tells the story of Danticat’s family, and their journey from Haiti to the United States. Danticat herself came to the U.S. at age 12, joining her parents after years of being raised by an uncle. Danticat’s poignant family saga is entwined with immigration issues and Haiti's own narrative, making the book as much about history as it is about heartbreak, tradition, and courage.

Earlier this year, Danticat received an honorary degree from Brooklyn College. During the ceremony, she spoke about this virtue of courage, which she herself has exhibited both in life and in her writing. In her advice to students receiving their master’s degrees, she said:

“Be brave in spirit. Be brave in mind. Because only those with imagination and courage are able to reach beyond the ordinary and take us to the next frontier. Be brave too in not being afraid to fail, because there will be plenty of missteps on your way to getting where you want to go from this place. Don’t look for adversity but you may not fully appreciate your blessings if things always go well. Be brave of heart. Be brave in love. Be brave with your openness, your patience and tolerance, your empathy, and compassion too. Be brave one step, one action, one decision at a time. Be brave in private. Be brave in public, and try to be brave consistently.”

  Edwidge Danticat Receives Honorary Doctorate from Brooklyn College

A video of the speech in full is above. For more information about applying for a Big Read grant, please visit the Big Read website, or follow along on Twitter at @NEABigRead.

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