The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Fiesta!

The Ballet Folklorico Mexicano de Nueva York performing at the New Rochelle Public Library's Fiesta Grande Kick-Off. Photo by Barbara Davis, courtesy of the New Rochelle Public Library

The Big Read season is well under way, and we've seen a lot of communities start things off with some amazing kick-off events. The folks over at the New Rochelle (NY) Public Library began their Big Read a few weeks ago with their Fiesta Grande Kick-Off, where they created an art center and marketplace to celebrate Sun, Stone, and Shadows. Local artisans demonstrated traditional Mexican crafts, vendors sold Mexican wares and food, and there were performances by Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York and Mariachi Tapatio de Alvaro Paulino, and more. We chatted over e-mail with Barbara Davis, the New Rochelle Public Library's community relations coordinator, to learn more about this fantastic event and the rest of their plans for The Big Read.

NEA: Your kick-off event sounds like one of the best ever, with so many of the arts represented: dance, music, folk and traditional arts, and of course, literature. Can you tell us more about it? How it went? What was your favorite part?

BARBARA DAVIS: I was so fortunate to have such wonderful partners in coordinating this event. The same group of artists who will have helped with our annual Day of the Dead exhibits---and will be helping with the Big Read culminating exhibit and program---were unbelievably supportive. They were able to arrange for the participation of so many excellent performing and fine artists, as well as vendors of Mexican crafts, wares, and food. Decorating for the event began days in advance---with final preparations at 6:30 am on Sunday the 16th. Our other partner, the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) made possible the fabulous craft projects for families to create and take home. The weather was perfect, and so was the huge crowd of attendees.

The best part of the day? The enthusiasm for our Big Read title! We ordered 800 copies (400 in English and 400 in Spanish). Four days after the kick-off and we have only about 100 copies remaining (with more being ordered). Certainly, our stellar Big Read Reader’s Theater Troupe helped in generating the excitement, as they presented four selections from the book to the appreciative audience.

NEA: What made you choose Sun, Stone, and Shadows as your book this year?

DAVIS: The library’s staff, volunteers, and community partners were unanimous in the choice of Sun, Stone, and Shadows because the stories and introduction are so well-written in Spanish and in English translation. The fact that this is a book of short stories is also a tremendous plus, as short stories are less intimidating to reluctant readers---they can be read by those with minimal discretionary time, and they are ideal for commuters.

We also recognize that this book can achieve great things for our community. Although New Rochelle prides itself on its remarkable diversity, interaction between those who speak English in their homes, and those who speak Spanish remains minimal. We believe the city-wide reading of Sun, Stone, and Shadows will not only foster a love of reading, it will foster better understanding among people living in our city.

NEA: What has been your community’s reaction to The Big Read? What has been the biggest surprise from your experience with The Big Read?

DAVIS: We announced the award of our Big Read grant at an International Music and Dance performance on July 17. Following a fabulous show by the Calpulli Mexican Dance Troupe, our Big Read project assistant, Maria Torres, and I announced the project (in English and Spanish). The response of the 150 attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Since, and with great enthusiasm, community members helped organize the Fiesta Grande for September 16 as well as other related projects throughout New Rochelle. The list of venues hosting book discussions---including the hospital, synagogues, and churches, and college and community organizations---is growing each day. The high school and middle school teachers and administrators also immediately and wholeheartedly embraced the book and the project. I have been surprised by the great number of individuals and groups who have sought me out in order to join in the planning efforts.

NEA: What are some of the other events for this year’s Big Read that you’re especially looking forward to?

DAVIS: Over the summer, we had nine New Rochelle High School students and graduates meeting once a week with a professional theater instructor to read and explore the stories of Sun, Stone, and Shadows. They rehearsed dramatic presentations of the stories and now, as the NRPL Big Read Readers Theater Troupe, they are going out into the community to perform. Their premier was at the kick-off event, then an evening at a Rotary Club meeting, followed the next day by three presentations for 600 of their high school peers. The students and their instructor, Rachel Goren, are phenomenal. I think they will be tremendous ambassadors.

Our culminating event will also be wonderful. Coinciding with NRPL’s fifth annual Day of the Dead observance, this year’s exhibit will be created by the group of Mexican artists who have built the previous---and amazing---exhibits, in conjunction with New Rochelle High School (NRHS) art students. The exhibition of the elaborate papier-mâché figures and ofrendas will be presented at the Museum of Arts and Culture at NRHS. A finale reception in November will include live performances of Aztec dance and rituals, music, and readings by student---all inspired by Sun, Stone, and Shadows.

NEA: Any last words?

DAVIS: We are looking forward to keeping up the momentum from the kick-off to make this project a true community-wide endeavor!

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