A Look At: Grand Valley State

Grand Valley State LogoBrian Jbara from Grand Valley State Community Reads explains how his community comes together for a common book.

Would you tell us a bit about your program?  For instance how long has Grand Valley State been hosting the Community Reading Project, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

The program is in its 11th year, and is focused on including all of campus and community (unlike first year read, per se). It was started specifically to provide interdisciplinary learning opportunities across campus, and to this day, it has stayed true to that. Each year we try to select a different themed book that addresses big issues or ideas, is accessible, and is “sticky” in nature: we want discussions to entail multiple perspectives.

How long have you been involved in the Community Reading Project? What have you learned from this position?

This is my third full year on the project. I’ve learned a lot about working with a diverse group of people, all of whom have unique interests and goals for a program. It’s exciting but really requires a delicate balance.

What did you learn from last year’s program that is helping you this year?  What are you changing; what worked well?

I’ve learned specifically about the value of adapting and being flexible. The best-laid plans never work out as you anticipate, so keeping things open and flexible is key to keeping everything together, especially during the author visit!

What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a university-wide Common Reads Program?

Ask around; share advice and best practices. Some of the most helpful ideas have come from other universities that have already done something or that have tried and not been successful.

Any suggestions for what you’d like to see from the BooksInCommon.org website and newsletter that would be helpful to other event organizers?

I always love updates on what other programs are doing. I also love hearing about new, up-and-coming authors and books that could be of interest.

Do you have any examples of bridging diversity in a community by coming together around a book?

Each year we partner with the Herrick Library in Holland, Michigan. Last year’s book, The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, provided a unique opportunity for the hispanic community to provide insight on the topic of immigration, and specifically, to share stories about friends and family who were undocumented and the experiences they went through.

What are some of your fondest or most notable memories from past events?

I always love the conversations. Last year in particular, it was great to have young Hispanic students from the community stand up and ask the author about her advice for them, since they were undocumented. It was incredible to see how brave these young people were, and how determined they were to seek a better life for themselves.

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