The Class of 2021 assembled in the McCann Center last week to hear a lecture from Reyna Grande, author of the 2017-18 Common Read The Distance Between Us. As required reading for all incoming freshman, the Common Read serves as a unifying factor, connecting students of vastly different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. The book serves as a topic of conversation specifically in First Year Seminar classes, but also throughout the Marist community.
The Distance Between Us is Grande’s memoir and recounts her journey from living in poverty in Mexico to then crossing the border into the United States and navigating life as an undocumented immigrant. Filled with both heartbreaking and inspirational anecdotes, Grande’s coming-of-age story has garnered critical acclaim and has even been adapted as a young reader’s edition.
In her address to Marist students, Grande emphasized how writing became an “act of survival” amidst her traumatic upbringing. She became an avid reader and writer, but struggled to find literature relatable to her personal experiences. Her teacher at UC Santa Cruz then gave her a life-altering piece of advice: “Sometimes you need to write the book you want to read.”
Driven by a desire to fill this void in literature, Grande published two novels, Across a Hundred Mountains in 2006 and Dancing with Butterflies in 2009. At a question-and-answer session preceding the lecture, Grande disclosed to students in attendance that she had attempted to start her memoir in her early 20s; however, she found reliving such visceral, traumatic memories to be too painful, and “hid behind fiction.” Eventually, Grande found relief and strength in facing her fears, publishing her memoir in 2012.
“It’s when you confront your demons that you can really heal,” Grande said.
Isabelle Christie attended the meet-and-greet in the Cornell Boathouse as well as the lecture and was impressed by Grande’s presentation skills. “I felt like at the boathouse she was much more conversational and showed her humorous side,” Christie said. “I think she did a good job of blending the current events and current policies and statistics with her own personal stories. It was a good blend of informative and personal.”
Jasmine Miller, 18, felt similarly. “She understood the setting she was in and played to her strengths in those settings,” Miller said.
The Distance Between Us marks the fifth year of the Common Read in the Marist Core and now joins previous books, including Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore (2011) and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003).