Story. Art. Community.

What happens when a few high school teachers and students team up to create an event for the whole community?

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After months of meeting and brainstorming, these hardworking students and their dedicated teachers watched their idea come to life: a community-centered art project that could echo the themes of our 2016 Big Read, Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. They teamed up with Ann Chuchvara and Mandy Cano, two talented artists, to design a project that community members could all create together in response to real-life immigration stories from West Michigan.

At 2 o’ clock on a warm Saturday, cultureWorks welcomed around 65 people through their doors. Guests stuck a nametag to their shirt on their way in. Lots of students from local students were in attendance, as well as families and Holland residents who were ready to listen and make.

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To begin the program, we were instructed to jot down certain words and phrases that stood out to us from the stories, since we’d be using them later. We listened to students read the stories written by people who had immigrated to West Michigan, and one community member read his own story. The audience laughed as the stories described light-hearted moments of miscommunication and cultural differences, but also listened intently to the struggles and obstacles that come with making such a big transition.IMG_1248IMG_1252

After the stories were told Chuchvara and Cano explained that the group would be creating an installation art piece that afternoon, made up of hundreds of individual reflections on the stories shared, and our fingerprints representing the many personal identities that make up the Holland area. The medium? Tracing paper. “It’s a weak, wimpy material,” as Cano put it, that represents the “fragility” of the immigration experience.

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We all got right to work. Quickly the room was bustling with inky fingertips and the fragrance and symphony of Sharpies scribbling on strips of tracing paper. Words and images from the stories were scrawled everywhere you looked- “transition,” “chicken biscuit,” “hybrid,” “nervous.” The space had great energy, and it didn’t take long for feathery masses to pile up at the end of the tables. I was surprised at how quickly the collection grew, and there was something so profound about seeing all those snippets of stories grouped together. It reminded me of the way so many of our stories overlap and blend into one another.

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I can’t wait to see the final product! The artists let us know that after pieces are strung together, it will be installed in the Holland Armory to be displayed during the Student Learning Exhibition on November 17. Hope to see you there!

By: Lauren Sweers

Children’s Author Reading: Anne Sibley O’Brien

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On the bright and crisp Saturday morning of November 5th , Holland’s “The Big Read” continued with an author spotlight on Anne Sibley O’Brien.  With her new book, I’m New Here, O’Brien explored the complexities of being new in school, which older readers can parallel with Brother, I’m Dying.   

At 11:00 in the morning, about 70 adults and kids, ranging in ages from 3 to 11, sat captivated O’Brien’s beautiful story about three children from different countries finding a home in the United States.  

The event started off with a song, “I’m Feeling Wonderful”, in which the author introduced how accepting others makes everyone feel wonderful, and afterwards, Anne Sibley O’ Brien read her book, I’m New Here .    

She and the children had a wonderful discussion about what it feels like to be new or different in a place, with emotional responses.  One little girl replied that being different made a person feel like “ your heart might blow up”, and another little boy replied that being new can also be “fun and exciting”.

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The children then drew how they might welcome someone new, such as playing with the person or inviting them to their house.   This was a delightful event that was enjoyed by all and encouraged everyone to get reading.

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Anne Sibley O’ Brien is the author of 36 children books.  She lives in Maine with her children and grandchildren, and she has a blog entitled “Coloring Between the Lines”.  

By: Emma Jones

The Big Read Kick-Off 2016

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Members of the Holland community, Hope College students and faculty, and employees of Herrick District Library gathered around 7 p.m. in the Knickerbocker Theater Tuesday November 1 to kickoff the 2016 Holland Area Big Read. The event was three TED-Talk style presentations given by three Hope College professors. The night began with opening remarks from Deb Van Duinen, coordinator of the student committee, and Mayor of Holland Nancy DeBoer about how reading brings us together as a community.

Dr. Jonathan Hagood began the talks discussing the historical context of Brother I’m Dying in his presentation “How Do We K now? Danticat and the Art of Historical Thinking.” He addressed the five C’s of history, which included change, context, causality, contingency, and complexity.

Second was Dr. Pauline Remy with her presentation “Kréyol, Folktales and Family Life in Brother, I’m Dying.” She discussed how Danticat’s writing reflects the vibrancy of the Haitian culture, and how faith of community and in God is at the core of the novel.

The final presenter was Dr. Natalie Dykstra whose talk was titled “Two Haitian Fathers: Where Memoir Meets Biography. She discussed how Danticat weaves biographical evidence and her own memories to create a stirring memoir.

The night ended with an audience Q and A and closing remarks from Eva Dean Folkert, a member of the Steering committee. Overall the event was a smashing success!

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By: Lauren Duistermars

Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried

Thank you to all who joined us on Thursday to hear author Tim O’Brien speak. We had a great turnout both in the morning at the Knickerbocker Theater with high school students and Thursday night at The Commons of Evergreen.

Here’s a recap of his talk on Thursday night:

On the stories we tell:

  • they appeal to our emotions and heart, not just our head
  • they help us to heal
  • they give us comfort and company
  • they remind us we’re all a part of something
  • they bind us to the past and to the future
  • they bind us to our children and our loved ones

On writing:

  1. avoid flowery writing
  2. avoid excessive alliteration
  3. use active language
  4. don’t be afraid to lie (when writing fiction). Write about what could’ve/should’ve/almost happened

He reminded us that the truth evolves over time. The reasons for the Vietnam War were and are ambiguous, but we should honor our troops and make an effort to hear them share their stories.

Thank you for another great year!

Give Back to Veteran’s Play Group

Thank you to all who joined us last night at Herrick District Library to see the Give Back to Veteran’s Play Group perform.

We read a book, participated in a craft, learned about the war, and worked alongside a service project called A Million Thanks and another local organization benefiting vets both locally and globally.

We look forward to our feature author, Tim O’Brien, to join us tomorrow at 7pm at The Commons of Evergreen.

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“Moral Injury After War”: Colonel Herman Keizer, Jr.

Thanks to all who attended Colonel Herman Keizer, Jr.’s talk last night regarding moral injury after war. He explained to us the ways that moral injury differs from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD is a fear-victim reaction to extreme conditions that damage the limbic brain. Moral injury is a reaction of the conscience.” – Herman Keizer

For those of you who have read the novel The Things They Carried, Herman Keizer suggests that you reread the story where he goes to Minnesota for a story on moral injury in the book.

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Telling Our Stories

The following is a transcript between my uncle and I about his experience in the Vietnam War.

Can you tell me about your experience and how you got involved in the war?

Well, I’m a retired soldier, I was in the military for 20 years. I went in the military of May of 1968 and retired June 1st, 1988.

Why did you enlist?

Well, back then, back in the 1960’s it was kind of a young guy’s duty. Almost everybody joined the military at that time unless they were medically disqualified. Which is different today, but back then almost everybody went in. A lot of my friends were going in. It was more red, white, and blue; duty to country.

When you enlisted, did you know you would be going to Vietnam?

The war went on, and it was a 13 year war, and it started right around 1962-63 somewhere in there, so when I went in 68 I had a feeling I had a chance I would go.

What happened once you enlisted?

Actually, it was two years. After I went in the military I went to aviation. So I had to go to aviation school down in Alabama. And then my first tour of duty overseas was in Korea. And then when I came back from Korea, it was less than a year later that I was sent to Vietnam.

Can you talk about Vietnam?

I entered Vietnam July of 1970, and I left in January of 1972. So I was there a total of 18 months. When I was in Vietnam I was what they call a helicopter door gunner.

What was Vietnam like?

Hot. Very, very hot. No showers, food was awful, all we ate was rations. It was just hot and miserable. The jungles were thick.

What was your role while you were there?

As a helicopter door gunner, we flew seven days a week. And I stood in the door and if we drew fire, we would return fire, and then we just went around looking for trouble. Ya know, seeing if we could locate the enemy on the ground in the jungle by blowing the branches back with our blades.

What would you say was your most significant experience while in Vietnam?

I would say, for the good part, I crashed seven times and never got hurt. That’s the good part. The bad part is, I lost so many good friends that were with me and you just can’t understand how somebody could be sitting six to eight inches away from you and didn’t make it but yet you did. That’s the bad part.

How was it that you weren’t hurt in all those crashes?

Don’t know. Just lucky stars. God watching over me I guess. I still think about those guys in the helicopter with me. Even today, even after 47 years I still have dreams about it.

What was your experience coming back?

Awful. People spit on us, calling us baby killers; just awful. There was no parade like they get today. There was no welcome home or anything like that. We kinda had to hide that we were in the military as best we could so we didn’t get bothered at airports and things like that. We’d been through hell. You gotta remember when you go over and you’re 19, 20 years old, you become an old man real fast. Old woman too, there’s a lot of female nurses over there too, they should be honored just as much as the men were. Putting body parts back together, I mean those girls worked hard.

What was something you learned or something you took away from this experience?

It’s just water under the bridge, a thing of the past. Now I’ve been retired for almost 28 years now, so just keep marching forward.  When I first came home I thought about how spoiled the Americans were. We have so much and we just take everything for granted, and sometimes I think we need to stop and take time, and appreciate what we do have. We get to go to sleep every night and get up every morning, don’t have to be looking over your shoulder. You go to school, you go to work, you can do whatever you want to do; a lot of countries don’t have that. We gotta really be thankful for what we have.

What does it mean to you that so many people are coming together to read and talk about a book about the Vietnam war?

I think a lot of guys who were over there are probably really grateful that a story like theirs is finally being heard. It’s not like today when those boys who come back from Iraq and stuff and they can talk about what they saw and what happened. We didn’t do that. When I got back from Vietnam it was like those two years didn’t exist. We didn’t talk about it – we kept our heads down and our uniforms hidden. A lot of people don’t know what happened in Vietnam because of that, none of the boys coming back talked so no one knew. I think it’s great that our stories are finally being told, and young people are willing to listen.

Bruce M. Bullock U.S. Army Retired

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The Stories We Choose to Tell: How Do They Shape Us?

Through collaboration with our area high schools and middle schools throughout the Ottawa area, we were able to showcase a variety of videography, photography, text and audio recordings at the Holland Armory, which represented the way that the act of story-telling influences the way that we understand and perceive ourselves and others.

Thank you to all who joined us!

When we can join together in a way that transcends age and builds community, we often find that we grow with one another in an unexpected way.

Join us next week for more events and book discussions!

Veteran’s Day Memorial at The Commons of Evergreen

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It was great to see you all at The Commons of Evergreen last night as The Holland Area Veterans Council presented their Annual Veterans Day Program.

Thank you to the Holland American Legion Band for playing music.

In addition, it was humbling to see the Michigan Vietnam Wall memorial on display at The Commons of Evergreen, naming 2,648 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War.

Over 22 veterans from the Vietnam War were able to attend, as well as many others who served in the wars throughout our history.

Over 300 people attended the event tonight.

See you Friday at the Holland Armory for area middle school and high school’s exhibition of “The Stories We Choose to Tell: How Do They Shape Us?”

“A Musical Journey to Vietnam with Van-Anh Vo”

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It was great to see all those who attended the event “A Musical Journey to Vietnam with Van-Anh Vo” at St. Francis de Sales last night.

As an Emmy award-winning zitherplayer (among other instruments, as her biography states), the experience of hearing traditional music of North, Central and Southern Vietnam; Western collaborations; and her own composition using Vietnamese instruments alongside the Hope College jazz students and faculty was an event that was an encouraging way to see and feel a different part of Vietnam, which many of us are unfamiliar with.

Join us tonight at The Commons of Evergreen at 7pm for The Holland Area Veterans Council;s Annual Veterans Day Program presentation.