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Author inspires students at Adele Harrison Middle School

Thursday, January 31st, 2013 | Posted by

Eighth-grader Crystal Rodriguez displays an autographed book signed by author Reyna Grande, at right. Crystal’s mother, Rocio, also attended the presentation.

There’s already a waiting list at Adele Harrison Middle School for the memoir, “The Distance Between Us,” by award-winning Latina author Reyna Grande, who visited the school this week to read excerpts and visit with students.

The middle schoolers gathered with Adele staff and community members, about 450 total, to hear about Grande’s life before and after illegally entering the U.S. from Guerrero, Mexico at age 9.

In her memoir, Grande writes about being left in Mexico with her grandparents and two siblings after her parents both left for the United States. Grande was just 2 when her father left, 4 when her mother joined him.

The author recounted the devastation of living in emotional and physical poverty while her father pursued his dream of earning enough money in the U.S. to build a home for his family.

Adele students, many of them Hispanic, were touched by Grande’s struggles – and her accomplishments. She is the first person in her family to have a higher education. Grande earned an MFA in creative writing from Antioch College and teaches writing at UCLA.

Several students could personally relate to Grande’s life experiences.

“My mom lived almost the same life as Reyna,” said eighth-grader Brenda Ramos. “She tells me that I am so lucky because I did not have to experience the life she led.”

Seventh-grader José Aguayo was inspired by Grande’s determination to write. The author told the audience she struggled in elementary school when she first arrived in the U.S. She recalled entering a writing competition in the fifth grade, only to have her work “put in the discard pile” because it was written in Spanish.

José found Grande’s treatment especially mean. However, Grande told students that by eighth grade she entered another writing contest with her entry submitted in English – and won.

Through writing, Grande was able to bridge her Mexican heritage and her life in the United States. She encouraged students to never give up on their dreams.

Adele Principal Karla Conroy purchased copies of “The Distance Between Us” for each language arts class and several for the school library. Many of those were autographed by the author.

Grande’s visit was arranged by Cathy Wedell, an Adele language arts teacher who read the memoir in her book club and thought students would enjoy meeting the author and hearing her story.

Kathy Eschleman, a fellow Adele language arts teacher, donated her cottage to the author during her two-night visit. Grande also appeared in Petaluma and at Readers’ Books, where bookstore owner Andy Weinberger recommended the book as one of their suggested titles during the holiday season.

Grande, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children, is a sought-after speaker at middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities across the country.

“The Distance Between Us” is her third book. The Los Angeles Times called it “a brutally honest book… the ‘Angela’s Ashes’ of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”

Earlier this month the National Book Critics Circle named “The Distance Between Us” a finalist in autobiography for its 2012 awards.

– Dianne Reber Hart

  • http://hhudelson@sbcglobal.net Homer and Gloria Hudelson

    My wife and I really enjoyed reading The Distance Between Us and proud of our daughter, Cathy Wedell, for getting Reyna Grande to come to her school and speak to the students and staff. It was a wonderful experience. Bravo! Kudos!

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Dianne Reber Hart is our Sonoma correspondent.

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