Speaking to a standing-room-only audience of Montclair State University students, faculty, and staff, award-winning author and educator Reyna Grande shared her life story and talked about her work at a special lecture series event in the Student Center on March 3. Sponsored by the Latino/a Caucus, the event was the second in an annual lecture series featuring prominent Latino and Latina speakers.
The author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novels, Across A Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies, Grande, as the audience soon learned, is also an exceptionally determined and courageous woman who has overcome daunting challenges to become the success that she is today.
Projecting a photograph of herself at age two on the screen, Grande began telling her story by saying, “Every time I see this picture, I always feel a little sad because three months after this photograph was taken, my father left. That was when he came to the U.S.”
From that beginning, Grande went on to detail the many hardships she and her siblings endured as they watched their mother follow their father to the U.S. a few years later, and were left to spend the years that followed living with their grandmother.
When she was nine, Grande and her siblings were finally able to join their parents in the U.S. by being smuggled across the border. “We tried the crossing twice and we got caught,” she recalled. “Those two times we were taken back to Tijuana. But the third time, we made it—we made it at night.”
Grande spoke of the difficulties of adjusting to life in the U.S. and making do with very little. She spoke no English but still had to attend school and through perseverance and hard work, she eventually taught herself to read and write English, and later to become proficient at speaking it. Through her determination to get an education, and with the help and encouragement of a caring teacher, she went on to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree, and eventually, an acclaimed writer.
Across A Hundred Mountains arose from Grande’s desire to write a book about her life, but finding it emotionally difficult, she decided to make it a work of fiction rather than an autobiography. The novel was a critical success and received the El Premio Aztlan Literary Award in 2006 and an American Book Award the following year.
Her second novel, Dancing with Butterflies, was equally well-received and won a 2010 International Latino Book Award in its “Best Women’s Issues” category.
After relating her inspirational story, Grande took time to answer questions and meet with students and Caucus members.
Co-sponsors of the event included the Center for Academic Development and Assessment, the Center for Writing Excellence, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of the Arts, the Creative Research Center, the Department of Human Resources, the Division of Student Development and Campus Life, the English Department, Latin American and Latino Studies, the Latin American Student Organization, the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students, the Multicultural Psychology Student Association, the Office of Equity and Diversity, the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, the President’s Commission on Affirmative Action and Diversity,the Psychology Club, the Spanish and Italian Department, the Upward Bound Program, and the Women and Gender Studies Program.
See more photos from the event.