By Corey Arnold
This Tuesday, Jan. 29, author Conor Grennan will visit Villanova University’s campus as part of the One Book Villanova celebration. Grennan will be available for a number of events throughout the day, the first of which will be a book signing in the Speakers’ Corner on the library’s first floor at 1:30 p.m.
In preparation for this exciting event, we’ve asked Joe Lucia, director of Falvey Memorial Library and co-founder of the One Book Villanova series, to talk about Grennan’s book Little Princes. He’s also shared with us a few moments from the One Book Villanova past. Read the interview below and, if you haven’t already, be sure to pick up a copy of this lovely and inspirational book before Grennan’s lecture and book signing on Tuesday.
CA: Tell me about this year’s book selection, Conor Grennan’s Little Princes. Is there a common theme that connects Grennan’s book to past One Book selections?
JL: Conor Grennan’s Little Princes tells a remarkable story of self-discovery and self-transformation, starting with a young man’s personal adventures in Nepal and ending with his quest to reconnect young children sold into servitude during civil war with their lost families. The narrative takes us into remote and often dangerous regions in the high reaches of the Himalayas at the same time that it charts an inward journey toward the recognition of compassion and love as motives to action on behalf of the victims of human trafficking. Grennan’s narrative is full of action and intrigue but derives its power from the moments of kindness and affection that drive a twenty-something American on a mission to serve others. We are excited to hear Conor Grennan speak in person about his experiences in Nepal and his ongoing commitment to the betterment of children’s lives there through the work of his foundation, Next Generation Nepal.
A characteristic of most of our One Book Villanova selections has been personal narrative about major transformative events in individual lives—whether those events transpire in fictional or non-fictional works. In many ways, the greatest commonality among the books we’ve chosen thus far has been what you could call a “coming of age” thematic, or perhaps more precisely stories about psychological and moral growth grounded in experiences of personal loss, social disruption, and historical calamity. That puts it in rather dry and schematic terms, given that all of the books we’ve chosen thus far have been distinguished by a rich, particular personalism that conveys the taste and texture of very specific event and circumstances. We’ve also tried hard to keep a multi-cultural focus at the heart of our selections, to open thereby a view to the larger world beyond the comfortable confines of Villanova, especially for our students.
CA: Do you have a favorite memory from past One Book years—perhaps an encounter with another reader, or a moment during one of the lecture events?
JL: There really are too many wonderful moments from our seven prior years of One Book events to pick just one. A highlight every year is the Community Dinner, at which Dining Services pulls out all the stops and creates a meal that reflects the culture and cuisine in that year’s book. The year we read Mahbod Seraji’s Rooftops of Tehran, the chefs preparing the dinner managed to track down someone in the Philadelphia area who was familiar with the rose-petal flavored ice cream that plays a role in the story. That ice cream was a featured dessert that evening to the astonishment and delight of our author, who even wrote about it after the event on his blog, I believe. Of course, every year I glory in the hundreds of students streaming in to hear the author talk and to get books signed. Over and over each year I have listened as students have told visiting authors how deeply the books have touched them, how much of a connection they’ve felt with specific characters and situations. In particular, the year we had Immaculee Ilibagiza as our author, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, we had many people weeping in her presence as she inscribed their books. To witness that abiding emotional power of storytelling and of the written word in time so saturated with trivial digital distractions is a joy indeed.
But there is one moment that stands out as a particular pinnacle. It came in the second year of the program, when we had Timothy Tyson as our author. His book Blood Done Sign My Name, tells the story of a particularly brutal race murder in North Carolina in the 1970s and then connects those events to the unfolding drama of the civil rights era in the preceding and subsequent decades. Professor Tyson brought with him an African American gospel singer—Mary B. Washington—with whom he often presents. Before his lecture began, the Connelly Center’s Villanova room was darkened and Ms. Washing entered from the room and walked through the audience as the lights came halfway up, singing a series of spirituals from the African American tradition. It was stunning, dramatic, and it evoked tears from many people in that room. When she was done singing, Prof. Tyson opened his talk by addressing the power of that music. It remains one of the high points in my lifelong experience of attending cultural and intellectual programs. I still shake my head in awe thinking back on it.
CA: I understand that the One Book series began from a kind of chance encounter. Could you say a little bit about that?
JL: Shortly after we renovated the first floor in 2004, we began sponsoring events in the new Holy Grounds Café. After one of those events in mid-September, just a few weeks after the café opened (it was a faculty book talk, I think) Dr. Terry Nance (Associate VP for Multicultural Affairs) and I struck up a conversation about our mutual interest in enhancing the intellectual and cultural climate at Villanova, and to be more specific how to put conversations about books closer to the center of community life. I mentioned to her my interest in the sorts of large-scale community reading programs that were becoming then common at large urban public libraries. That very afternoon the seed for One Book Villanova was planted. We quickly agreed that those programs might provide a good model for starting something at Villanova. Within a few weeks we’d recruited our friend Tom Mogan from Student Development and assembled an ad hoc committee to discuss what we might be able to do for the next academic year. We solicited nominations for possible books from the campus community, with great success, and ultimately had selected The Kite Runner as our first One Book, a few months before the book broke out nationally on the New York Times bestseller list. We had the inaugural year of the program in place within a year of that initial chance encounter. I see this a testament to the power of libraries as common meeting grounds in communities to provide opportunities for serendipitous encounters that enrich our collective social and cultural experience — and increase our creativity!
CA: What’s your vision for the One Book series going into the future? Any books on the radar, or is it too early to say?
JL: We are still working on selecting next year’s title. Can’t say much yet other than we are looking for a book that may be a bit of a departure from our accustomed types of books—perhaps something surprising and provocative in a new way. Next year will be our ninth year. We are also planning a big celebration for the tenth year. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up.
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