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Marianas Variety: NEA ‘Big Read’ kicks off on Saipan (February 5, 2019)

Every year, the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts picks 75 reading programs across the nation for its “Big Read” literacy event and for the first time, Pacific Historic Parks was able to obtain the grant for Saipan.

For one whole month, PHP will be hosting literary events at public schools, American Memorial Park, Joeten Kiyu Library and Northern Marianas College Borja Memorial Library to promote the joy and importance of reading.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read hopes to broaden understanding of the world and communities through the joy of sharing a good book.

PHP education program Manager Jaclyn Balajadia unveiled the chosen book for the tour Saturday afternoon at the American Memorial Park theater, which is a historical fiction novel entitled “When the Emperor was Divine” by Julie Otsuka.

“For this year’s NEA Big Read program, we selected the historical fiction novel ‘When the Emperor was Divine’ which tells a story of a Japanese American family sent to an internment camp in Utah during World War II. Themes of this book relate to the experiences of Saipan residents forced to live in camps after the war. The novel echoes the tragic and heartbreaking experiences of innocent civilians around the world affected by World War II. How appropriate, as this year marks the 75th anniversary for the Battle of Saipan,” said Balajadia.

“PHP has a strong history of collaborative efforts in offering a broad array of excellent and successful education programs. This program would not be possible without the partnership of the National Park Service, Joeten-Kiyu Public Library, NMI Humanities Council, CNMI Public School System, NMC, Carolinian Affairs Office and Historic Preservation Office,” she noted.

Guests at the NEA Big Read kick off were treated to a one on one discussion with the award-winning author Julie Otsuka via teleconference.

Otsuka shared that the story was inspired by her mother’s experience as a child in the internment camp.

Mount Carmel School principal Galvin Deleon Guerrero also shared three short films from their award-winning production of “We Drank Our Tears.”

National Park Service Lead Ranger Brooke Nevitt emphasized the partnership with PHP and other groups and encouraged the community to attend the activities at the park.

An avid reader, Miss Marianas Celine Cabrera also attended after doing reading to children at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library and reviewed a copy of the book.

“When the Emperor was Divine” is available for purchase at the AMP store. For more information, contact 234-7207.

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