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Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ selected for Eastern’s 2023 ‘Big Read’ program

Published on September 12, 2023

Madeline Miller’s ‘Circe’ selected for Eastern’s 2023 ‘Big Read’ program

book cover As part of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program, Eastern Connecticut State University students will have the opportunity to read Madeline Miller’s novel “Circe” and attend various community activities in theme with the book.

Eastern is one of 62 organizations to receive a Big Read grant from the NEA for 2023 and one of 40 to be awarded $20,000 -- the highest amount of support offered. It is Eastern’s fourth time being awarded the grant, which is meant to cultivate fruitful conversations, artistic expression and community engagement in participating organizations.

Based on Greek mythology, Miller’s “Circe” follows the titular character as she is cast out from her family and finds herself learning witchcraft. The book reimagines Homer’s “The Odyssey,” offering a feminist perspective that explores what it means to be a woman in a world dominated by men.

Professor of English and program organizer Allison Speicher said, “As an English professor, I get to see firsthand every day what it looks like for people to come together to discuss literature and how invigorating it can be to share your personal reactions to a text, to build on one another’s ideas, to pose new questions and to find others who think like you do and to be challenged by those who think differently.”

Eastern's Big Read program will open on Oct. 26 with a lecture by Vincent Tomasso, associate professor of classics at Trinity College, at 5 p.m. in the Student Center Theater.

Other upcoming events inspired by the book include an art exhibition in late October organized by Julia Wintner, Art Gallery director. Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honor Society), the Creative Writing Club and the Book Club will host a series of discussions in both fall and spring semesters, including two virtual discussions that allow readers to connect with students at the other state universities in Connecticut.

The keynote event will feature Miller herself, who will speak virtually with Eastern in early April, giving readers a chance to engage with th author directly.

Dean of Arts and Sciences Emily Todd said, “I am really excited about the enthusiastic response the novel has received from our students. Many of them are familiar with Madeline Miller's writing and seem eager to participate in book discussion groups about ‘Circe.’ We're thrilled about the wide range of Big Read campus events we have planned for this year and the opportunities to engage with the community as we explore Miller's novel together.”

Speicher and Todd encouraged Eastern students and members of the Willimantic community to engage with the text. Each event is open to the public, so everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

“We’ve selected a number of companion texts for younger readers,” said Speicher, including Mary Pope Osborne’s "Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1" and Rosie Dickens and Maribel Lechuga’s "Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls from the Greek Myths" for elementary-age readers; Sarah Underwood’s "Lies We Sing to the Sea" and Francesca Lia Block’s "Love in the Time of Global Warming" for high schoolers and older readers.

“We’ll be giving copies of these books and of ‘Circe’ to local libraries to share with readers as well as encouraging our many future teachers to bring the books to their clinical classrooms," she said. "We’ll also be sharing copies of ‘Circe’ with local senior centers.”

Students can get free copies of the book from Wintner or by contacting Speicher.

“‘Circe’ opens a remarkable range of ethical and artistic questions," said Speicher. "The Big Read promises to bring a rich array of voices into conversation, and for me, that’s what reading is all about. Word of mouth is a powerful way to bring people into our reading circle, so if there are people in your out-of-school life who would like to read and join the conversation, please don’t hesitate to ask us for copies of the book to share with them.”

Written by Marcus Grant