In the Time of the Butterflies – The Big Read at Columbia College Chicago

The Columbia College Chicago Library is a three time grant recipient of The Big Read, a nationwide reading initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts designed to "revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.”  Grants are awarded based on the quality of the application as well as the ability to carry out programming that will draw audiences of readers and (especially) non-readers alike and increase readership through book discussions and dialogue.   In 2009, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was the featured book, and in 2011, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. For the third Big Read application, Library staff chose to focus on a writer of color from the collection of titles supported by The Big Read. Columbia College Chicago was fortunate to be one of 78 applicants granted funding through The Big Read for the 2012-2013 program cycle.   In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez was chosen as the featured selection for spring 2013.  

In the Time of the Butterflies is a fictional account influenced by the real lives of the four Mirabal sisters who grew up in the Dominican Republic and were involved in the rebellion against Rafael Trujillo in the 1930’s. Three of the four sisters - Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa - were murdered on November 25, 1960 as a result of their political activism against the Trujillo dictatorship.  The surviving sister, Dede Mirabal, remained in the Dominican Republic keeping the story of her sisters alive through the Museo de las Hermanas Mirabal, a museum featuring photographs and artifacts from her sisters’ lives, as well as having written a book about them, Vivas en su jardín (Vintage Espanol, 2009).

The Big Read 2013 at Columbia College Chicago will feature a Kick-Off program, featuring HHSS/Cultural Studies faculty member, Carmelo Esterrich, who will provide a brief introduction to the history of the Dominican Republic and the role of the Mirabal sisters within the context of the time in which they lived and died.  Throughout April and May 2013, there will be programming both on and off campus, including film screenings, book discussion groups, panel discussions, lectures and an art exhibition.   Free copies of In the Time of the Butterflies will be available at each program and limited copies available at the Library.  We will close our Big Read with a live Skype program featuring Julia Alvarez in early May.  More information will be available in early spring about The Big Read 2013 at Columbia College Chicago on our website,, beginning February 2013.

Collaboration is a key component of The Big Read and central to the success of programming to Chicago area residents. Our collaborations vary widely and will include partners within the college and external partners including the Dominican American Midwest Association, Chicago Public Schools and literacy programs including Literacy Chicago, 826 Chi, and Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. We will be focusing on targeted neighborhoods in the Chicago area including Humboldt Park, Little Village, Pilsen and Back of the Yards.  Our partners also include a number of suburban public libraries such as Cicero Public Library as well as those in Berwyn, Calumet City, River Forest, North Riverside and East Chicago, IN.

The Columbia College Chicago Library is seeking volunteers to help with The Big Read.  If you would like to partner, please contact Kim Hale, Head of Library Marketing, Outreach and Special Initiatives at or 312.369.7355.  For more information about The Big Read, please visit