Vermont Reads producers Melody Bodette and Betty Smith shared their thoughts about this year's series, airing this week on VPR:
Each year VPR partners with the Vermont Humanities Council to produce a series on their Vermont Reads, state-wide reading program. This year, the council picked The Day of the Pelican by acclaimed Barre author Katherine Paterson. The book follows an Albanian Muslim family forced by war to flee Kosovo. They are resettled in Vermont and try to rebuild their lives here.
While the book is fiction, it was inspired by a family Paterson's church sponsored in the 1990s. And it's a story that's repeated over and over in our small state, as the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program brings 300 people here each year.
Our series combines interviews with Paterson, former refugees and the people who work with them, plus excerpts from the book. One of the challenges in a project like this is finding a reader who can embody the characters in the novel. We were fortunate to find Nijaza Semic, a home-school liason in the Burlington school district. Nijaza left Bosnia after war broke out and came to Vermont with her husband. In addition to giving us a compelling interview, Nijaza used her skills as a former newsreader in her native country to become the voice of the novel's narrator, Meli Lleshi.
This project also allowed us to learn more about some of the great work that goes on at the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, just one street away from us in Fort Ethan Allen!
You can hear the entire series online.