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An NEA Big Read: Pocumtuck Valley Virtual Event

What can a 2014 novel set in a dystopian post-pandemic world tell us about the value we place on the arts, the grace of everyday life, and our current real-life pandemic?

Join NEPM and The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association for a virtual discussion with author Emily St. John Mandel, whose Station Eleven has been called, “darkly lyrical,” “mesmerizing,” “tender and lovely.” The conversation will be hosted by NEPM’s Jill Kauffman and will conclude with a live Q & A.

Partners for this event include NEA Big Read, PVMA, NEPM, Libraries in the Woods, All Hamptons Read, The Care Center, and the Springfield Public Forum.

This is the “keynote” event of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s 7th National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program, which, in partnership with Tilton Library and more than 40 other organizations and businesses in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, will explore Mandel’s acclaimed novel. Later this spring, NEPM will launch its new book club with Station Eleven.


Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel is set in a dystopian post-pandemic world. PVMA chose it from a list of NEA Big Read offerings before COVID-19 hit. What caught their attention in the book was a museum that started in an airport where a group of stranded travelers survived and formed a community. PVMA’s Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield is, in a way, like the novel’s ‘Museum of Civilization,’ with many objects from the past that have little or no use in our modern world. Reflecting on old and new worlds — as Station Eleven does – is what history museums do.

Now that we’re experiencing an actual pandemic, the NEA Big Read of this fictional story provides an opportunity for local communities to discuss our real pandemic experience, as well as the role the arts play in our lives.


Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.


Emily St. John Mandel is the author of five novels, most recently The Glass Hotel, which was selected by Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of 2020, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has been translated into 20 languages. Her previous novels include Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award among other honors, and has been translated into 33 languages. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.


The National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, a partnership with Arts Midwest, broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. Big Read grantees organize local community events around their chosen book.