“The Women of the Copper Country,” chosen as 2021-2022 Great Michigan Read

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LANSING, Mich. (WJMN) – “The Women of the Copper Country” written by Mary Doria Russell was chosen by Michigan Humanities for the 2021-2022 Great Michigan Read.

The book tells the story of 25-year-old Annie Clements who stood up for miners and their families during the 1913 copper strikes.

“This fictionalized account of the very real and dangerous conditions Upper Peninsula copper miners faced and Annie Clements’ willingness to fight for a better life for them and their families will have readers cheering as Big Annie takes on the company owners in one of the first tests of the American labor movement,” said Shelly Hendrick Kasprzycki, Michigan Humanities president and CEO. “At a time when women were expected to keep house and raise children, Annie Clements’ decision to become a leader and take a stand is a story of courage. She’s a wonderful example of the strong and principled women who have made history in Michigan and across the country, and it’s especially important to share her story during Women’s History Month.”

The Great Michigan Read aims to connect Michigan residents by deepening reader’s understanding of the state, society and humanity. The Great Michigan Read is selected every two years by a statewide panel of teachers, librarians, community leaders and book lovers.

The 2019-2020 book, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book “What the Eyes Don’t See,” told of her discovery that Flint’s children were being poisoned by lead leaching into the city’s drinking water. The 2017-18 book was “X: A Novel,” a fictionalized account of the early life and Michigan roots of civil rights leader Malcolm X.

The 2021-22 Great Michigan Read is supported by national, statewide and local partners, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Meijer Foundation, and Martin Waymire.

Russell is the award-winning author of seven bestselling novels, including the science fiction classics “The Sparrow” and “Children of God”; the World War II thriller, “A Thread of Grace”; and a political romance set in 1921 Cairo called “Dreamers of the Day.” With her novels “Doc” and “Epitaph,” Russell has redefined two towering figures of the American West: the lawman Wyatt Earp and the dental surgeon Doc Holliday. She holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Michigan and taught anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I’m so honored Michigan Humanities chose ‛The Women of the Copper Country’ for the 2021-2022 Great Michigan Read,” said Russell, “The copper strike itself has been studied and written about by historians and legal experts, but those accounts are not meant to engage the reader’s emotions. That was my job – to combine imagination and empathy with research.

Mary Doria Russell, author of “The Women of the Copper Country,” photo courtesy of Michigan humanities

Russell spent time in the Keweenaw Peninsula visiting Calumet, touring mines and visiting local museums to prepare for writing the fictional account of real-life Big Annie.

“Here was a 25-year-old woman who is central to a strike against the most powerful company in the most dangerous industry of her time. A child of despised immigrants,” said Russell. “A housewife with a simple education in a time when women couldn’t vote and weren’t supposed to take part in public life. Somehow, she mobilized 10,000 miners and kept everyone going, day after day, month after month. So, my task was to tell readers: What makes a woman like Annie Clements?”

The Great Michigan Read starts in September 2021 continuing through fall 2022. Great Michigan Read partners receive free books, reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, bookmarks, and other supplemental materials. Schools, libraries, colleges, arts and cultural institutions, and a range of other nonprofits are eligible to be Great Michigan Read partners. Registration is open now through Michigan Humanities. An author’s tour will take place, with times, locations and decisions on in-person or virtual events to be made at a later date.

The 2021-22 Great Michigan Read title was selected by seven regional selection committees representing all corners of Michigan. After reading books with Michigan themes or locations from June through September 2020, the selection committee chairs met virtually in November 2020 and selected “The Women of the Copper Country” – a novel published by Simon & Schuster in 2019 – as the next Great Michigan Read. An image of the book’s cover is available here.

Action grants of up to $750 will be available to help support registered partners’ Great Michigan Read programming centered on the themes found in the book’s title. Sponsorship opportunities also are available to support partner events throughout the state. Contact Michigan Humanities to find out how to get involved.

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