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Acclaimed author returns to where it all began – PCC

Story by James Hill. Submitted photo.

The 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction winner is stopping by Portland Community College for its PCC Reads initiative and the public is invited.

Heidi Durrow, who was nominated for Outstanding Literary Debut at the 2011 NAACP Image Awards, will speak about her 2010 book, “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” at PCC in April.

Durrow, who was also nominated for Outstanding Literary Debut at the 2011 NAACP Image Awards, will speak about her 2010 book, “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky.” In addition, she will discuss her academic journey, answer questions and sign copies of the novel at the following locations and times:

  • 10 to 11:30 a.m., Great Hall, Southeast Center (2305 S.E. Division St.).
  • 1:30 to 3 p.m., Wednesday, April 13, Event Center, Building 9, Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W. Springville Road).
  • 9 to 10:30 a.m., Thursday, April 14, Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building Auditorium, Cascade Campus (705 N. Killingsworth St.).
  • 1:30 to 3 p.m., Thursday, April 14, Performing Arts Center, Sylvania Campus (12000 S.W. 49th Ave.).

The Southeast Center event is a panel discussion on biracial identity. All of these events are free and open to the public.

“The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” was chosen for the 2011 PCC Reads program, an initiative to encourage the entire faculty, staff and student body to read a book that addresses diversity. Before it was published, the manuscript was selected for the 2008 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the only major North American prize that specifically advocates literary fiction addressing social justice issues. It’s awarded to a previously unpublished novel. The book centers on the daughter of a black G.I., and Danish mother, who moves into her grandmother’s mostly black community in Portland in the 1980s.

The book has been widely received by literary critics and she’s developed a fan base across the country. However, her biggest fan might be at PCC as her mother, Birgit Wedel, is a longtime librarian at the Cascade Campus.

“My mom has always been super supportive of what I was doing, even when I wasn’t sure what I was doing,” she said. “PCC was the perfect place for me. The students were older than my classmates and more mature. Because a lot of students are returning to school when they come to PCC they have a lot more focus and drive. That’s what I was looking for.”

Heidi Durrow’s path has seen her work as a journalist, attorney and life skills trainer for professional athletes. Her family has lived all over the world (Turkey, Germany and Denmark, to name a few) before her dad retired from the Army. The family moved to Portland when Durrow was 11. While attending Jefferson High School in 1983, she started taking classes at PCC.

“I would take three to six units each term and by the time I finished my sophomore year I had enough credits to graduate,” she said. “I decided not to graduate early so I would have more time to research and apply for college scholarships.”

Durrow went on to Stanford University, where she studied English. From there it was a stop at Columbia University for a graduate degree in journalism. After that she attended Yale Law School, passed the bar and worked for a prestigious New York City firm handling pro bono civil rights cases. Now, she enjoys the glow of being a published author.

“It wasn’t that I just wanted my book published,” she said. “I had a vision and a message and only I could tell the story and that became my mission.”

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