The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Human Book Festival 

When: Sunday, Feb. 25, 1 p.m. 
Where: Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., Nashua 
Cost: Free 
More info:, 589-4610

Walks of life
“Human books” share their stories

By Angie Sykeny

 Cecilia Ulibarri has had her share of challenges in life. Her senior year of high school, she gave birth to her first son, and while she still managed to graduate with her class, her dream of going to college was put on hold when she found herself in a difficult relationship. Determined to continue her education and build a successful career, she got the courage to leave the relationship and raise her two boys on her own. Today, Ulibarri is an active member of the Nashua community. She has served on the board of directors for United Way of Nashua, founded the nonprofit arts organization Positive Street Art, and is a member of the Rotary Club of Nashua West. 

“I had to overcome a lot of adversity and hurdles, but I was able to use that experience to give back to my community, be a mentor to my children and do what I love to do,” Ulibarri said. 
Ulibarri is one of 15 people who will share their stories during the Nashua Public Library’s first Human Book Festival on Sunday, Feb. 25. At the event, attendees will have a chance to “check out” one of the “human books” for a 15-minute one-on-one conversation.
“It’s always interesting to hear about a life that’s different from your own,” library outreach coordinator Carol Eyman said. “We hear about these big-picture issues in our society, but this is an opportunity to talk with real people, your neighbors, who are involved with those issues, in a way that’s building empathy and community.” 
Short bios of the human books are available now on the library website. Attendees can choose up to two human books and reserve conversation slots starting one hour before the event begins. When the conversations are over, everyone will gather in the library theater for refreshments and a brief discussion of what they learned. 
Human books who will be joining Ulibarri include a Nashua police officer, a Nashua Telegraph newsman, a hydroponic lettuce farmer, an engineer developing vital technology for the Apollo space program, a substance abuse recovery center director, the founder of a cosplay business, an immigrant from Guatemala and others. 
“We all have struggles, but the more we’re able to talk about those struggles, the more we realize we aren’t alone,” said Mary Johnson, another human book. “I’ve had my ups and downs, and I’ve learned some interesting lessons, so I’m happy to be able to share them, and hopefully they’ll be helpful to someone else.” 
Johnson was a nun and served with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. After 20 years, she left the convent, got married, published a memoir and helped found a national nonprofit community for women writers. Now, she’s a Humanist Celebrant and has been recognized as New Hampshire’s top wedding officiant. 
“I’ve been continually reinventing myself and finding new things to do,” she said. “Changes are opportunities — that’s what life has taught me — and I hope that after talking with me, people will come away feeling ready to take on their own life-changing opportunities.”  
Ulibarri said her goal for the event is to inspire people to follow their passions, even when faced with adversity. 
“A lot of people get stuck in the cycle of everyday life, and that holds them back from their dreams and aspirations,” she said. “We’re only on this planet once, and if you have a dream, you should go for it. Don’t wait. Don’t be afraid.” 
Eyman’s advice to attendees is to be open minded and choose a human book who will challenge the way they think and live. 
“Talk to someone you’ll disagree with, who has a different viewpoint and different experience from your own,” she said. “That’s what will stimulate meaningful conversation and create a sense of community.” 

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