NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 26, 2013

Dubus draws Streep to UMass Lowell event

School thrilled to host star, thanks Newbury author for his help

By Bill Cantwell
Staff writer

---- — Author Andre Dubus III has done it again.

Not only does he write best-selling books, but as a teacher at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, he is drawing big-name celebrities there for events to help the school and its students.

He persuaded horror author Stephen King to appear at Tsongas Arena in January. The sold-out event raised more than $100,000 for scholarships at the university.

Now, Dubus has arranged for acting star Meryl Streep to visit the arena next year for another event to raise scholarship money for UMass Lowell students.

Streep, a three-time Academy Award winner, will appear at the Tsongas Arena on Feb. 5. Details on the program and tickets, which will be available to the public, will be announced at a later date.

Streep, considered by many to be the greatest actress of this generation, will speak in the latest installment of the Chancellor’s Speaker Series. Her acting career has spanned five decades and more than 100 roles. She has been nominated for an Academy Award 17 times.

Like many things in life, drawing Streep and King to these events was all about connections, said Dubus, who grew up in Haverhill and now lives in Newbury. He has written several best-selling books, including his memoir, “Townie,’’ about growing up in Haverhill in the 1970s and “House of Sand and Fog,’’ which was made into a successful movie.

When Dubus’ father, the late Andre Dubus, was suffering physically and professionally after a car crash robbed him of the use of his legs in the mid-1980s, King and other big-name authors raised money to help their fellow writer.

The younger Dubus reached out to King last year to help beef up UMass Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan’s speaker series. The series is designed to bring culture and fine arts to the Tsongas Arena, in addition to sports.

King agreed and made the appearance — and the scholarship cash flowed in.

The arrangement with Streep was a bit more coincidental but did also involve a connection, Dubus said.

In May of last year, Dubus and his younger sister were in New York at an event where the American Academy of Arts and Letters was giving him an award for “Townie.’’ Streep happened to be at the same event to receive an award on behalf of a friend who was out of the country.

Dubus’ sister wanted to meet Streep, so at one point, they walked over to her table and introduced themselves.

“She stood up and was so warm and generous and authentic, so sweet toward my sister,’’ Dubus said.

Recently, Dubus and Meehan were talking about his Chancellor’s Speaker Series and whom the university might get to appear at future events. Dubus mentioned that he had met Streep and that they had a common friend. Dubus offered to approach her about coming to Lowell.

“I don’t think I would have if she hadn’t been so sweet to my sister,’’ he said. “I saw a person who seemed so accessible, and I decided I’m going to ask her.’’

Dubus called his friend Chris Cooper, the actor who recently worked with Streep on the movie “August: Osage County,’’ which is being talked about as an Oscar contender. Dubus got Streep’s email address from Cooper and wrote her a letter about the college and its mission to provide scholarships to students who otherwise might not be able to attend the school.

“I spoke from my heart about the school I really believe in,’’ Dubus said. “I love the idea of the speakers series and am a big supporter of all the wonderful, positive changes the Meehan administration has made.

“A few weeks went by, and I sent a reminder (about the letter),’’ Dubus said. An assistant to Streep wrote back, “Miss Streep would love to do this,’’ he said.

UMass officials thanked Streep for agreeing to the event and praised Dubus’ efforts to help the school.

“We are grateful to have someone of Meryl Streep’s stature as the next participant in the UMass Lowell Chancellor’s Speaker Series, which brings people at the top of their fields to the university to speak to students and the community while helping to raise funds for scholarships,” Meehan said.

“We’re very grateful to Andre for all he does for the campus,’’ said Christine Gillette, spokeswoman for UMass Lowell. “This is a chance for people to see someone speak they wouldn’t usually be able to see. It’s a rare opportunity.’’

The money raised will benefit the school’s English department, theater arts and fine arts, and humanities and social sciences.

Since her debut in a 1977 TV movie, Streep — who holds the record for the most Academy Award and Golden Globe Award acting nominations — has established herself as one of the most prolific actresses in history, appearing in more than 50 films, as well as numerous stage productions. One of her trademarks has been portraying real people, from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “Iron Lady” to French chef Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” to whistle-blower Karen Silkwood in “Silkwood.” She is also known for her perfectionism in preparing for roles, learning to play the violin and mastering countless dialects and accents.

Her many other notable movies include “The Deer Hunter” and “Kramer vs. Kramer” in the 1970s; “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Sophie’s Choice” in the 1980s; “Postcards From the Edge” and “The Bridges of Madison County in the 1990s; and “Adaptation,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia!” in the 2000s.