June 19, 2001
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass. - Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, will be the host of "Conversations with Ilan Stavans" on WGBH-TV in Boston, on Saturday, June 23 at 6 p.m. An acclaimed author and cultural critic, Stavans will discuss "Becoming American" with Cuban-American author Achy Obejas, Chicano poet Luis Rodriguez and Puerto Rican memoirist Irene Vilar. The talks will be broadcast as a segment of "La Plaza," the Hispanic culture show on WGBH.

Stavans hopes that these conversations, conducted in English and marked by spontaneity and wit, will be a "breakthrough in bringing Latin voices to television." The program, which will be offered to PBS stations nationwide as a new series in the fall, will "offer writers, politicians, educators and artists a chance to discuss their work," Stavans says, "in an intellectual atmosphere that will also be entertaining television. I don't ever want to dumb anything down."

Chicago Tribune columnist Obejas describes her flight from Cuba and her book about Cuban immigrants in Chicago, Memory Mambo. Chicano poet Luis Rodriguez speaks about his memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Life in L.A., and the pain of watching his son fall into that life. Memoirist Irene Vilar's The Ladies Gallery: A Memoir of Family Secrets is the story of three generations of Puerto Rican women: Vilar, her mother and her grandmother, the political activist and revolutionary icon Lolita Lebron, who in 1954 attacked the U.S. House of Representatives.

A descendant of Eastern European Jews who settled in Mexico, Stavans, who has taught at Amherst since 1993, calls himself" a sum of parts. Spanish is my right eye, English my left; Yiddish my background and Hebrew my conscience." Henry Louis Gates has called Stavans "an old-fashioned intellectual." Stavans is founder and editor of Hopscotch: A Cultural Review and author of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language, The Hispanic Condition, The Riddle of Cantinflas, The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories and The Essential Ilan Stavans, among other books. He edited the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Latino Literature Prize, among many honors. "Conversations with Ilan Stavans" has a Website at http://www.wgbh.org/laplaza.