Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, will give the second annual Commonwealth Humanities Lecture, titled "This Land is Our Land: The Challenge of Diversity in Massachusetts," on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. The lecture and a reception to follow are free and open to the public.
Each year the Northampton-based Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), the publisher of CommonWealth magazine, recognizes a humanities scholar or writer for his or her contributions to public understanding of contemporary issues or civic affairs in Massachusetts. Michael Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard University, gave the first Commonwealth Humanities Lecture last year.
According to David Tebaldi, executive director of the foundation, "Stavans has devoted himself to furthering our understanding of Latinos in the United States, in general, and in the state of Massachusetts, in particular." His goal, Stavans has said, is to "enlighten people about the challenges of a multicultural, multiracial, polyglot society like ours." Tebaldi adds, "This is a crucially important issue today and will become even more important issue over the next half century when minorities are expected to become the majority of United States citizens." Stavans's scholarly work draws attention to the role that minorities, especially Latinos, play in public life.
Last year, Stavans received Chile's Presidential Medal, the Antonia Pantoja Award and the Latino Hall of Fame Prize. He has four books forthcoming in the next six months: the Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature; a selection of the interviews that he conducted on Conversations with Ilan Stavans on the WGBH (PBS) program La Plaza; the four-volume Encyclopedia Latina in April, a project on which he has been heavily at work for four years, covering every aspect of Latino life in the United States; and a small personal meditation of dictionaries, their history and the role they play in our life: Dictionary Days. He is also the editor of the forthcoming 2,500-page Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.
A member of the Amherst faculty since 1993, Stavans is also author of Growing up Latino (1993) and The Hispanic Condition (1995), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories (1998), On Borrowed Words (2001) and The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (2003). He has noted, "I have made it my quest to approach the English language as an instrument of democratic cohesion and to understand the various 'minority tongues' used in the United States that function as counterpoints of sorts to Shakespeare's tongue, among them-and primarily-Spanglish." Stavans has published the first dictionary of Spanglish, titled Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language (2003), and has debated in public the role language plays in public life and civic affairs for African Americans, Latinos and other immigrant groups.