October 6, 2009

AMHERST, Mass. — Ilan Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and Five College 40th Anniversary Professor, is the editor of Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing (Library of America, 2009, $40). The book is an anthology of writings about the thrills and challenges of immigrating to America, from colonial times to the present. Author Maxine Hong Kingston has said of the book, “[These] stories are our treasured legacy.”


The 80 writers featured in the anthology hail from 40 different countries and include John James Audubon, Charlie Chaplin, Vladimir Nabokov, Frank McCourt, Julia Alvarez, Jhumpa Lahiri and Edwidge Danticat, with Pete Hamill providing the book’s foreword. Through 748 pages of memoirs, novel excerpts, short stories, poetry, letters and journal entries, presented chronologically by date of arrival in their new land, the writers provide not only a detailed look into many aspects of the immigrant experience— from the journey itself, to ambivalent feelings about “the old country,” to the process of assimilating into American culture —but, at the same time, a rich collective retelling of U.S. history.   

In addition to teaching courses at Amherst College, Stavans has written numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Disappearance, Resurrecting Hebrew, On Borrowed Words and The Hispanic Condition. He is the editor of such other collections as The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, and Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories. His many awards and honors include an Emmy nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Pablo Neruda Medal, the Latino Literature Prize, the Antonia Pantoja Award and Chile’s Presidential Medal.

Becoming Americans will serve as the centerpiece for the inaugural Cultural Encounters Program at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst from Nov. 6 to 9. The weekend program will feature workshops, performances, readings and talks led by notable artists, writers and scholars, including Stavans. The anthology will also be featured in a series of events in New York City, including a conversation at Columbia University’s Casa Italiana on Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m., between Stavans, Lahiri and Gary Shtyengart; a conversation at the New York City Tenement Museum on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. between Stavans and Pete Hamill; and a gala event at the 92nd Street Y on Feb. 1 at 8 p.m., in which Stavans will be joined by Jamaica Kincaid and Norman Manea, among others.

Becoming Americans is published with support from Martin E. Segal, the Mark Krueger Charitable Trust, the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation, the Lucius Littauer Foundation and H. Axel Schupf. Proceeds from the book’s sale will support the mission of The Library of America, a nonprofit publisher created in 1979 “to preserve America’s best and most significant writing in handsome, enduring volumes, featuring authoritative texts.”