L'dor V'dor: Writing the Immigrant Experience

A packed house of about 200 greeted Forward contributor Ilan Stavans and Pete Hamill Thursday night at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side for a discussion of Stavans’s new book, “Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing” (Library of America).

Stavans, who came to the United States in 1985 from Mexico and teaches at Amherst College, described the anthology as “a love letter from my end to a country that is very open and full of wonder, and I appreciate it.”

As editor, Stavans selected more than 100 entries — poems, essays, memoirs, travel pieces — that tell the immigrant experience. He arranged the pieces by “waves of immigration” and spent quite a bit of time deciding the title. “This country is always in the process of becoming,” he said.

Hamill, who wrote the foreword to the new book — and the introduction to “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward” (W.W. Norton, 2007) — shared his insights about new lives forged in America.

Those insights included:

Hamill also told an endearing story of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first day at the Forverts, the Yiddish forebear of the English Forward. As Hamill tells it, Singer wrote a story about a bill that had passed in Albany. Abe Cahan, the legendary editor, read the piece, and told Singer “follow me.” Together they went to where the newspaper’s printers worked and Cahan gave Singer’s story to a printer to read. When he was finished the printer looked puzzled and said, “What’s this mean to me?”

Cahan’s lesson is an important one for journalists, then and now.

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

L'dor V'dor: Writing the Immigrant Experience

Thank you!

This article has been sent!