Booklist and American Writers Museum Announce Inside Look at My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today

From today through May 2021, Booklist will be partnering with the American Writers Museum in Chicago to bring readers exclusive content from the My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today exhibit. To learn more about the exhibit, read the below introduction from AWM’s Content & Communications Coordinator Nate King. For future interviews, reading recommendations, and more from featured authors, follow Booklist Reader on Twitter at @ALA_Booklist and AWM at @AWMuseum.

A pink and red dress, pulled from inside a bag stuffed with old clothes, brings a best-selling memoirist back to her grandmother’s table. The first time an award-winning poet heard the music in words. The isolation that comes from being considered an outsider—and the freedom that standing outside and observing allows.

Those stories and more echo across My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, the new special exhibit at the American Writers Museum in Chicago. Featuring more than 30 writers from a wide range of backgrounds and literary traditions, the exhibit uses intimate video conversations to illuminate ideas of home, belonging, being multilingual, and more.

The writers featured in the exhibit examine their relationship to the word American, the way their heritage shapes their work, and what writing means to them. At a time when “immigrant” can be a symbol or slur, shorthand for any of a thousand complicated concepts, these writers explore what it truly means to cross borders.

“I’m like a turtle. I carry the world on my back,” said Amitav Ghosh, international best-selling author of the Ibis trilogy and The Glass Palace, when asked what most makes him feel at home. Moving from India to the U.S. and back again, Ghosh describes a citizenship of the world, where humanity has not always been the driving force.

“The importance of immigrant and refugee writers in the last two decades is illustrated by the level of recognition their works continue to achieve. The American Writers Museum is honored to present this essential and relevant subject in an experiential way, which lets the writers tell their own unique yet universal stories.”
—AWM President Carey Cranston

Reyna Grande, author of the best-selling memoir The Distance Between Us, talks about her childhood in poverty in Mexico and how that has affected her parenting with relative plenty in America. The stories we tell our children about ourselves, she said, are a way of taking control of our own pasts. “Instead of letting trauma transform me,” Grande said, “I transformed it into art.”

Award-winning writer Pablo Cartaya said he started writing “to claim my identity.” The author of 2018’s The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora speaks specifically to young people in his work about his Cuban-American heritage and culture. “All of these people who live in the hyphens are trying to find a place where they belong.”

In addition to the exhibit, which will run through May 2021, the American Writers Museum will also host contemporary writers whose work addresses these themes as part of the Jeanne M. and John W. Rowe Program Series, presented in conjunction with My America. With writers like Julia Alvarez, Gene Luen Yang, Valeria Luiselli, and more already lined up—plus more to be announced later—this program series brings visitors face-to-face with prominent writers from a variety of genres and backgrounds, stressing the fact that every voice and every story matters and deserves to be heard.

In conjunction with their Write In Youth Education Program, the AWM has designed a special curriculum that coincides with My America, providing students with an immersive and engaging educational experience. It is important that young people see themselves in literature, and by exploring My America, students are introduced to writers whom they might not otherwise know.

Stories straight from the My America exhibit, the Write In program, and how to incorporate both into your library or curriculum are up next. Stay tuned!

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