Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing
Edited by Ilan Stavans
"In his wide-ranging, expertly curated anthology, Becoming Americans, Ilan Stavans collects four centuries of immigrants' stories, laying the works of comparative newcomers like Eva Hoffman, Felipe Alfau and Gary Shteyngart alongside the writing of early settlers, from religious dissidents fleeing persecution to slaves like Phillis Wheatley and Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.... Stavans' anthology goes a long way toward contemplating the breadth of the American immigrant experience. For every tragic story collected here, there is one of joyful liberation or of perplexed amazement or, more commonly, of excitement followed by a long, slow adjustment tinged with hope, fear and regret."
—MAUD NEWTON, NPR
Read an exclusive interview with volume editor Ilan Stavans (PDF, 79 K)
Read an excerpt from John McElgun's 1873 novel, Annie Reilly; or, The Fortunes of an Irish Girl in New York (PDF, 58 K)
Immigration is the essential American story. From London or Lvov, Bombay or Beijing, Dublin or Dusseldorf, people have come to America to remake themselves, their lives, and their identities. Despite political obstacles, popular indifference, or hostility, they put down roots here, and their social, cultural, and entrepreneurial energies helped forge the open and diverse society we live in. The history of American immigration has often been told by those already here. Becoming Americans tells this epic story from the inside, gathering for the first time over 400 years of writing—from 17th-century Jamestown to contemporary Brooklyn and Los Angeles—by first-generation immigrants about the immigrant experience. In sum, over 80 writers create a vivid, passionate, and revealing firsthand account of the challenges and aspirations that define our dynamic multicultural society.
In nearly 100 selections—poems, stories, novel excerpts, travel pieces, diary entries, memoirs, and letters—Becoming Americans presents the full range of the experience of coming to America: the reasons for departure, the journey itself, the shock and spectacle of first arrival, the passionate ambivalence toward the old country and the old life, and above all the struggle with the complexities of America. Arranged in chronological order by date of arrival, this unprecedented collection presents a history of the United States that is both familiar and surprisingly new, as seen through the fresh eyes and words of newcomers from more than 40 different countries.
Ilan Stavans, editor, is the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His books include The Hispanic Condition and On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language. He edited Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (three volumes), also for The Library of America.
*This volume is not a part of the Library of America series, and its design specifications differ from those of series titles. Click here for details.
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