PEN AMERICA PUBLISHES ANTHOLOGY OF ESSAYS, MEMOIR, STORIES AND POEMS BY IMMIGRANT ‘DREAMERS’

 With an Introduction by Mexican novelist Álvaro Enrigue, the Collection is the Product of PEN America’s “DREAMing Out Loud” Workshops for CUNY students

(NEW YORK) – PEN America today published an anthology of writings by young aspiring writers and students who struggle with the day-to-day difficulties of their immigration status. The collection, DREAMing Out Loud: Voices of Undocumented Students includes 59 personal essays, short stories, memoir and poems with an introduction by award-winning Mexican novelist and essayist Álvaro Enrigue, who, along with writers Charlie Vazquez, and Lisa Ko, mentored the students as part of PEN America’s DREAMing Out Loud writing workshop series. Enrigue is the founder of the program with PEN America.

The collection is available at Amazon for $9.95. All proceeds benefit PEN America. More details about the book and PEN America’s “DREAMing Out Loud” workshops: https://pen.org/dreaming-out-loud/.

The writers’ names are published with their consent, although some have been changed. Some of the writers have given permission to having their pieces reprinted elsewhere. These can be made available to journalists, along with an advance digital galley. Please contact PEN America media consultant Suzanne Trimel, strimel@pen.org

The collection captures both personal and political views, along with remembrances, of the young writers who came to the United States as children from nearly every continent and from diverse settings: conflict zones and farms to urban centers and rural outposts.

For them, debate over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other legislative immigration proposals is not an abstract political discussion; rather, it is their lived experience and a constant reminder that at its core, the debate centers on whether their voices—and existence—are welcome in the United States.

So-called “dreamers,” who were brought into the country before they were 16 years old and without legal immigration authorization, have long faced a variety of financial, legal and cultural obstacles in their pursuit of higher education. The DREAMing Out Loud workshops provide an avenue for Dreamers to build their sense of community on CUNY campuses in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, as they develop their writing and other skills for self-expression.

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “At PEN America we recognize that freedom of speech depends upon conscious efforts to ensure that the most silenced voices in society are heard.   Facing pressures that most Americans can scarcely imagine, these young writers have dared to tell their stories with candor and great insight. We are thrilled to be able to present their writings to the public amid a raging national debate about how we treat newcomers to this country, and whether we stand by the ideals enshrined in our constitution and embodied in our Statue of Liberty. We hope this collection gives readers a sense of the human faces and experiences behind the headlines, forcing us to confront the individual and collective costs of the societal choices we make and tolerate.”

Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), commented: “The stories we tell shape our understanding of the world and ourselves as individuals and as a society. We are proud to support the important work of the DREAMing Out Loud program as it empowers DREAMers to tell unfiltered stories about what it means to be young immigrants. The publication of DREAMing Out Loud: Voices of Undocumented Students ensures that the voices of DREAMers will be heard in a field often dominated by political rhetoric—and it recognizes the importance of these stories to our collective understanding of the true American experience.”

MOME supported PEN America’s successful application for a Mayor’s Cultural Impact Grant from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and gave matching funds or the expansion of the program.

The writing reflects the duality of the young authors’ existence and the richness of their cultural backgrounds: they ruminate about their lives, sometimes with longing and sometimes with sadness, as memories and connections fade.

“At first the border between my immediate family in America and the rest of my family in Mexico was mitigated by calls which became fewer and shorter through the years. The border grew wider and thicker until it completely filled the space between us,” writes workshop participant Yesica Balderrama in her essay.

Other writers look critically at American society and its treatment of immigrants. “She’d also watched shows and movies about the U.S. that portrayed America as though it was the place to be so much so that was somehow inevitable that she ended up here. And yet after shoving America’s so-called greatness down everyone’s throat the powers that be castigated people like her for wanting a slice of the American pie,” writes workshop participant Ophelia Kanjo.

In his introduction, Enrigue writes: “This book gives testimony of one of the most extreme and literary ways of being an American writer in our days. As with Segismundo, the members of the DREAMers Workshop Project have a constant persistent consciousness about the fact that our peaceful everyday life is not given but something we have to fight for, staying strong and alert and outsmarting the system every damned minute of our lives. Resistance is a topic for most of us, for a DREAMer it is breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

PEN America created the DREAMing Out Loud workshops in 2016 to counter the anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise in the United States and to amplify the voices of many living in this country who are marginalized because of their immigration status, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or simply for being perceived as “other.”

A potent and inspiring example of PEN America’s dual mission to celebrate literature and writing as an essential form of free expression, the program is also a means to build a diverse talent pipeline for careers in the literature and publishing industries. The program offers tuition-free writing workshops for the students in New York City. This year, the program was expanded with a Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact. The expansion included new City University of New York sites in the Bronx at Lehman College, Flushing at Queens College & Central Brooklyn at Medgar Evers College and strengthened professional development.

PEN America has a long history defending and championing all voices, along with a commitment to the idea that cross-cultural exchange is essential to a free flow of discourse.

Amid a climate of retrenchment in principaled American leadership both around the globe and within our borders, open discourse is a potent catalyst for cross-cultural understanding, cooperation and progress. The PEN World Voices Festival, founded in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 to broaden avenues of dialogue between the United States and the world, is perhaps the best known public program devoted to this mission. The weeklong annual festival has presented writers and artists from 118 countries speaking 56 languages.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: PEN America media consultant Suzanne Trimel, strimel@pen.org