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Chicago Literary Hall of Fame set to host “Immigrant Stories” panel at second American Writers Festival

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

By Kait Harland

Book lovers in the Chicago area will want to mark their calendars for 12:45 p.m. on May 19 for a powerful panel titled “Worlds and Words of Chicago: Immigrant Stories.” Presented by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (CLHOF) as a part of the second ever American Writers Festival, this panel will be centered around a discussion of immigrant experiences in Chicago, emphasizing the humanity of a topic which is so often debated and yet so rarely understood. Authors Nestor Gomez, Lani T. Montreal, and Ugochi Nwaogwugwu will share their own experiences and creative work in a conversation moderated by English professor and nonfiction writer Jane Hseu.

This event has its beginnings in the mind of Donald G. Evans, who founded the CLHOF in 2010 with the desire to uplift Chicago’s rich literary traditions, including their past, present, and future. The vision he had for the nonprofit at the beginning remains the organization’s focal point today, and Evans says that this was an important consideration in putting the panel together. “The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is a way to celebrate and live this vibrant community of artists,” he explains. He also emphasizes that now is an especially important time to be discussing the topic of immigration, since so often “the stories we're hearing come from biased news accounts… in a way that fulfills an agenda.”

The goal of the panel, then, is to provide a platform for immigrants to tell their own stories, specifically from the perspective of creative individuals who have sought to share their experiences through many different mediums. Nestor Gomez, who came to Chicago from Guatemala when he was 15, specializes in storytelling in many styles, including spoken and written work. Lani T. Montreal, too, tackles more than one type of writing and has published everything from plays to essays to poems and more, many of which are inspired by her history in the Philippines. Ugochi Nwaogwugwu’s work comes in many forms, and she holds the title of singer, songwriter, poet, and even poetry inventor, as she pioneered the Ike form of poetry in honor of her Igbo, Nigerian heritage.

All of these authors will offer their unique perspectives on the topic of immigration and how their choice of method affects how they are able to communicate their stories – and not only their own, but those of others as well. “It's something that I think that people don't realize, just how impactful it can be… just to be able to tell the bits of their stories that maybe their mothers or fathers couldn't,” Nwaogwugwu explains. “I think that's part of why it's so important for me to share them, it's like giving a voice to people who consider themselves to be voiceless.”

Nwaogwugwu also gives a sneak peak of what she’s excited to discuss during the panel, including both written and musical poems which emphasize the bravery and humanity of those who are willing to give up their very homes to come to the United States. “What I want to share is the awareness of the vulnerability, of the complete fierceness that it takes to leave a place and come to a whole ‘nother place where you don't really have that support system,” she states. “Because I think that people think, oh, you know, they think about illegal aliens, but a lot of what we're talking about are people who came here legally and who… are making the city of Chicago better.”

Moderator Jane Hseu is also looking forward to the opportunities afforded by this panel. Though she did not immigrate herself, her parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan, and she resonates with a lot of what the other writers will be sharing. As the leader of the conversation, she will be encouraging the writers in their discussion, as well as inviting the audience to participate, which will be vital to the mission of the panel. “I think for the audience, it'll be really stimulating to hear these minds and artists talk about [immigration] and try and connect it to their experience – the audience members' experiences – and what they think about this issue today,” she asserts.

This forty-minute panel will be held at the Partner Stage on the third floor of the Harold Washington Library Center and is free to all participants. All four writers will be available for book signings from 4:00-4:20 p.m. on the ninth floor of the building. Those interested in attending can find more information about the American Writers Festival on its website, and more details about the panel and featured writers can be found on the Writers Museum's event page or the CHLOF's website.


Kait Harland is an English Literature major at Trinity Christian College (Class of 2025). 

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