People & Stories Celebrates Milestone With New Fall Programs, Staff, Trustees
LOOKING BACK ON 50 YEARS: In this photo from approximately 12 years ago, poet Paul Muldoon facilitated a session of People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos. Muldoon is among the artists, authors, and poets to have participated in the transformative literature program over the years.
By Anne Levin
It has been 50 years since Sarah Hirschman began People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos at a low-income housing project in Cambridge, Mass. Since then, the program has brought the transformative power of literature to prisons, shelters, housing projects, and libraries to locations from Trenton to Buenos Aires — including Princeton, where Hirschman lived from 1974 until her death a decade ago.
To celebrate the milestone, the Lawrence Township-based People & Stories is holding a series of fall programs at its own headquarters and the Trenton Public Library, the Arts Council of Princeton, and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF)’s Trenton offices. The nonprofit has also announced recent additions to its board and staff.
In its classic format, People & Stories gathers 15-20 adults or young adults around a table or in a circle for eight 90-minute sessions to hear and discuss stories, either in English or Spanish. A trained coordinator reads a story aloud and then facilitates a discussion on the issues within the text.
“What I love about it is that in every space we go, it seems like the safe container is the story,” said Cheyenne B. Wolf, executive director. “So everybody is discussing things that are so often closed off from one another, and writing new narratives for themselves. They are learning in a space that is open and non-intrusive. It’s all about discovery.”
The 50th anniversary year is an opportunity for increased community engagement. On September 20 at 10:30 a.m., Trenton Free Public Library will host a “Try It” event in Spanish.
Another will be held in English on September 24 at 11 a.m. An evening presentation of People & Stories programming, with a sample “Try It” session, is scheduled for September 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the organization’s headquarters, in Lawrence Community Center, 295 Eggerts Crossing Road.
“We’re really excited to launch this,” said Wolf. “We have so many people who are curious about the program, but it is not always easy to understand what it’s about. This gives people an opportunity to try a session. We’re going to neighborhood hubs, places where people from all walks of life congregate. We’re hoping to introduce programs to new audiences.”
Wolf pointed out that the “Try It” events are not to raise funds for People & Stories, though contributions are always welcome. “What we want is to celebrate Sarah Hirschman’s spirit of generosity and inclusivity,” she said.
A two-part coordinator training workshop is planned for October 19 and 21 at the program’s Lawrence Township offices. On October 22, LALDEF will hold a free session in Spanish at its office, 714-716 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton. Lunch and child care will be provided.
Inspired by the work of contemporary Mexican artist Karima Muyaes, “The Art of People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos” at the Arts Council of Princeton on October 26 is geared to teens and adults. A short story by Mexican author Angeles Mastretta, “Women with Big Eyes,” will be read aloud, followed by discussions in English and Spanish.
New additions to the board of trustees Susana Plotquin and Keith Wheelock join Charlotte Friedman, Andrea Honore, Michael Aaron, Alex Fajardo, Barbara Flythe, Bhaveen Jani, and Mimi Schwartz. New staff members are Program Manager Maria Saiz and Communications Manager Debra Lampert-Rudman.