Book cover of The People's Tongue

The People’s Tongue: Music & Words in Celebration (ONLINE)

Tune into a livestream of a special event in celebration of the new book The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language, a riveting, one-of-a-kind anthology of the diversity, strangeness, and power of American English. Featuring performances and readings from Ilan Stavans, editor of the The People’s TonguePaquito D’Rivera, renowned Cuban-American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and composer; Fareed Haque, Pakistani-Chilean-American jazz and classical guitarist and University of Chicago professor; and Ambassador Carolyn Curiel, senior speechwriter and special assistant to President Bill Clinton and former editorial board member of The New York Times.

The event will begin with a short performance by D’Rivera and Haque, followed by discussion moderated by Stavans and including Curiel, and conclude with several short readings from the anthology.

This event is the live online broadcast of an in-person event. When you register for this event you will get a link to view the broadcast via Zoom. If you would like to attend the event in-person at the American Writers Museum, register here.

Book cover of The People's TongueMore about The People’s Tongue:

A riveting, one-of-a-kind anthology of the diversity, strangeness, and power of American English, featuring a tremendous array of essays, letters, poems, songs, speeches, stories, jeremiads, manifestos, and decrees across history, from Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln to Henry Roth and Zora Neale Hurston, from Bob Dylan and James Baldwin to Richard Rodríguez and Amy Tan, from Tony Kushner and Toni Morrison to Louise Erdrich and Donald Trump.

This volume is a people’s history of English in the United States, told by those who have transformed it: activists, teachers, immigrants, journalists, poets, dictionary makers, actors, musicians, playwrights, preachers, presidents, rappers, translators, singers, children’s authors, scientists, politicians, foreigners, students, homemakers, lexicographers, scholars, newspaper columnists, senators, novelists, and a slew of fanatics. It begins with the English used by the settlers in Plymouth Colony and concludes (for now) with John McWhorter’s tribute to punctuation that bends the rules.

The quest is to understand how an imperial language like English, with Germanic origins, whose spread resulted from the Norman conquest, came to be an intrinsic component of the most influential democratic experiment in the world. Edited by internationally renowned cultural commentator and consultant for the OED Ilan Stavans, it is organized chronologically and offers a banquet of letters, poems, essays, dictionary entries, stories, songs, legislative documents, and other evidence of verbal mutation. Immigrants have propelled these transformations. Hybrid dialects like Yinglish, Spanglish, and Hawaiian pidgin have flowered. Our linguistic and cultural multiplicity has sparked fierce national debates that play out in these pages—from the compulsory education (and deracination) of Native Americans, to the classification of Black Vernacular English (once celebrated and ridiculed as Ebonics), to the dictionary wars over prescriptive versus descriptive usage, to the push for “English only” mandates that persist to this day. What is clear is that as much as we try to corral it, American English gallops ahead to its own destiny.

Driven by American innovators, English has become the global language of both business and entertainment—the medium of the laws that bind us, the art that inspires us, and the connections we forge across cultures. A compendium that is as rich and diverse as the country itself, The People’s Tongue helps us grapple with how English has become the world’s lingua franca.

Praise for The People’s Tongue:

The shrewdly selected offerings capture the kaleidoscopic variety of American English and attest to its power in shaping national identity. The result is a trenchant look at a nation perpetually in the process of making itself.”
—Publishers Weekly

Stavans, a Mexican American author and academic, presents a broad spectrum of material, from the Pilgrims to the age of Twitter, tracking the evolution of American English…A useful resource for the classroom and anyone interested in the history of American English.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Ilan Stavans’ extraordinary anthology invites us to see and reassess our reservoir of words that define the full range of American English, from countless disciplinary perspectives. This volume is destined to become an essential companion to future generations. Stavans, whose work on Spanglish has opened new scholarly paths, has made a major contribution to the vibrant, and still unfolding history of the English language.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

About the panelists:

ILAN STAVANS is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College, the publisher of Restless Books, and a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. His latest book is The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language.

Cuban saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer PAQUITO D’RIVERA has the curiosity, imagination, and technical virtuosity to be as comfortable on stage, leading his band while improvising on a Latin Jazz piece as at his desk, writing orchestral music. Add to it an irrepressible sense of humor and an unruly and unpretentious personality, and you get the rare talent that makes brilliance look and sound natural, easy, and fun. His work defies categorization. Prizes only tell part of the story. But Mr. D’Rivera’s five GRAMMYs and nine Latin GRAMMYs, and most recently the Academy’s Trustee Awards, offer a glimpse of his range. He has more than 40 albums under his name. His discography speaks to his broad interests, including various strains of jazz, an array of Latin music styles, and the classical music tradition.

FAREED HAQUE is a modern guitar virtuoso. Steeped in classical and jazz traditions, his unique command of the guitar and different musical styles inspire his musical ventures with tradition and fearless innovation. Haque has toured and recorded with Joe Zawinul, Billy Cobham, Dave Holland, Paquito D’Rivera, Sting, Zakir Hussain, Bob James, Joe Henderson and many others, in addition to co-leading groups with Tony Monaco, Paul Wertico, Goran Ivanovic, Garaj Mahal, and The Chicago Immigrant Orchestra. Haque has released numerous albums as a leader, in jazz, classical, world music and fusion styles, and is the recipient of numerous accolades and awards including Best World Guitarist, Guitar Player Magazine 2009, 2004 Acoustic Album of the Year, 2007 Independent Music Award, and Best New World Music Group in Chicago Reader Poll 2020. In addition to a busy touring schedule, Haque is Professor Emeritus of jazz and classical guitar at Northern Illinois University, where he tought for 30 years, and has released 13 best selling video courses thru Truefire.

If you are a reader of the New York Times or the Washington Post, or if you ever listened to President Clinton’s speeches, you might be familiar with the work of CAROLYN CURIEL. As a journalist, she has covered sports, been a foreign correspondent, written editorials, and put candidates for public office through a wringer as they sought the important newspaper endorsement. And as White House Senior Speechwriter and Special Assistant, she wrote some of Mr. Clinton’s most notable speeches, including on race relations, before going on to her great reward, as U.S. Ambassador to Belize. In a wide-ranging career, she also was a professor of civic communication at Purdue University. She is a Trustee of the American Writers Museum.

The event is finished.


May 21 2023


Central Time
4:00 pm

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