Virtual book events will celebrate immigrant stories and Emily Dickinson

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer’s classic novel about a Holocaust survivor’s life in New York City is a featured read in an online book program sponsored by Forbes Library.

  • Northampton writer Ocean Vuong’s acclaimed novel-memoir hybrid about a young Vietnamese immigrant’s life in the U.S. is a featured read in an online book program sponsored by Forbes Library.

  • Northampton poet and playwright Franny Choi hosts a poetry open mic as part of the Tell It Slant Festival in Amherst, which has moved online this year. Image courtesy Emily Dickinson Museum

Staff Writer
Published: 9/11/2020 2:43:50 PM
Modified: 9/11/2020 2:43:35 PM

If concerts, dance festivals and theater can find a presence on the internet in the midst of the pandemic, why not literary events?

This month brings two virtual literary programs to the Valley (and beyond). The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst and Forbes Library in Northampton are presenting “Coming to America,” which invites the public to read four novels examining the immigrant experience in America and take part in monthly Zoom discussions of the books. The series runs this month through December, with each month dedicated to a different title.

And from Sept. 14-20, the Tell It Slant Poetry Festival, produced by the Emily Dickinson Museum, will celebrate Amherst’s favorite poet with an open mic, music, panel discussions and the festival’s cornerstone event: the reading of all 1,789 of Dickinson’s poems. It’s the eighth year for the festival — and the first time it will all be done online.

The “Coming to America” project is one of a series of events the Yiddish Book Center is launching to mark its 40th anniversary, and Forbes is one of 22 U.S. public libraries that are part of the program. In “Coming to America,” readers will encounter three books of Yiddish literature (in translation) that look at the immigrant experience: “Motl the Cantor’s Son,” by Sholem Aleichem; “Enemies, A Love Story,” by Isaac Bashevis Singer; and “A Jewish Refugee in New York,” by Kadya Molodovsky.

The fourth title of the series is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, a Northampton writer and Vietnamese immigrant to the U.S.

Vuong’s novel just won the Massachusetts Book Award for fiction in 2020.

The program is designed to look at questions of identity, assimilation, language, cuisine, generational change and other aspects of immigration — a topic, organizers say, that’s as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.

Copies of the books are all available for borrowing at Forbes Library. This month’s title is “Motl the Cantor’s Son,” and a Zoom discussion about it takes place Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required, and more details about signing up and taking out books is available at

The Tell It Slant Festival, meanwhile — the title is a reference to Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” — features appearances by a number of guest artists and poets, including Northampton singer-songwriter Kimaya Diggs; Northampton poet and playwright Franny Choi; and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown, who teaches at Emory University in Atlanta.

The first six days of the festival will all feature a two-hour session in which different people will read some of Dickinson’s poems, with the 1,789th coming on Sept. 19. There are also writing workshops, “behind-the-scenes” looks at various Dickinson archives, and discussion of the relationship of her poetry to today’s charged times.

The festival is supported by the Jones Library and other groups in Amherst, and organizers say the event is also “committed to featuring and serving established and emerging poets who represent the diversity of the contemporary American poetry landscape.” A panel discussion Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m., for instance, examines the “vitality and importance of Black Lives and Black Poetics in contemporary America,” according to program notes.

More information on the festival, including how to register for specific events, is available at Registration is free but donations to the museum are encouraged.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at
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