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Esmeralda Santiago: A Writing Life

Americas Society

November 12, 2014
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Esmeralda Santiago. (Image: Frank Cantor)

Online registration for tonight’s program is closed. Members may arrive prior to the event and pick up their tickets, and non-members can pay at the door. Email jnegroni@as-coa.org for questions.

Admission: FREE for AS and YPA Members, $10 for non-members.

Not yet a member? Join NOW! For more information on YPA Membership, click here.

Celebrated Puerto Rican writer Esmeralda Santiago will discuss her life and literary career in a public interview with New York Times writer Mireya Navarro. A book-signing will follow. Santiago is author of internationally acclaimed works — the memoirs When I Was Puerto Rican (1993; subsequently adapted into a Peabody Award-winning film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre), Almost a Woman (1999), and The Turkish Lover (2004); and the novels América’s Dream (1997) and Conquistadora (2011). Navarro currently covers housing issues for the Times.

“Santiago makes Caribbean history come alive through characters as human as they are iconic. The richness of her imagination and the lushness of her language will serve saga enthusiasts well, and she provides readers a massive panorama of plantation life — plus all you could ever want to know and more about growing sugar cane.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review (On Conquistadora)

Watch an interview of Esmeralda Santiago with Jeffrey Brown on PBS NewsHour:

We thank the following additional institutions for helping publicize this event: the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, CUNY; Columbia University; the Consulate General of Argentina in New York; the Hispanic New York Project; Hunter College, CUNY; InterAmericas®; The International Literary Quarterly; McNally Jackson Books; New York University; The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church; The 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center; University of Houston; and Words Without Borders.

This event will be held in English.

Event Information: Jose Negroni | jnegroni@as-coa.org | 1-212-277-8353
Press Inquiries: Adriana La Rotta | alarotta@as-coa.org | 1-212-277-8384


Esmeralda Santiago, who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, came to the United States at thirteen, the eldest in a family that would eventually include eleven children. She attended New York City’s Performing Arts High School, where she majored in drama and dance. After studying at community colleges, she transferred to Harvard University with a full scholarship, and graduated magna cum laude in 1976. In 1977, she and her husband, filmmaker Frank Cantor, founded CANTOMEDIA, a film and media production company, which has won numerous awards for excellence in documentary filmmaking. Her writing career evolved from her work as a producer/writer of documentary and educational films. Her essays and opinion pieces have run in newspapers such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and in magazines including House & Garden and Sports Illustrated, and she has appeared as guest on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Upon publication of her first book, the memoir When I was Puerto Rican (1993), Santiago was hailed as “a welcome new voice, full of passion and authority” by The Washington Post Book World. Her first novel, América’s Dream (1996), was published in six languages, and was an Alternate Selection of the Literary Guild. “Thrilling and page turning, the fabulous story of América Gonzalez . . . is laid out masterfully,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Her second memoir, Almost a Woman (1998) received numerous “Best of Year” mentions, in addition to an Alex Award from the American Library Association. Her adaptation of the memoir into a film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre, was greeted with acclaim and was awarded a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. Her third memoir, The Turkish Lover (2004), which received enthusiastic reviews in Booklist and elsewhere, was selected as a BookSense recommendation and appeared on several “Best of 2004” lists. Her most recent novel is Conquistadora (2011), which has been lauded by Publishers Weekly and other publications. With Joie Davidow, Santiago is co-editor of various anthologies including Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remembertheir Mothers (2000) and the author of the children’s book, A Doll for Navidades (2005). In addition to her literary endeavors, Santiago is an active volunteer. She is a spokesperson on behalf of public libraries, has designed and developed community-based programs for adolescents, and was one of the founders of a shelter for battered women and their children. As a member of the boards of literary and arts organizations, she speaks vehemently about the need to encourage and support the artistic development of young people. Her community activism was cited when she received a Girl Scouts of America National Woman of Distinction Award in March 2002. Santiago has earned an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Trinity University, from Pace University, Metropolitan College, and from Universidad de Puerto Rico, Mayagüez. She’s currently at work on a new novel.

Mireya (Mia) Navarro, currently a writer for The New York Times who covers housing and issues of income inequality, was born and grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to the States to attend college, earned her B.A. in journalism from George Washington University, and her Masters in journalism from Columbia University. She started her career at the San Francisco Examiner, covering the courts, county government and Bay Area politics, and held foreign assignments in Mexico and Nicaragua. In 1989, after spending a year on a journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, she joined The New York Times as a staff writer in New York. She worked for the Metropolitan News section and covered AIDS and the prisons. In 1994, she became Miami bureau chief for the Times, an assignment that included reporting trips to Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean. She returned to New York in 1999, and was a member of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for the series “How Race is Lived in America” (later issued as a book). After 9/11, Navarro was part of the team that wrote “Portraits of Grief,” profiles that documented the lives of those killed in the terrorist attacks. She covered Latin culture and sex-and-relationships for the Culture and Metro sections of the Times before moving to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004 for Sunday Styles. She then returned to New York, where she became an environmental writer for the Times, covering the New York region from 2009 to 2013. Navarro has taught journalism as an adjunct professor at Columbia University and the City University of New York, and as a visiting faculty member for the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in California. She is regularly invited to speak in schools and colleges, as well as on radio and television. She has also moderated previous conversations with authors, including Junot Díaz and Oscar Hijuelos. She is the author of Green Wedding: Planning Your Eco-friendly Celebration (2009) and Stepdog (forthcoming, 2015).