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About Us

People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos works to create a more equitable society by inviting new audiences to experience our humanistic, literary heritage.
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Enduring literature has poetic, linguistic, and emotional forces with the potential to deeply touch and enrich the lives of readers. The power of a literary work begins only when an appreciative reader encounters it. Unfortunately, access to literature is linked to rigid social hierarchies, often drawn on the basis of class, race, and educational privilege. One of the goals of People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos is to cultivate a desire to understand life experiences more deeply, inviting participants to see beyond their personal circumstances to the imagined possibilities that literature explores.

Mission

People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos is dedicated to opening doors to literature for new audiences. Through oral readings and rigorous discussions of enduring short stories, we invite underserved participants to fresh understandings of themselves, of others, and of the world.
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Over the course of more than forty years and serving more than 40,000 people, People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos has offered access to the power of the humanities. Our method of reading and discussion reaches individuals in transition, encouraging adults and young adults to move forward with their education while strengthening the literacy skills to do so. The short stories we select are rich in artistry, exploring life’s complications, wonders, and ambiguities. Program participants learn not only from the text of these stories, as a solitary reader does, and not only from the facilitator, who is trained to avoid the typical “teacher” role of one who imparts knowledge to others. Participants learn from their own interpretations, from the differing ideas offered by others in the room, and from the dialogue that emerges as readers examine and build on one another’s responses. As a result, individuals can question stereotypes with increased awareness, communicate with empowered voices, and refine critical and analytical thinking skills to expand a sense of possibility. Using literature as a spark, the People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos method ignites a life-long love of reading.
We integrate our programs with partner organizations focused on critical life transitions:

  • Prisoners moving to probation
  • Halfway house residents re-joining community
  • At-risk youth in alternative education programs
  • Adults enrolled in adult education programs
  • Immigrants working toward citizenship
  • Veterans re-entering civilian society
  • Seniors moving to new stages
  • Parents who are members of any of the above groups.

A critical bridge, People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos provides hope and skills for envisioning and pursuing new ambitions.

History

People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos began in Spanish in a housing project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1972, when founder Sarah Hirschman organized a group of Puerto Rican women for a Gente y Cuentos pilot series.  Programs in Spanish continued in community centers in Trenton, New Jersey, and in a barrio outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  In 1981, the project expanded to include programs in Florida, Texas, New York, and Puerto Rico.

The program in English, People & Stories, began in 1986 in New Jersey, and the project became a non-profit corporation in 1993.  The program continued to expand by serving regional audiences with programs throughout New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.  In 2005, People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos developed Crossing Borders with Literature, a program model that invites suburban participants to join programs, forging connections that cross municipal, socioeconomic, racial, and cultural lines.

In 2010, with the collaboration of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the project expanded to include Story Talk / Cuentos y Plática, a youth initiative that reached at-risk young adult audiences across the country, including sites in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Washington. And in 2015 we initiated a new NEH project called Reading Deeply in Community / Leyendo a Fondo, en Comunidad, working nationally with librarians to take the program to sex trafficking victims, Latino library patrons, adults in re-entry, enrollees in adult literacy classes, and low-income seniors — among a wide range of participants — in California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

Today, our programs continue to reach youth, adults, and seniors in diverse social service agencies—including residential treatment facilities, prisons, homeless shelters, adult education programs, libraries, senior centers, and alternative schools—on local, regional, and national levels.

Timeline

1972

Founder Sarah Hirschman organizes a group of Puerto Rican women for a Gente y Cuentos pilot series in Cambridge, Massachussetts.

1981

The project expands to Florida, Texas, New York, and Puerto Rico.

1986

People & Stories, the English version of the program, is initiated in New Jersey.

1993

People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos becomes a non-profit corporation.

2004

The National Endowment for the Humanities funds Reading Stories, Transforming Lives / Compartir Cuentos y Enriquecer la Vida, in which 29 librarians and scholars are trained to conduct 53 programs in 16 U.S. states.

2005

Links between urban and suburban communities are developed with the new initiative Crossing Borders with Literature.

2010

The NEH funds Story Talk / Cuentos y Plática, a national program for at-risk youth.

2015

Reading Deeply in Community / Leyendo a Fondo, en Comunidad, a new NEH project, reaches adult audiences around the country.

Methodology

People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos programs create an enjoyable and enriching experience with literature for those who have often had limited opportunity to read or study the humanities.
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In each program, a coordinator reads aloud an enduring short story as participants follow along with provided copies.  We choose classic and contemporary short stories particularly for their poetic and complex approach; they resist tidy answers and, like life, are layered and open-ended.

Selected Story Titles:

  • Chinua Achebe, “Marriage is a Private Affair”
  • Isabel Allende, “Dos palabras”
  • Toni Cade Bambara, “Raymond’s Run”
  • Louise Erdrich, “The Shawl”
  • James Joyce, “Eveline”
  • Naguib Mahfouz, “Zaabalawi”
  • Ana Maria Matute, “La conciencia”
  • Rodrigo Rey Rosa, “La prueba”
  • Eudora Welty, “A Worn Path”

A vibrant discussion then ensues as coordinators invite participants to reflect on questions and share their understanding of the text, drawing upon their values, ethics, and acquired knowledge to analyze the short story.  Our methodology encourages participants to encounter literature through the lens of their own life experiences, revealing an inherent ability to tackle difficult themes, issues, and texts often reserved for the college classroom.

Participants learn not only from the text, as a solitary reader does, and also not just from the facilitator, who is trained to avoid the typical “teacher” role of one who imparts knowledge to others.  Participants learn from their own reactions to the story, from the differing interpretations offered by others in the room, and from the dialogue that emerges as readers examine, question, affirm, and build on one another’s responses.  As a result, individuals can move beyond stereotypes, communicate better across racial and cultural differences, and refine critical and analytical thinking skills.

Learn more about our programs.