Since 1972, People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos has been connecting lives to literature through vibrant reading and discussion programs. The program began in Spanish in a housing project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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, the project expanded to include Story Talk / Cuentos y Plática, a youth initiative that reaches at-risk young adult audiences across the country, including sites in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Washington.
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.
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. In each program, coordinators read 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.
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.