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Skirball Cultural Center

The People’s Tongue: Americans and The English Language

A Book Release Celebration Co-Presented with PEN America

Public Programs | Words and Ideas

the words The People's Tongue: Americans and the English Language in individual quote boxes in red and blue to mimic the American flag.

This ain't no ordinary book talk! Author Ilan Stavans acts as MC for a dynamic variety show inspired by his new anthology, The People’s Tongue. Expect the unexpected with dance, klezmer music, and performances from LA poets and writers. 

This is a past program

This program took place on
Wednesday, April 19, 2023

About the Program

This ain't no ordinary book talk! Expect the unexpected as the Skirball Cultural Center and PEN America join forces to celebrate the release of Ilan Stavans’s The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language—an anthology charting the diverse evolution of American English. Stavans acts as MC for a modern variety show featuring dance, live klezmer, interpretive readings, and more from local artists and literati.  

Featured speakers and performers include:

  • LA Times columnist and podcast host Gustavo Arellano
  • Musicians Gustavo Bulgach and Klezmer Juice
  • WriteGirl poet Jane Han
  • BODYTRAFFIC company dancer Joan Rodriguez
  • Poet Alyesha Wise

Plus more to be announced!

ASL interpretation provided by Pro Bono ASL will be available throughout the program. 

About the Book

This volume is a people’s history of English in the United States, told by those who have transformed it: activists, teachers, immigrants, scholars, students, musicians, and so many others. It is organized chronologically and offers a banquet of letters, poems, essays, dictionary entries, stories, songs, legislative documents, and other evidence of verbal mutation.

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.  

“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

Program Partner

Music for this event was programmed by:

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