Streams on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 8pm ET | 5pm PT
PBS Books and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are partnering on “Visions of America: All Stories, All People, All Places,” PBS Books premiered “Visions of America: A Journey to the Freedom Tower – Stories of Cuban Migration to Miami” in September. The inspiration for this episode is Carlos Eire’s “Waiting for Snow in Havana” and “Learning to Die in Miami“.IMLS Director Crosby Kemper speaks with award-winning writer and scholar Carlos Eire to discuss his books, his life, and his experiences as an immigrant, an exile, and an American. Gain personal insights into a Cuban’s experience and Pedro Pan, an unaccompanied children’s exodus from Cuba. As you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, don’t miss this opportunity to hear a lesser-known American story.
To hear more about “Visions of America: A Journey to the Freedom Tower – Stories of Cuban Migration to Miami” go to visionsofamerica.org.
About the Author: Carlos Eire
Carlos Eire is a historian of late medieval and early modern Europe at Yale University who focuses on the Protestant and Catholic Reformations; the history of popular piety; the history of the supernatural, and the history of death.
At Yale he has served as chair of the Religious Studies Department and the Renaissance Studies Program. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, he taught at St. John’s University in Minnesota and the University of Virginia, and was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for two years. He is the author of War Against the Idols (1986); From Madrid to Purgatory(1995); A Very Brief History of Eternity (2010); Reformations: The Early Modern World (2016); and The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila: A Biography (2019), and They Flew: A History of the Impossible (2023). He is also co-author of Jews, Christians, Muslims: An Introduction to Monotheistic Religions (1997). In 2003 he won the National Book Award in Nonfiction for his first memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003), which covers the Cuban Revolution and its immediate aftermath and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
His second memoir, Learning to Die in Miami (2010), explores his early years in exile. His book Reformations won the R.R.Hawkins Prize for Best Book of the Year from the American Publishers Association, as well as the award for Best Book in the Humanities. It was also awarded the Jaroslav Pelikan Prize by Yale University Press. All of his books are banned in Cuba, where he has been proclaimed an enemy of the state – a distinction he regards as the highest of all honors.
“Waiting for Snow in Havana“is both an exorcism and an ode to a paradise lost. For the Cuba of Carlos’s youth—with its lizards and turquoise seas and sun-drenched siestas—becomes an island of condemnation once a cigar-smoking guerrilla named Fidel Castro ousts President Batista on January 1, 1959. Suddenly the music in the streets sounds like gunfire. Christmas is made illegal, political dissent leads to imprisonment, and too many of Carlos’s friends are leaving Cuba for a place as far away and unthinkable as the United States. Carlos will end up there, too, and fulfill his mother’s dreams by becoming a modern American man—even if his soul remains in the country he left behind.Narrated with the urgency of a confession,Waiting for Snow in Havanais a eulogy for a native land and a loving testament to the collective spirit of Cubans everywhere.
The memoir, “Waiting for Snow in Havana”, won the 2003 National Book Award. Carlos Eire narrates his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life in Miami in 1962. It would be years before he would see his mother again. He would never again see his beloved father. “Learning to Die in Miami ” opens as the plane lands and Carlos faces, with trepidation and excitement, his new life. He quickly realizes that in order for his new American self to emerge, his Cuban self must “die.” And so, with great enterprise and purpose, he begins his journey. We follow Carlos as he adjusts to life in his new home. Faced with learning English, attending American schools, and an uncertain future, young Carlos confronts the age-old immigrant’s plight: being surrounded by American bounty, but not able to partake right away. The abundance America has to offer excites him and, regardless of how grim his living situation becomes, he eagerly forges ahead with his own personal assimilation program, shedding the vestiges of his old life almost immediately, even changing his name to Charles. Cuba becomes a remote and vague idea in the back of his mind, something he used to know well, but now it “had ceased to be part of the world.”
About the Moderator: Crosby Kemper
Crosby Kemper is the sixth director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He was commissioned by the White House on January 24, 2020, following his confirmation by the United States Senate. IMLS, an independent government agency, is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s museums and libraries.
Kemper is a dedicated advocate for education and learning for people of all ages and backgrounds. He came to IMLS from the Kansas City Public Library, where as director, he established the library as one of the city’s leading cultural destinations and a hub of community engagement. Kemper also served as chair of the board of directors of the Schools, Health, & Libraries Broadband Coalition, which supports open, affordable broadband connections for local community organizations.
Beginning his IMLS tenure at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kemper provided exceptional support and leadership to communities by elevating issues of pandemic impact, poverty, race, and the digital divide as part of the IMLS grantmaking process. Understanding the urgent need, Kemper delivered American Rescue Plan Act and CARES Act monies to grantees quickly and efficiently, with a focus on community impact in a time of extreme dislocation. Under his leadership, IMLS also created the REALM (REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) project using CARES Act funds, a partnership to directly respond to the lack of information on the virus specifically for library and museum materials and spaces, as well as to research protocols and procedures for reopening.
Along with leaders of fellow cultural agencies the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Kemper is a member of the re-established President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, as well as the congressionally mandated Information Literacy Taskforce.
He is an ex officio member of the US Semiquincentennial Commission. As such, he has engaged museum, library, and arts leaders in deep conversations about American history and the Semiquincentennial. He also launched IMLS’s 250 initiative, “IMLS 250: All Stories. All People. All Places.”