One of the things I love about working with publishers and self-publishers is that wide range of books that come in each and every day. Any given day might involve a grandmother’s cookbook, the history of horse wrangling in South Dakota, a yearbook for a college on the East Coast, a book by an author whose work I already love, or someone new I’ve never heard from before. I never know what project is coming up next when the phone rings!
We Are the Future was one of those books. Merna Hecht, a nationally known storyteller, teaching artist, poet and essayist, called us one day to talk about a new project she was working on. Right from the start I knew this was something special, and I’ve been delighted to follow along as We Are the Future came to life on the printed page.
We Are the Future comes directly from the Stories of Arrival Poetry Project out of Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington. Collecting poetry broadsides from refugee and immigrant youth, We Are the Future gives students a chance to tell their story in their own words and art. We asked Merna to tell us a little more about We Are the Future and the Stories of Arrival Project.
A Conversation with Editor Merna Hecht
Gorham Printing: Tell me about the heart of Stories of Arrival. What inspired this project?
Merna Hecht: Thank you for asking about the heart of what inspired the project. Most of all it is the core belief that co-director Carrie Stradley and I share that it is vital for refugee and immigrant youth to tell their own stories. These individual stories can educate the larger community about the experience of migration as it affects young people and their families. We believe that compassion and understanding are increased, not through sound bites about wars and conflicts, or as overwhelming statistics, but through individual stories that touch our hearts and broaden our sense of what it means to leave a homeland and arrive in a new place.
GP: If you had to summarize Stories of Arrival in three sentences, what would you say?
MH: Our project gives refugee and immigrant youth a forum for speaking out on issues that determine their future and their well-being. We fully honor that youth are the future and we provide an arena for refugee and immigrant youth to articulate their identity, honor their cultures and speak to the world they hope for. It is a project that celebrates the power of poetry to tell stories of loss, struggle, hope and dreams all toward envisioning a more peaceful, humane world.
GP: How have the students reacted to seeing their poems in print?
MH: They are thrilled to see their art and poems in print—they feel like their voices and artistic expressions have a far reach and they are very proud of that and of each other.
GP: How have readers reacted to We Are the Future?
MH: We have received responses from many people around the country telling us how deeply they have been touched by the poetry, stories, images and photos in the book. All of these kind responses tell us two main things. One is that the book touches the heart of its readers and enlarges their awareness of the courage and resilience of refugee and immigrant youth. Also, there is a sense of surprise and gratitude as to how much these young people have to teach us, contribute to our communities and remind us of our common humanity.
GP: What made you decide to self-publish this book?
MH: I wanted to bring the book into printed form so that the students could see their work and celebrate themselves and each other, because with the COVID-19 school closures we had no way of holding community showcases and readings to honor their voices and creativity and deep engagement in the project.
GP: How did you find out about Gorham Printing?
MH: I learned of Gorham from a friend who works at our local independent bookstore. She gave me the Gorham pamphlet of sample paper and covers and I knew right away that Gorham would fit perfectly for our vision of what we wanted for this full color book. The “vibe” was just right! I stopped looking at other printers!
GP: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the book printing process?
I wish I had anticipated how many copies I needed instead of eventually placing two more orders!
GP: Where can people find out more about your book?
MH: I have remaining copies from the Gorham printing and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for price and mailing instructions. The proceeds go directly to our project. The book is coming out soon as a trade book from Seattle’s Chin Music Press and can now be ordered and mailed directly from them.