Author Esmeralda Santiago Kicks Off 2020 Arlington Reads Together

Esmeralda Santiago, author of 2020 Arlington Reads Together pick When I Was Puerto Rican, kicks off a month of Puerto Rico themed programs and events when she presents Esmeralda Santiago: Writing a Life at Arlington Town Hall on Sunday, March 8, at 3pm. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the event, courtesy of The Book Rack.

Santiago was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States when she was 13 years old. She is the author of three memoirs, two novels, a children’s book, and has co-edited two anthologies of Latino literature. Her transcultural experiences growing up in a rural barrio, poor and disenfranchised, inspire much of her work, and her books have been translated into 15 languages.

Upon publication of the ground-breaking memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, Santiago was hailed by the Washington Post Book World as “a welcome new voice, full of passion and authority.” Her first novel, America’s Dream, was made into a movie by executive producer Edward James Olmos. Her second memoir, Almost a Woman, is a George Foster Peabody-award winning film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre’s American Collection. She is the only living author in this prestigious series that includes James Agee, Willa Cather, Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, and Henry James.

“We are excited and honored to bring Esmeralda Santiago to Arlington,” says Director of Libraries Andrea Nicolay. Long before it was chosen as a community read, When I Was Puerto Rican was required reading for generations of Arlington students. With 2020 being an election year, Puerto Rico is a particularly timely theme, touching on issues of statehood, what it means to be an American, and how climate change is affecting this country.

Arlington Reads Together started in 2002 as a way of bringing the community together through literature. The goal is to address issues, understand differences and create connections through the shared experience of reading. Titles are chosen by a committee consisting of librarians and community volunteers.

Esmeralda Santiago is passionate about the need to encourage and support the artistic development of young people with storytelling and media literacy. She is a spokesperson on behalf of public libraries and has travelled extensively as a cultural ambassador for the State Department. Her essays and opinion pieces have been published widely, and she is a frequent guest commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, LatinoUSA, and The TakeAway. Santiago graduated from Harvard University, earned a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has Honorary Doctorates from Trinity College, Pace University, Metropolitan College/NYC, and University of Puerto Rico/ Mayaguez. She has served on the boards of The Jacob Burns Film Center, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and PEN American Center. The mother of two adult children, she lives in New York with her husband, award-winning documentary filmmaker Frank Cantor.

Library visitors can pick up copies of When I Was Puerto Rican and the two other community read titles, Parrots Over Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Strong, at the Robbins or Fox branch libraries. Staff members can also place holds in person or over the phone. Events, book discussions, and more take place throughout the month. A full schedule of events and programs is available at

Arlington Reads Together is a project of the Robbins Library in partnership with Envision Arlington’s Diversity Task Group. The program’s main sponsor is the Arlington Libraries Foundation, with additional funding from the Friends of Robbins Library. Questions can be directed to Anna Litten at or 781-316-3202.