The Gathering 2019 – Refugees and Immigrants: Who are They and Who am I?

In 2019 The Gathering we considered “Refugees and Immigrants: Who are They and Who am I?” We discussed why many Americans, most of whom are descended from immigrants or refugees, favor closing the door on them now. We looked at statistics about immigrants’ cultural and economic contributions to the United States, immigrants and crime rates, and whether Americans have a special responsibility to take in people whose lives have been threatened in their homelands. Speakers included Gail Carson Levine, an award-winning children’s author and poet, who talked about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492; Ilya Kaminsky, an award-winning poet and immigrant from Russia; and others who have been refugees or immigrants, or who work on their behalf.


Nancy Isenberg, the author of White Trash: The 400 year-old Untold History of Class in America, is the T. Harry Williams Professor of History at Louisiana State University. Her historical nonfiction, including Fallen Founder (a biography of Aaron Burr), Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America,  Madison and Jefferson, and The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality, have been widely reviewed and praised. She has won The Los Angeles Times book prize, the Oklahoma Book Award for Nonfiction, and other awards and citations for her work.

White Trash Outcasts: The Myth of the Classless Society

Ilya Kaminsky was born in Odessa, in the former USSR. He came to America in 1993, when his family was granted asylum by the US government in order to get Ilya treatment for deafness. His most recent book, Deaf Republic, will be released in March, 2019. He also is the author of Dancing In Odessa, which won the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, Whiting Writers Award, Lannan Fellowship and other honors. That book was translated into Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, Romanian, Russian, French and several other languages, and various editions appeared all over the world. Ilya has also co-edited Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) which is widely used as a textbook in universities in the USA and abroad. He has also co-edited and translated a number of other critically acclaimed volumes. Ilya currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Poetry Reading

Chris Boian is spokesperson and senior communications officer for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Based in Washington DC, Chris engages with journalists, policymakers, scholars, companies, non-profits, faith leaders, philanthropists, social media influencers, athletes, celebrities, refugees and anyone else interested in an ongoing public conversation about the causes of and solutions for forced displacement of human beings around the world. Chris hails originally from Colorado but left the United States in 1985 to spend the next three decades living and working around the world as a journalist for the International Herald Tribune and Agence France-Presse. He is a member of the National Press Club, the advisory board for the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, and has lectured on international affairs, media, and refugee issues at the Sorbonne, The George Washington University, Denver University, Moscow State Institute for International Relations, and the London School of Economics. Chris speaks five languages.


A Compassionate Response to the Global Refugee Crisis

Photo by David Levine

Gail Carson Levine, writes for children and young adults – novels, picture books, nonfiction, and poetry. She’s best known for her novel, Ella Enchanted, which won a Newbery honor medal in 1998. Other books include the historical novel, Dave at Night, and the two nonfiction how-to’s, Writing Magic, Creating Stories that Fly, and Writer to Writer, From Think to Ink. Her latest is Stolen Magic, the second in the mystery series that began with A Tale of Two Castles, about detective dragon Meenore and ITs assistant Elodie.

Deadline, July 31, 1492. Conversion, Expulsion, or Execution

Contributing Writer, The Marshall Project
Julia Preston is a Contributing Writer covering immigration at The Marshall Project, a non-profit journalism organization focusing on criminal justice. Before coming to The Marshall Project in February 2017, Ms. Preston worked for 21 years at The New York Times. She was the national correspondent covering immigration from April 2006 until December 2016. She was a Times correspondent in Mexico from 1995 through 2001. Ms. Preston was a member of the New York Times staff of four reporters that won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on international affairs, for a series that revealed the corrosive effects of drug corruption in Mexico.

IS AMERICA FULL? The Border Crisis of 2019 and Its Impact on the Immigration System

Milad Yousufi is the first Western composer influenced by the culture of Afghanistan, where he was born in 1995 during the Afghan revolution. He also is a pianist, vocalist, conductor, poet, painter, and calligrapher. At age 12, after the Taliban rule ended, he taught painting and studied at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, where he later taught piano, music theory, and a course on Sibelius. As a teenager, he was offered the opportunity to study in Germany, where he won a piano competition. He has traveled and performed since in Europe and the United States, where he won a full scholarship to the Mannes School of Music at the New School in New York. He has performed widely in the USA, including at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the New England Conservatory. He has composed music for the New York Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, The Refugee Orchestra Project, the Kronos Quartet, Music Worcester, and others.

Music from My Two Homelands (Part of Invocation)

Ellen Carroll, is honored and pleasantly surprised to be returning to the Gathering. Like Barak Obama, she began her career at Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors, went on to work as a copywriter, an appearance agent for children’s authors and illustrators, and an events coordinator for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps. She received her MA in literature from University College, London, and currently does stand-up comedy and live talk shows. She also is a wife, mother of teenagers, and . . . isn’t being the mother of teenagers enough?

Charm School for Uninvited Guests

WELCOME HOME: How NEPA Helps Refugees from around the Globe Settle in Their New Country

Sonya Sarner has been Program Manager at Catholic Social Services for 14 years. Before that she was a case manager at CSS, her first job in the US. She is an accredited representative through the Department of Justice, whereby, as a non-lawyer, she can practice immigration law and represent clients before USCIS. She has an MS in genetic science from the University of Zootechnics and Veterinary Medicine in Bulgaria. Recently she earned the “2018 Health, Hope and Wholeness Hero Award” from the PA Department of Human Services.

Bonnie Alco holds a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from The Pennsylvania State University. She has followed a career in international education and language acquisition with experience at USIA in the Fulbright Program, at Marywood where she directed the international office and created an intensive English program for incoming international students. She completed her professional life as a professor at the University of Scranton in linguistics. Bonnie is a member of the Elk Mountain Ski Patrol.

Marilyn Pryle is an English teacher at Abington Heights High School in Clarks Summit, PA. She also organizes the ELL Conversation Group for local refugees at the Lackawanna Children’s Library. She is the author of several books for teachers, most recently Reading with Presence (Heinemann) and 50 Writing Activities for Meeting Higher Standards (Scholastic). Marilyn has also taught in Boston, Philadelphia, and Nepal, and was recently named Pennsylvania’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.

Erin Keating, Ed.D, is the Chief of Leadership Development and School Operations in the Scranton School District. Formerly, she was the principal of the Wyoming Valley West Senior High School, in Plymouth, PA. In the Scranton School District, Erin works with student support systems to ensure all students are academically, emotionally, and behaviorally prepared for school. As part of these responsibilities, Erin has engaged with multiple initiatives to support refugee and migrant students.


Writing Fiction

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the author of picture books, novels, and nonfiction for children, including the Newbery Honor book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, the Sibert Medal-winning Black Potatoes, and Dear America: A Coal Miner’s Bride. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors, including the National Council of Teachers of English Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.

Let’s Talk Craft
Let’s talk craft. Let’s talk digging deep. Let’s talk revision. Let’s talk about the work that all writers must do. Fiction writers of all genres, at all stages of the process are welcome.


Trebbe Johnson is the author of Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty in Earth’s Broken Places, The World Is a Waiting Love: Desire and the Quest for the Beloved, 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty, and many articles and essays that explore our human bond with nature and our mythic search for meaning. She is founder and director of the global community Radical Joy for Hard Times, devoted to finding and making beauty in wounded places. Trebbe speaks four languages; has camped alone in the Arctic wilderness; studied classical Indian dance; and worked as an artist’s model, a street sweeper in an English village, and an award-winning multimedia producer. She has led contemplative journeys in a clear-cut forest, Ground Zero in New York, the Sahara Desert, and other places. She lives in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Moving with the Ancestors

In this workshop we’ll tap into the sufferings, successes, and hopes of our ancestors and ask How does Who they were affect Who I am today?

Human beings have been on the move for at least 70,000 years, ever since our very, very distant ancestors began migrating from East Africa. All of us, even Native Americans, are related to women and men who have come to where they settled from someplace else. For many of us, the impetus that “moved” our ancestors to set off into the unknown in search of a better life remains a force in the decisions we make for ourselves.

Together we’ll travel a bit of the path our ancestors tamped down for us by:

• creating an altar or focal point to honor the many places they came from
• choosing one of these ancestors with whom to take a meditative solo walk on the Keystone campus
• sharing the fruits of the walk through spontaneous writing
• and getting back the gift of those words in a memorable way


Dana Shavin’s essays have appeared in Oxford American, Psychology Today, The Sun, Bark, Fourth Genre, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Writer,, and others. She has been a Lifestyle columnist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press since 2002, and was the recipient of a MakeWork Literary Arts grant in 2008. Her memoir, The Body Tourist, was published in 2014. She is currently at work on a collection of essays called Dinners With Friends: Togetherness as a Radical Act. A complete list of publications is at

Workshop: We are All Strangers here:  Finding Story, Finding Voice


Ilya Kaminsky

Textures of Poetic Language
How do the poets learn from other poets? Who should be our models? How do poets, across many time-periods and traditions, speak to each other? What can we learn about tools of poetic craft from overhearing their conversations?
In this workshop, we will ask these and many other questions while paying very close attention to each other’s work. Please purchase and read Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins) & bring it with you to class. It will serve as a guiding text for our conversation. Also, please bring  12 copies of your poem to our first class session.

Historical Fiction

Gail Carson Levine

Writing the Past, Weaving Fact and Fiction
We’ll look at resources for non-historians (and the tricks and secrets!), ponder what draws a writer to the past, what’s called for to address it, and why it may be easier (in one way at least) than writing other genres. We’ll consider questions like, How much time has passed? What’s known and who knows it? Why fiction? Where do we focus? What are the known biases? What are our biases? Who has the right to write history? Whose history? What are the ethics? Is the writer of historical fiction entitled to an opinion? Should we slant it? Can we avoid slanting it? How faithful is it possible to be? Participants should come prepared to consider and write notes about eras and figures they’re drawn to. If you have a smart phone or a laptop, bring it!


Sujata Nair Mulloth is an adjunct professor in communications at Keystone College. She received her M.A. in mass communication from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, and M.A. in History from the University of Delhi, New Delhi, India. She has been a professional classical dancer since 1978. She has performed at Asian Games, the Cultural Festival in Amsterdam, in Pyongyang, North Korea, and at the Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales. Sujata has performed for several shows hosted by the President of India for foreign dignitaries visiting India. She taught Bharata Natyam in India, and in Cambridgeshire in the UK. She is the founder and artistic director of Kala School of Indian Classical Dance based in Clarks Summit, PA. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts appointed her as a Roster Artist, and has taught Indian Classical Dance at the Conservatory at Wilkes University for the last sixteen years. As a choreographer, Sujata uses Indian Classical Dance as a medium to create thought provoking work that transcends cultural boundaries

Reading List