Woman’s City Club: Helen Thorpe
Searching for Refuge, Friendship, and hope: Perspectives on Immigration — What Does it Mean to “be American” Today?
“Helen Thorpe has taken policy and turned it into literature.” – Malcom Gladwell
Helen Thorpe is an award-winning immersive journalist and author known for the profound insights of her books and articles. In her talk she will explore what it means to “be American” as she presents her perspectives on the issues of immigration, multiculturalism, and America’s role on the global stage.
Her work has appeared in multiple periodicals. She has authored three acclaimed works of narrative nonfiction that document in a human and intimate way the lives of immigrants, refugees, and veterans of foreign conflicts. Her first book, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America (2009), is an account of high school students, two with legal documentation, two without, and what happens to them as a result. Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War (2014) tracks three women in a brilliant tableau of their overlapping lives for 12 years as they do multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and readjust to civilian life.
The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom (2017) follows the lives of 22 teenage refugees from around the world during their first school year in Denver, in an English Language Acquisition class. Many arrive directly from refugee camps, some after having lost one or both parents; collectively, their class represents a microcosm of the global refugee crisis. Thorpe follows the journeys of three families in particular—from Iraq, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—to illustrate what life is like in refugee-producing parts of the world and the challenges of assimilation into a new and very different country. As the New York Times adds, “Thorpe’s book is a reminder that in an era of nativism, some Americans are still breaking down walls and nurturing newcomers, the seeds of the great American experiment.” Helen Thorpe was born in London to Irish parents, emigrated to the United States as a one-year-old, and now lives in Denver, Colorado. She graduated magna cum laude from Princeton and received an MA in English literature from Columbia. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Slate, Westword, Chalkbeat and 5280. Her radio stories have aired on this American Life and Sound Print.
Thorpe was nominated in 2018 for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the only annual U.S. literary award that recognizes the power of the written word to promote peace.