Thursday we headed off first thing this morning downtown to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. We were joined by today’s author Neela Vaswani, author of Same Sun Here. Neela’s book is a story-in-letters between a Indian immigrant living in Chinatown, just a few short blocks from the museum, and a boy in Kentucky (the letters from the boy were actually written by Neela’s co-author Silas House. Although Neela’s book takes place in 2008, and the museum focuses more on late 19th- and early 20th-century New York City, it was interesting to see how that neighborhood has evolved over the past century, and the ways that different immigrant groups have lived.
The lower east side Tenement Museum offers tours of a large tenement at 97 Orchard Street. It is a five-story building that housed an estimated 7000 people from over 20 nations, between 1863 and 1935. Over the past 3 decades, the researchers and educators at the museum have uncovered many of the stories and artifacts from the residents in the past. We began by visiting the apartment of a Prussian family that moved into the building around 1873 and lived there for almost 20 years. We learned about their living habits, lifestyles, and family history. Next door, we visited the apartment of an Italian family that moved in at the end up of the 19th century and lived there until the 1920s. Our guides led us through some of the other sections of the tenement as well, so that we could see the different kinds of wallpaper and structures that had evolved over the decades. The building was closed in 1934 when the owner could no longer afford the city’s safety requirements, and remained closed until 1988 when the museum took over. Our guides concluded the tour by showing us photographs of the descendants of the 97 Orchard Street – regular New Yorkers just like us. Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed on the inside of the tenement museum, but we highly recommend this museum.
After our tour, we walked just a few blocks south and east towards the Seward Park & Library nearby to Essex & Canal. Neela is a former employee of the library, and the book features the park and library. On our way there, we also passed by Orchard & Hester, the exact location of Meena’s apartment. At the park, we ate lunch, chatted with Neela, and played a very lively game of soccer!
We returned to Symphony Space around 3pm to continue our conversation with Neela Vaswani and to learn and discuss more about Same Sun Here. We learned a little bit more about Neela’s writing process, and how she and Silas House wrote the letters, in character, to each other over time without ever having discussed the plot.
Bidding farewell to Neela, we concluded day 4. We can hardly believe tomorrow is the last day!