New book by Bethlehem author weaves tales of region’s immigrants with personal recollections for captivating take on life in South Bethlehem
Start this holiday season with a different kind of story, a story about those whose tales were often left untold—until now.
On Dec. 6, 13 and 20 at noon at SteelStacks, Bethlehem author Carol Henn will read from her new book, “Oilcloth Stories,” a three-part novel that contains stories evocative of the time and culture of Bethlehem’s SouthSide during the industrial revolution. The readings, which take place in the ArtsQuest Center’s Connect Zone, are free and open to the public.
Oilcloth Stories details the stories of the men, women and children who came to America from Central Europe and settled in South Bethlehem during the late 19th and early 20th century. These immigrants, as the introduction to Oilcloth Stories notes, “were men and women whose lives never warranted a news story, an autograph, or an award; whose names were unknown beyond their families, churches, and neighborhoods. They were men and women who lived and died in relative obscurity. But in many of their lives there were astonishing stories of triumph and pathos, devotion and brutality, tragedy and exultation.”
The book is dedicated to Henn’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Kuzma, an immigrant born in 1883 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Slovenia. An illegitimate child, Kuzma was forbidden in cities where his prominent father lived.
As a young boy, Kuzma slept on the floor of a stable with scraps of food thrown to him when the animals were fed. Without knowing his real last name, he was forced to take one from a nearby village, Kuzma, and following a stint as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army, he made his way to the steel mills of Pennsylvania, where he met his wife, Vilma. The couple married in 1913 and had four children, but tragedy continued to follow Kuzma, with his first two children dying in infancy.
In Oilcloth Stories, Henn also offers her own vivid memories of life as a second generation American.
“South Bethlehem certainly wasn’t paradise, but it was one of those iconic American neighborhoods where people came, stayed and made a life – a place to which many returned after they left. It was a place that became a part of your identity for a lifetime,” she says.
Each reading of Oilcloth Stories will be followed by a Q&A and book signing with Henn. Copies of Oilcloth Stories are available for purchase at the Stacks Shop of the ArtsQuest Center, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem; hardcover books are $34.99 and paperback copies cost $22.99.
For more information on the readings or Oilcloth Stories, visit www.oilclothstories.com.