City Books hosted a Tree of Life Memorial Reading on Saturday, Nov. 10 for Pittsburgh poets and residents to gather together, reflect and grieve victims of the October 27 shooting.

By Sophia Mastroianni

Poet Tereneh Idia reads a passage regarding the importance of the solidarity of humanity. Two opulent world globes, placed on the mantle behind her, serve as a visual aid for her theme.

“We are one race—human,” Idia says. A discreet hymn of “mmm” breaks out from the audience, followed by nods of approval and closed, clenched eyes.

Arlan Hess, owner of City Books, organized a memorial poetry reading on Saturday, Nov. 10, to honor the victims and families of the Tree of Life shooting two weeks prior. All of the proceeds benefited HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish American nonprofit organization that supplies refugees with humanitarian aid and assistance..

“I just wanted to offer my space to people to lift their voices,” said Hess. “Part of fighting against hatred is through community, unity and togetherness.”

Surrounded by a sea of books, various poets read pieces they had written as well as pieces written by other authors that expressed the emotions they felt.

Many poets recited pieces that represented their dissatisfaction with anti-Semitism, the current U.S. political regime, immigration and personal loss, while others tried to bring a lighter tone to the atmosphere.

“I’m going to try to be funny,” said poet and University of Pittsburgh professor Shannon Reed. The audience roared with laughter from her two poems.

In-between sets of three speakers, musician Mimi Jong played the ehru, a traditional Chinese violin. The event concluded  with the soft whisper of Jong’s instrument and applause from the crowd.

Poets who attended the event included Michelle Gil-Montero, Joy Katz, Tereneh Idia, Barbara Edelman, Kevin Haworth, Shannon Reed, Marc Nieson, Adriana E. Ramirez, Jesse Welch, Philip Terman, Tuhin Das, and Jennifer Bannan.

The CEO and president of HIAS, Mark Hetfield, made a surprise appearance.

“[The event] was so beautiful,” said Hetfield. “Bringing together so many artists and poets and writers to express themselves [shows] their strength, our strength and the strength of this community.”