Is Boston an Opera Town? "Emphatically, Yes," Say Odyssey Opera Conductor, Gil Rose, and Impresario, Randolph Fuller

Conductor Gil Rose greeting opera enthusiasts at the South End library in October

Conductor Gil Rose greeting opera enthusiasts at the South End library in October

Randolph Fuller, a local philanthropist devoted to opera, and  Gil Rose, acclaimed conductor of Odyssey Opera, held a South End library audience spellbound last month with their take on Boston's  history of  opera. With glowing reviews for the first two performances of Odyssey Opera's fifth season under their belts, Fuller and Rose may not need to spend any more time dispelling the notion that Boston simply is not an opera town.  "If I hear this complaint one more time...," a somewhat exasperated Rose said,"...Boston is an opera town. It's just not like the others."

Conductor Rose's decades-long relationship with his financial backer Fuller dates from the days of Opera Boston. When the opera company folded in 2012, Fuller and Rose (who is also the moving fore behind the award-winning Boston Modern Orchestra Project and an active international guest conductor) founded Odyssey Opera which, true to its name, is dedicated to presenting a voyage through an eclectic repertoire of well-known and lesser-known opera masterpieces, including contemporary new works and commissions. But without an actual opera house it is a struggle to find space for the performances, Rose acknowledged. This season, for example, the five operas of Trial by Fire, focused on the theme of Joan of Arc and The Hundred Years' War, are being staged in three locations, including NEC's Jordan Hall and the Huntington Avenue and Sanders theatres. The Boston Opera House, formerly located on Huntington Avenue, was torn down in 1958 to make way for the expansion by Northeastern University. "The lack of physical space dedicated for opera in Boston has a practical dimension that makes it difficult to produce opera," Rose explained. "It is related to how many tickets you can sell. By destroying the opera building, which had some 3,000 seats, a financial dynamic was erased. There is tons of opera, but you can’t have an opera company without an opera house and vice versa."  

The popularity of opera in the 18th and 19th centuries inspired Boston's upper class, including Eban Jordan, Isabella Stewart Garner and others, to build the  Boston Opera House in the early 20th century on Huntington Avenue. With a simple design on the outside and lavish features on the inside, it was immediately baptized by the Boston press as “the first Unitarian Opera.” After decades of popular usage, the Boston Opera was demolished in the late 1950s, ceding to  Northeastern University's growing footprint. It was a few years short of the time when the newly established historic preservation movement in Boston would have stopped its destruction, maintains Fuller.  

Longtime South End resident, local philanthropist and opera devotee, Randolph Fuller, showing the audience pictures of the demolished Boston Opera formerly located on Huntington Avenue

Longtime South End resident, local philanthropist and opera devotee, Randolph Fuller, showing the audience pictures of the demolished Boston Opera formerly located on Huntington Avenue

Fuller's passion for opera has been undiminished since his parents took him to Die Fledermaus, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, when he was nine, at the Boston Opera House. During his library talk, he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge about Boston opera history. He described how the first opera performance in Boston, Richard the Lionheart, by Andre Getry, took place in 1797, in a theatre designed by Charles Bullfinch, located at the corner of Franklin and Federal Streets. By the 1830s, opera was established as a popular form of entertainment and, even though opera was seen as an elite art form in Europe, the Americans saw it as a democratic institution that brought all kinds of people together under one roof, for everyone to enjoy. “It wasn’t so expensive,” Fuller explained, “about 40 cents a ticket for the working class man who'd make $18 a week. It crossed all barriers,” he added, with tickets for the best seats costing $12 to $15 to please what Fuller described as Boston's "codfish aristocracy."

The Boston Opera House, built in the early 1900s, designed by Wheelwright and Haven, and demolished in 1958 to make room for Northeastern's dorms and facilities

The Boston Opera House, built in the early 1900s, designed by Wheelwright and Haven, and demolished in 1958 to make room for Northeastern's dorms and facilities

Opera in Boston also reflected America's epic history of immigration in the 19th century, said Fuller, with first Italians, then Germans, then Eastern Europeans and Russians taking the stage as performers, or buying tickets as enthusiastic audiences. Around 1840, profitable touring opera companies traveled to cities all over the US, including to Charleston, New Orleans, San Francisco and even Havana, Cuba. Until the 1860s, most operas were staged by Italian opera companies and sung in Italian, but after the failed revolution in Germany in 1848, many excellent German musicians and singers immigrated to the US, expanding the repertoire with German-language composers. By 1898, a big pool of American talent had been established, so that many operas could be sung in English, including at the South End's Grand Opera on Washington Street (since torn down). In the late 1890s, another  huge immigration wave, from Eastern Europe, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, brought their favorite performers and audiences, including the Hebrew National Opera Company, which programmed Russian operas as well as many traditional ones like Carmen, but sung in Yiddish. 

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The first two operas of the Trial by Fire series, Tchaikovsy's The Maid of Orleans and Donizetti's Siege of Calaisreceived rave reviews. The next performances coming up are on December 1 (Dello Joio's The Trial at Rouen) at NEC's Jordan Hall; February 17, 2018 (Honegger's Jeanne d'Arc au Buecher) at the Sanders Theatre; and April 5 and 7 (Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco) at the Huntington Avenue Theatre. For details and reviews, visit the Odyssey Opera website, linked here.

 

 

 

 

Mayor Marty Walsh has appointed an outreach manager to assist homeless patrons using the Boston Public Library

Homeless patrons in the South End branch of the Boston PublicLibrary, their suitcases lined up nearby

Homeless patrons in the South End branch of the Boston PublicLibrary, their suitcases lined up nearby

In an important move for the Boston Public Library system, Mayor Marty Walsh stepped  up to the plate and appointed a full-time outreach manager for the many homeless individuals who use the main library and its branches for shelter and services. The positive development both acknowledges the difficulty for library staff to manage the growing number  homeless in public libraries --some of whom have mental health, behavioral and addiction problems-- with the rights of homeless to use the public library and the need to develop comprehensive strategy for services to a population that has nowhere else to go for simple needs like using restrooms or shelter from inclement weather. To that point, the BPL plans to hire a reference librarian who specializes in health and human services and make available guides to addiction recovery and housing.

Library patrons waiting in Library Park for the library to open

Library patrons waiting in Library Park for the library to open

Boston is following in the footsteps of other public library systems that have used a variety of strategies to both manage homelessness among their patrons and develop creative library-based programs to assist . In 2008, the San Francisco Public Library was the first to hire a social worker specifically to reach out to homeless patrons and coordinate the extensive social service system already in place near their main library of meals distribution, such as finding housing, providing medical care and assisting with other services. In Pima County, AZ, the library system hired a public health nurse in 2012; its branches are served by 16 to 20 nurses provide services either once a week or once a month. In Denver, library staff shows residents of a women's shelter how to use a computer and sign them up for a library card. In Dallas, public library staff get homeless patrons and staff members together twice a month for Coffee and Conversation. At a recent talk about HIV awareness, a member of the health community was on hand to answer questions. After the talk about 15 attendees got tested for the virus, according to a PBS News Hour  article. 

The BPL outreach manager, Mike Bunch, who was employed in a similar position at the  Pine Street Inn,  is bilingual in English and Spanish. Before he came to Boston, he worked with shelter and treatment providers in Austin, Texas. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer and will be stationed at the Copley Central Library, while assisting staff in branch libraries where needed.

Does my toddler have bi-polar disorder? Unlikely, suggests pediatrician Claudia Gold, author of The Silenced Child: But making time and space for listening is critical for their healthy development

Claudia Gold, reading from The Silenced Child: FromLabels,Medications,and Quick-Fix Solutions to Listening, Growth andLifelong Resilience

Claudia Gold, reading from The Silenced Child: FromLabels,Medications,and Quick-Fix Solutions to Listening, Growth andLifelong Resilience

Claudia Gold, the author The Silenced Child, told an engaged audience at the South End library in mid-October that over the years she became increasingly concerned about the number of parents visiting her pediatric practice with a 15- or 18-month-old child who had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. It would be an unusual diagnosis at that age. But it fit with her other observation that parents seemed very anxious about something not being right with their children. Gold's stellar medical training at the University of Chicago and Albert Einstein and Montefiore in New York prepared her well for critical care of children and unusual childhood diseases, but she found herself frustrated in a medical practice where so many of her interactions turned out to be with parents who wanted to know whether their children were normal.

They asked whether they were doing the right thing, at the right time, but were overcome by fear and anxiety when their children behaved badly or were uncommunicative. "I found myself living in two worlds," Gold said, "one of developmental science; the other in which parents ask for help in a general pediatric sense, expecting me to tell them what to do, but I was not telling them to listen to their child."  She realized that the time and space necessary for listening to young children was falling by the wayside in the fast-paced lives of too many families. Worse, she said, this critically important interaction in the child's development was increasingly being replaced by medical disorder diagnoses and labeling, followed by treatment with medication, behavior management of the child, and parent education to comply with time-shortened medical advice. "The trouble with the disorder diagnosis is that children often fulfill their labels," she remarked. "Moreover, our healthcare system requires a diagnosis to get reimbursed," she added, describing as weighted toward the use of medication, 15-minute doctor visits and, in general, profits. 

Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Boston Trauma Center, and Ed Tronick, Distinguished Professor Director of the Child Development Unit at UMass,Boston, chatting at the South End Writes event

Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Boston Trauma Center, and Ed Tronick, Distinguished Professor Director of the Child Development Unit at UMass,Boston, chatting at the South End Writes event

Gold was introduced for her talk by South End resident Ed Tronick,  Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UMass where he directs the UMass Boston Infant-Parent Mental Health Post-Graduate Certificate Program and the acclaimed Child Development Unit. After leaving her earlier practice, Gold was one of his first fellows, Tronick said. Having re-directed her career after this and other fellowships in the field of infant mental health, Gold joined a different medical practice to focus on behavioral pediatrics where, among other changes, she increased her time with patients to one hour from 15 minutes. Now the author of three books written for parents on early-childhood development, Keeping Your Child in Mind (2013), The Silenced Child (2016), and The Developmental Science of Early Childhood (2017),  she works with parents on developing skills to use time and  space to listen to their children. "Having that whole hour has a feel to it that even half an hour does not," she commented. 

Caudia Gold, signing books, and South End resident and retired pediatrician, Ben Siegel

Caudia Gold, signing books, and South End resident and retired pediatrician, Ben Siegel

Answering questions from the audience, Gold agreed her approach, which includes looking at children's behavior as a form of communication, is also helpful for autistic children, particularly when they are young. "They have a different way of processing the world," she said,"we have to listen to them and be curious about what they express." In addition, she said, people organized around the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study were using her work, especially The Silenced ChildAnother audience member commented he was quite impressed by how many young parents organize groups just for parents to share information, to which Tronick added  that pediatrics does not need to be part of such conversations at all. Trauma psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, author The Body Keeps the Score, said his observation is that young parents who had secure upbringings would join such groups but that others, who are ashamed of what happened to them in their childhood, “become silent.”  A South End parent who had raised her child in Boston asked whether the contemporary design of strollers, with infants and young children facing outward into the world instead of inward to their caregivers' faces, as had been the case decades ago, was ever studied for impact on developmental health. Gold pointed to a 2009 New York Times article written about a study on that subject by a Scottish psychology researcher, Suzanne Zeedijk, which suggested some negative consequences, such as higher levels of stress and a faster heart rate among children facing outward in strollers. "She received an enormous amount of hate mail after it was published," recalled Gold, who thought it might have something to do with the enormous financial investments in current stroller design. 

The October Local/Focus Display in the Tremont Street window features free services and materials available from the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library

The Tremont Street window installation of services and materials offered by the Perkins Braille and Talking Books Library

The Tremont Street window installation of services and materials offered by the Perkins Braille and Talking Books Library

The  South End branch of the Boston Public library can assist you in obtaining the many free services and materials available for free from the Perkins Braille and Talking Books Library. Located on the campus of the Perkins School for the Blind, the Perkins Library is part of the National  Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped which, in turn,is part of the Library of Congress. The Perkins Library is the main Massachusetts NLS Library. As Erin Fragola, the Outreach Coordinator for Perkins will tell you, you can have good vision but still qualify for all the Perkins library services because it is difficult for you to hold a book or because you have a medically certified reading disability, such as dyslexia, that prevents you from reading standard text.

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Materials can be picked up for qualified users from the South End library or be delivered to your home. The South End branch's head librarian, Anne Smart, has application forms for anyone who would like to get the qualification process going. A wide range of free library services and materials are available for reading, playing games, playing music and other resources, such as museum passes. Each year, the Perkins Library circulates more than a half million accessible books, newspapers and publications in braille, large print and digital audio formats  to thousands of registered patrons in New England and beyond. 

The library staff has also displayed a number of items for children in the Library Park side window, including books in braille and those that explore images sensorily, by touching the pages. 

A corner of the Library Park side window includes books about blindness for children

A corner of the Library Park side window includes books about blindness for children

Lynne Potts, Poet and History Scribe from Holyoke Street, Tells the Audience She Looked for Years for "a Place to Belong"

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South End author and poet, Lynne Potts, had just published A Block in Time: History of Boston's South End through a Window on Holyoke, when she unexpectedly found herself interviewing Southenders for another book, one that became Faces of a Neighborhood: Boston's South End in the early 21st Century. "It was a curious process," explained Potts to a full room of interested listeners at the South End library in mid-September. "I only knew the people on my street, but they gave me some names and then I got some more names." Two years later, she had an amazing list of interviewees, including an octogenarian, a shop owner, a Villa Victoria resident, a concierge and an international arbitrator and mediator. "It was such an exciting range of people," Potts said. "I'd ask them, 'would you mind if I interviewed you about your life in the South End?' and most of them stayed with it." Faces includes twenty-five interviews of the Southenders about whose lives she began to speculate when walking through local streets and observed the various domestic scenes visible across the lit windows of early evening.

LLynne Potts signing books and chatting with her audience at the September 12 author event

LLynne Potts signing books and chatting with her audience at the September 12 author event

Potts's other explanation for the genesis of Faces was, in part, that she didn't quite know where she herself belonged in the landscape of her life, but knew that she wanted to belong somewhere. From growing up in Michigan to a marriage that took her to Berkeley, CA, then to a farm in Vermont, and next to an apartment on West Rutland Square as a divorced mother of young children, she found a home on Holyoke Street --where she still lives-- but never quite knew what emotional geography she was a part of. "I found myself talking to people who were clear about who they were, who had found themselves," she said. "My project became a series of little sagas, explanations of who they were and who they became. Almost all those I talked with identified with the South End's amazing cultural history, its architecture, its art, the way it was accepting of diverse sexual identities." The South End's demography in the 1980s was a rich brew of the Irish, Lebanese, Jews, African Americans and Greeks. Fifty-six percent was Caucasian; 16 percent African American. "We were proud that people from so many different walks of life lived in close proximity to those who were so different," Potts commented.

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The author, whose delicate stature belies an intensely engaged and observational presence, said she had written and published poetry for the last 15 years, after obtaining an MFA from Columbia University. She won several awards and edited poetry journals, including the Columbia Journal of Art and Literature and AGNI. Her curiosity about how a particular culture affects people's evolving personal lives plays out in her poems, too. Her interest was piqued when she came across a retrospective of the first American abstract painter, Arthur Dove, which led Potts to delve into his relationship with the American Modernist painter Helen Torr, both spouses of others at the time, but eventually married to each other. "Here were two painters, one male, the other female," notes Potts who studied Torr's letters, now archived at the Smithsonian. "It's about the tension of women wanting to do their own work, while men have ancient expectations," Potts said. "He shot ahead. He sold paintings. She sold just one or so. She did all the framing of his paintings. In the end, Torr quit painting herself, and was institutionalized. From there, she'd write letters saying things like, 'I'll try to be better, and help him more.'" Some of Potts's poems are about the couple's life as she imagined it through the letters she'd scrutinized. She read aloud several poems from her collection Porthole View, inspired by the Dove/Torr relationship and their time spent living on a houseboat in Long Island Sound, including Gull with Telephone Wire, Flotsam and Tennis Ball over Gramercy Grass. And, at the request of a library audience hungry for stories about their beloved neighborhood,  also one chapter from Faces, the interview with Sebastian Alonso, of a Cuban-Peruvian immigrant background, who grew up on Shawmut Avenue in the 1980s and 1990s, and had been part of a gang.

 

On August 31, National Overdose Awareness Day, Images of Local Individuals Who Died After Overdosing Were Projected on the Exterior Walls of the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library

Images representing the urgency of the opioid crisis were projected on the walls of the South End library on the night of Thursday,  August 31

Images representing the urgency of the opioid crisis were projected on the walls of the South End library on the night of Thursday,  August 31

How to pay attention to those who live among us but who can be so easily marginalized? How to remember them after they're gone?  On the evening of August 31 several images of the many   who died as a result of the opioid crisis were projected on the exterior walls of the South End library. It was the day of National Overdose Awareness Day. The event was sponsored by The South End Forum; the Boston Public Health Commission's AHOPE group (which focuses on needle exchange and related programs); and the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless (BHCHP)

Public libraries, including the South End branch, are among the locales where the social impact of homelessness and addiction plays out on a daily basis. Deploying a full-time guard at the South End library has alleviated some of the acute problems but for many marginalized people, the public library remains the refuge of last resort. It is also where more fortunate library users interact with the homeless and those in need of addiction services in an often-uneasy social dance mediated to some extent by library staff.

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According to Melanie Racine, of BHCHP, the display focused on black and white photographs of local people with the person's name, age and a quote from a family member that says a little about the relative who died as a result of overdose. "We hope to communicate the message that the men and women who have died from opioid overdose were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, and each was a unique human being," wrote Racine in an email. "The event gives a literal face --in fact, many faces-- to this epidemic." 

A similar attempt to humanize a marginalized population took place in California in 2012 when both the main libraries of San Jose and San Francisco organized a powerful photo exhibit of homeless and addicted men and women who used their facilities for shelter and services. Titled Acknowledged, images and text described how easy it was to become homeless, and how hard the struggle was to overcome. One subject, a man who grew up in a middle-class family in Indiana, and had a job and a college degree, caused a car crash where someone was killed. He fell into a depression, lost his job, became homeless. It took him many years to recover. 

 

The Last Jazz & Blues Concert of the Summer Featured Two Impromptu Musical Guests and the Start of FOSEL's Capital Campaign, "Writing the Next Chapter"

Pat Loomis, saxophone, and his 'walk-on' guest, soul singer Leon Beal, Jr. in Library Park, with Zayra Pola, on percussion, in the background

Pat Loomis, saxophone, and his 'walk-on' guest, soul singer Leon Beal, Jr. in Library Park, with Zayra Pola, on percussion, in the background

Saxophonist/vocalist Pat Loomis and his Friends, the band that performed four outstanding Jazz & Blues concerts in Library Park this summer, is aptly named for its Friends. This became apparent again on August 29 when, as has happened many times before in the seven years of the series,  two 'walk-on' musical guests added themselves to the band and electrified the already swaying crowd. Flute player Lance Martin walked into Library Park and joined the band of  Antonio Loomis, guitar; Amy Bellamy, keyboards; Aaron Bellamy, bass; Joaquin Santos, drums; and Zayra Pola, percussion.  Shortly after, classical soul singer Leon Beal, Jr. made his appearance and performed a thrilling Stand By Me.

Pat Loomis with another 'walk-on' guest, the flutist Lance Martin

Pat Loomis with another 'walk-on' guest, the flutist Lance Martin

Drummer Joaquin Santos

Drummer Joaquin Santos

The theme of the evening was The Quiet Storm: An Evening Of Smooth, Seductive Grooves, and featured several by Stevie Wonder (Another Star; Boogie On Reggae Woman and My Cherie Amour, sung by Pat Loomis himself). The weather had turned cool and the somewhat chilled audience also heard Can't Hide Love (Earth, Wind, and Fire); Armando's Rhumba (Chick Corea); The Lady In My Life (Michael Jackson); and the final song of the final performance, Happy People (Kenny Garrett). 

Before the concert began, half a dozen FOSEL board members and BPL president David Leonard were on hand to ring in their joint fundraising project for an interior library renovation, called Writing the Next Chapter. Poster boards displayed the proposed redesign, which elicited several comments along the lines of "about time this happened."  

Proposed changes to the downstairs interior of the South End Library

Proposed changes to the downstairs interior of the South End Library

Brochures detailing the renovation and how and where to donate are now available at the branch, and will be mailed in the near future to South End library supporters. 

New Local/Focus Installation by Decoupage Artist Jenn Sherr in the Tremont Street Window Displays Whimsical Samples of Furnishings, Totebags, Boots and Picture Frames

Samples of decoupage by South End  artist and teacher Jean Sherr are in view in the Tremont Street window through the middle of September 2017

Samples of decoupage by South End  artist and teacher Jean Sherr are in view in the Tremont Street window through the middle of September 2017

Jenn Sherr is known nationwide for her decoupage work which includes fanciful furnishings and jewelry, fashion accessories, boots and shoes, totes and handbags, even the occasional golf bag. Born in Worcester MA, her exploration of decoupage and faux painting began as a child, learning the art forms from her mother, who was a fashion model and artist. A Martha’s Vineyard gallery hosted an exhibition of both mother and daughter in a show called Mirror Images, illustrating how they echoed each other’s aesthetic. 

Combining decoupage with a love for fashion began when Sherr lived in Miami, where her work as a stylist for runway shows inspired her first fashion decoupage pieces. The energy and variety of styles she could explore inspired her to transform jewelry and accessories into unique works of art.

In decoupage, Sherr transforms the ordinary into the unexpected. Her work is in the collection of Oprah Winfrey, and can be found in boutiques throughout New England. She was a finalist in two Red Bull National Art of Can competitions for boots and a handbag enhanced by the Red Bull can. Themes from Paris or Italy pop up in her work. Sherr teaches classes that bring the joy of decoupage to her students.  

Aidan Loomis's Musical Arrangement of his Birthday Concert Performed by Dad Pat Loomis Scored a Home Run for Refreshing Musical Eclecticism

Dancing broke out on the hot summer night

Dancing broke out on the hot summer night

Oh, to be the child of a Jazz & Blues bandleader; to able to arrange the music of your choice for your 17th birthday party in a public park on a warm and dry summer night in the South End; and to do an excellent job of it with a refreshing selection of titles: what else is there to wish for? 

Angel Subero (trombone), Scott Aruda (trumpet) and Pat Loomis (saxophone give it their all

Angel Subero (trombone), Scott Aruda (trumpet) and Pat Loomis (saxophone give it their all

Aidan Loomis, the non-musician son of musical director Pat Loomis (his other son, Antonio, has been part of the band as a guitarist since he was little), selected an unexpectedly delicious play list for the August 15 concert in Library Park, ranging from I Love Lucy to Pure Imagination with in-between numbers of Sweet Georgia Brown, Just a Gigolo and I Ain't Got Nobody, Do I Do, Maybe I'm Amazed, Ain't Too Proud to Beg, Soul Man and, yes, Happy Birthday. 

Parents and children, some with their own instruments, enjoyed the concert. Steven Higgs on keyboard in the back.

Parents and children, some with their own instruments, enjoyed the concert. Steven Higgs on keyboard in the back.

Vocalist Sara Seminski performed a gorgeous rendition of Pure Imagination by songwriter Josh Groban. Pat Loomis himself sang an emotional version of the Beatles' Maybe I'm Amazed, with his wife and son moved visibly in the audience, while the powerfully voiced and athletically engaging singer Nephtaliem McCrary practically set the crowd ablaze with his interpretation of the Temptations' Ain't Too Proud to Beg

Benny Benson, drums; Pat Loomis, singing with Sax in hand; Scott Aruda, singing with trumpet; Christoff Glaude, bass; Antonio Loomis, guitar; Sarah Seminski and Nephtaliem McCrary, vocalists

Benny Benson, drums; Pat Loomis, singing with Sax in hand; Scott Aruda, singing with trumpet; Christoff Glaude, bass; Antonio Loomis, guitar; Sarah Seminski and Nephtaliem McCrary, vocalists

Fine performances by instrumentalists Antonio Loomis (guitar); Scott Aruda (trumpet); Angel Subero (trombone); Steven Higgs (keyboards); Christoff Glaude (bass) and Benny Benson (drums) accompanied the singers. Saxophonist Pat Loomis and trumpeter Scott Aruda switched back and forth seamlessly from instrument to their vocal strings during several numbers. 
 

 

Christoffe Glaude, bass; and Antonio Loomis, guitar

Christoffe Glaude, bass; and Antonio Loomis, guitar

 

 

 

The South End Knitters Strike Again with a Street Art Installation that Celebrates the Culture of Bikes, Books, Colors and Fiber in the Library’s Tremont Street Windows

The fabulous South End Knitters have installed their first exhibit in the Tremont Street windows of the South End library, a show that features a popular urban art form that counterveils the often harsh contours of our public streets’ furniture to give it a more welcoming, exciting and colorful profile. They are part of a legacy of guerilla, graffiti and stealth knitters that can be traced to Magda Sayeg, whose work with the group Knitta Please (founded in Houston in 2005) is credited with bringing sewing from the domestic circle to the street. 

Describing themselves as urban artists, the  South End Knitters’ vibrant fiber creations have beautified local fences, lamp and bicycle posts for years. The artful geometric patterns and  fiber-teased pom-poms covering the knitted bike frame in the library’s Tremont Street window combine with a quilt-shaped seat and fabric-patched bike lock, paying homage to what was generally considered a domestic form of art now claiming its rightful place in art on display in the public square. Also known as yarn bombers, the  group participated in the deCordova Museum Biennial in 2012 for which the press release read, “When they secretly slip their colorful hand-sewn creations on fences, statues, street signs, hydrants, bicycles, and buses under cover of darkness, they humanize and prettify the urban realm; they decorate, swaddle, and in some cases, protect. They call attention to the forms they cover and remind us about our relationship to our surroundings in ways that seem far more innocuous and temporary than their painted graffiti counterparts.

The South End Knitters are a revolving group of fiber artists of all ages, female and male, who gather in various public spaces and informal restaurants to knit, crochet and sew. Once-upon-a-time they met at Flour Bakery + Cafe on Washington Street, but more recently they have come to the Prudential Center across from the Post Office, or b.good on Dartmouth Street on Thursdays after work.  

This installation will be up for the next few weeks. It is one of a series of Tremont Street window exhibits of the Local/Focus project sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to visually connect the library community with local artists, non-profits and creative entrepreneurs.

Dramatic reading by author Stephen Kinzer brought a 19th-century debate about America’s role in the world to a 21st-century library audience

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Who knew that the mother of Boston Globe foreign-policy columnist Stephen Kinzer was an actress? The family gene revealed itself when Kinzer, the author of The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the birth of American Empire slipped seamlessly behind the lectern at the South End library’s community room, filled to capacity by a history-hungry audience, and  dramatically performed parts of the great debate of more than a 100 years ago about what exactly America’s role should be in the world, isolationist or imperialist.  The US government had settled the West, and the end of the Spanish-American War opened up the opportunity for the US to control territories that had once belonged to Spain, like Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. What should be done with them? And what was the mission of America?

For Kinzer, who scrolled endless hours through microfiche records of  late 19th-century newspapers and pamphlets in the Boston Public Library to research his book, the remarkable fact of what he calls  “the mother of all debates” was the sheer brilliance of the arguments by  intellectual and political leaders on all sides of the question. “All the speeches were printed in newspapers and reprinted. They were read around the world, he said. “I envy people of that era,. We don’t dare to discuss these important issues with senators today. We talk about whether we should have 8,000 or 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, but not why we are there.

radio host Chris Lydon

Previewing the importance of the 19th-century polemic while introducing his longtime friend whose arrival was slightly delayed, WBUR OpenSource host, Christopher Lydon, talked about his personal hero from the pacifist side of that debate, William James, brother of Henry,  “the greatest Boston brother act in history,” as he put it. Lydon, who described Kinzer as a journalist in the David Halberstram tradition for his in-depth and uncompromising reporting, had met Kinzer when the latter was New York Times bureau chief in Berlin and, later, in Turkey.  “There should be more of Henry James in your book, however,” he told Kinzer.

 Kinzer agreed, up to a point, but focussed his attention on the role of many others, like Mark Twain, who had traveled the world and developed empathy for those seeking freedom, and Theodore Roosevelt, who had traveled, too, but mostly to shoot large animals. Twain reportedly thought TR was “clearly insane;”  TR had said about Twain he’d like to “skin him alive.” Then there was William Randolph Hearst, who needed a “running story” for his newspapers to thrive: war stories about anti-colonial and anti-imperialist wars in the territories would best fit the bill. Henry Cabot Lodge, for his part, felt many nations were “unequipped to govern themselves.” In the end, President William McKinley used the Lodge rational when he asked the US Senate to ratify the Treaty of Paris. It passed. The US took control over former Spanish territories, and became an empire.

The 1899 debate preceding the ratification lasted 32 days and, as Kinzer pointed out, the very arguments first formulated then, primarily in Boston’s political circles, are the same we heard when debating Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  This led to a question by Lydon about whether President John Kennedy, at the midpoint between that 19th-century political fight and now,  would have stayed in Vietnam or  pulled out. Both Kinzer and Lydon agreed the Warren Commission report left out important information, but that Kennedy himself had told the editor of the Boston Globe at the time, Bob Healy, also a former Globe Washington bureau chief,  that he would pull out of Vietnam after his reelection.

Kinzer’s  hero in the fiercely debated question was the abolitionist Carl Schurz, a German immigrant who became a Civil War general, a US senator, Secretary of the Interior and a friend of Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The title of Kinzer’s book, The True Flag, was taken from a speech by Schurz in which he declared “the true flag” of America was of the one of “government of, for, and by the people,” and “the flag of civilization, peace, and goodwill to all men.”

Local/Focus Presents Six paintings by the prominent African-American artist, Paul Goodnight, on display until May 9

Six striking works of figurative art by the longtime South End resident of the Piano Factory, Paul Goodnight, now grace both  of the South End library’s Tremont Street windows. Goodnight, born in Chicago but raised in Boston and Connecticut, has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. He teaches at the MFA’s Museum School and received and MFA from Mass. College of Art in 1975. His work has been on displaying many places, including  the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Schomberg Institute in New York City. His paintings are included in many private collections and institutions, including the Smithsonian Institute and  Hampton University Museum.

Goodnight is currently focused on creating a large public sculpture representing the life of social reformer, abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass ,which will become the centerpiece of a to-be-renovated Frederick Douglass Square off Tremont Street in Roxbury. Due to a heavy work schedule, Goodnight was unable to give a lecture about his work while his exhibit is at the library. He promised he will do so later in the year when the Frederick Douglass project is completed.

 The work on display is for sale. A portion of any sale will be donated to benefit the South End library and its programs. For inquiries, please contact Anne Smart, head librarian, at asmart@bpl.org.

 

Mel King, Boston’s Icon for Community involvement and Racial Justice, Will talk about his Life’s work on Tuesday, May 23rd at 6:30 PM

 Mel King, former state legislator, school board member, community organizer, writer, poet, and the keeper of perhaps the largest memory bank of South End’s turbulent history will be at the South End library on May 23rd at 6:30 PM. He will be introduced by State Rep. and Assistant Majority Leader, Byron Rushing.

King was raised in the New York Streets area  of the South End by immigrant parents from Guyana and Barbados in the 1930s. He was the first African-American who made it to the primary in the race for mayor of Boston. Although he lost the election (to Ray Flynn), he became, among other things, an adjunct professor in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. This led to the founding the South End Technology Center at Tent City, which gives the opportunity to young people aged 7 to 13 to acquire the latest computer and technology skills. In the late 1960s, his opposition to urban renewal and evictions of local residents led to the eventual construction of Tent City, which offers mixed-income housing for hundreds of Southenders. He is the author of Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development and several collections of poetry.

The South End Library is fully handicapped accessible. Seating is limited. The event is free. Seating is limited. We offer refreshments. Books will be available for sale, signing, and borrowing from the library. 

 

To the Galapagos: Renowned Naturalist, David Clapp, and “Talkin’ Birds” Radio Host, Ray Brown, will talk about the Galapagos, on Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 PM

On Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 PM, two serious birding specialists, renowned researcher, lecturer and naturalist David Clapp and Ray Brown, host of Talkin’Birds and WCRB classical music programs, will treat you to a lecture with slides about the birding environment in the Galapagos. Clapp, who has led Smithsonian Journeys trips for many years, has taught at Northeastern University and worked with conservation organizations worldwide for decades. He has been with the Massachusetts Audubon Society most of his professional career,  trained  up-and-coming naturalists, and studied many species of the avian population.

Brown, who joined the  WGBH many years ago, is a regular contributor  to NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon where he illuminates the audience about the latest news in the world of birding. Last year, Brown gave a very well-received presentation at the South End library about bird migration patterns, called The Magic of Migration, as part of the Local/Focus Urban Birding installation in the library’s Tremont Street windows. This year, he organized a birding tour to the Galapagos in late September with the Sunrise Birding nature company, and will have information available for anyone who might want to join to fill the last two cabins.

Brown is a longtime South End resident. His Talkin’ Birds show is now heard on 16 stations around New England, and in the larger world through streaming and podcasts.  Guests on his show include avian aficionados and birding luminaries like David Sibley, Sy Montgomery (Birdology) and Donald Kroodsman (The Singing Life of Birds) as well as experts from birding conservation organizations such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Wildlife Federation and the American Birding Association.

The Galapagos talk is free to all. Refreshments are served.

Foreign-policy journalist Stephen Kinzer to discuss his latest book, “True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire,” Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 PM

Stephen Kinzer will be at the South End library with his latest book, “True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire,” Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30 PM, and an Introduction by WBUR Radio Host Christopher Lydon

 Award-winning foreign-policy journalist, Boston Globe contributor, and former New York Times bureau chief in multiple locations, Stephen Kinzer, will talk about his new book, The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire on May 9 at 6:30 PM. This event is rescheduled from March 14, when a snowstorm closed the city down. In his latest examination of the US role abroad, Kinzer, a Senior Fellow in International and Foreign Affairs at the Watson Institute of Brown University,  reframes a perennial question raging again today: Should the US be an imperialist nation or take care of its own problems first?

A longtime South End resident and the author of numerous books about the unintended consequences of American military intervention, (including All the Shah’s Men and The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles and their Secret World War), this is Kinzer’s third appearance for the South End Writes series: He previously discussed his book about the Dulles brothers, and more recently a trip he and colleagues took through Iran, just before the nuclear containment agreement was signed. He will be introduced by his admirer and friend, WBUR’s OpenSource radio host, Christopher Lydon. Lydon interviewed him on the subject on February 7.

Acclaimed Harvard Sociologist Sara Lawrence Lightfoot Will Discuss her Latest Work, "Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers," on Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30 PM

In March a year ago, the MacArthur Genius award-winning Professor of Sociology at Harvard, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, held the crowded room spellbound when, at the end of her talk about Exits: The Endings That Set Us Free, she SANG her goodbye to the audience with the Song of Jeremiah from Iliad. Will she sing us a farewell again on Tuesday, April 18 when she is back at the South End library with her most recent book, Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children become Our Teachers?

The longtime South End resident who, by her own count lives 142 steps from the library, has made the developmental process of child-rearing in which parents are transformed by their children the subject of her latest book. It is based on many in-depth interviews across the country, and highlighted by her own experience of raising a son and a daughter. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Lawrence Lightfoot suggests that what is generally assumed to be the one-way support system that parents provide for their offspring is more likely an exchange, wherein parents learn from their children about the future they represent, the world they experience, and how that often doesn’t quite jive with what the parents have come to believe. Keeping our hearts open, is the mantra for good inter-generational relationships, she counsels.

Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher professor of Education at Harvard University, and a fellow at the Bunting Institute and at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.  The renowned sociologist’ books include, among others, Beyond Bias: Perspectives on Classrooms (1979) (with Jean Carew); The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture(1983), which received the 1984 Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association; Balm In Gilead: Journey of A Healer (1988), which won the 1988 Christopher Award, for literary merit and humanitarian achievement; I’ve Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation (1994); and The Third Chapter: Risk, Passion, and Adventure in the Twenty-Five Years After 50 (2009). Upon her retirement from Harvard University, the endowed chair currently held by Lawrence-Lightfoot will officially become the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Endowed Chair, making her the first African-American woman in Harvard’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor.

The South End Library is fully handicapped accessible. Seating is limited. The event is free. We offer refreshments. Books will be available for sale, signing, and borrowing from the library. 

 

 

Jenna Blum, Best-selling Writer of Holocaust-themed Fiction (“Those Who Save Us,” “The Lucky One,” and her 2018 Novel, “The Lost Family”) to Talk on Tuesday, April 4 at 6:30 PM

 

Jenna Blum, the award winning author of the  New York Times bestseller, Those Who Save Us (2004), and The Stormchasers (2010), will talk about her latest work: a novella called The Lucky One,  as well as  her upcoming 2018 novel, The Lost Family. The Lucky One was published in a 2016 anthology, called Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion, a collection related to the Holocaust by ten bestselling female writers. Blum’s contribution was one she had been reluctant to write as it meant returning to the subject of the Holocaust. She says on her web site that the research and writing of Those Who Saved Us, which explored how non-Jewish Germans dealt with the Holocaust, was a searing experience. But she remembered one story she had heard when she worked for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, where she interviewed Holocaust survivors. It had struck a cord with her, she said, and became the genesis for The Lucky One. It is set, like each of the stories in the anthology, on the same day in Grand Central Terminal right after the Second World War.

Blum’s successful writing career began when, at fourteen,  her first short story, published in Seventeen Magazine,  won the third prize.  Another short story, The Legacy of Frank Finklestein, won first prize two years later. Since that time, Blum’s work has been featured in Faultline, The Kenyon Review, The Bellingham Review, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and The Improper Bostonian. Blum has taught creative writing and communications writing at Boston University, was the editor at Boston University’s AGNI literary magazine for four years, and led fiction and novel workshops for Grub Street Writers in Boston since 1997. The event is a reschedule from last year when the author had to cancel her booking due to a family emergency.

The South End Writes is sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. All the events are free. Books by the speakers will be available for borrowing, sale and signing by the author. The branch is fully handicapped accessible. We serve refreshments. Seating is limited.

Gish Jen, the Award-winning Novelist, Will Read from her New Book, “The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap,” on Tuesday, March 28 at 6:30 PM

In a recent interview with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WGBH radio, author Gish Jen commented on efforts by the show’s previous guest, Police Commissioner Bill Evans, to attract more Asians to the Boston police force . Jen, whose humorous view of life’s perplexing questions shines through much of her work, half-jokingly confessed on the show that she briefly considered becoming a police officer (“It’s a great day job”) but quickly added that not just her editor’s apoplexy would stand in the way but also the Police Department’s physical exam, which requires applicants to scale a five-foot wall.  It would be a barrier, she said, “for those of us who are only five feet tall.” These human differences  between East and West, of size, perception and approach to the communities we live in, have been the literary domain of Jen since she first dropped out of the Stanford Business School and entered the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop in the 1980s.

Now an acclaimed novelist, Jen will talk about her latest work of non-fiction, The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East West Culture Gap at the South End library on Tuesday, March 28 at 6:30 PM. The book, published last month,  looks at the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about self and society and how this “shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba.” Jen’s 2013 non-fiction book, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self, based on the Massey Lectures she delivered at Harvard in 2012, also delves into East-West differences, and in particular how they affect art and literature. The novels Typical American, Who Is Irish?, The Love WifeMona in the Promised Land and World and Town (winner of the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize) were widely praised for their often hilarious but also profound and warm descriptions of Chinese-American families adjusting to suburban life and the racial and religious divides they navigate.

A contributor to The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, Jen’s work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988, 1995 and 2013, as well as The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an International IMPAC Dublin Book Award, Jen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellowship, and numerous other awards. In 2003, an American Academy of Arts and Letters jury comprised of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates granted her a five-year Mildred and Harold Strauss Living award.

The South End Writes is sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. All the events are free. Books by the speakers will be available for borrowing, sale and signing by the author. The branch is fully handicapped accessible. We serve refreshments. Seating is limited.

 

Suspense Writer Wendy Walker Will Be at the SE Library on Tuesday, February 7, to Read from Her Debut Thriller, “All Is Not Forgotten”

Wendy Walker’s first suspense novel, All Is Not Forgotten, is set in the small town of Fairview, CT, one of those irresistible locations for writers to explore because it seems so perfect but really isn’t. No one better to delve into this than an author who is a suburban dweller with a growing family herself, and who also happens to be a family-law attorney, likely to know some of the real-life complications simmering underneath the American suburban dream. William Landay (Defending Jacob), another attorney-turned-suspense-author who read for South End Writes in 2014, said Walker has “a polished writing style in a novel that blends suspense and rich family drama,” so chances are good you will have an enjoyable few hours with this psychological thriller, wondering whodunnit and why.

The plot revolves around a family whose secrets and unresolved tensions become sharply articulated and inflamed when a crisis  occurs, in this case, an attack on the teenage daughter during one of those parties with too much liquor, testosterone and drugs. She is given a drug to reduce the trauma, but it leaves her with feelings of anger and despair over the assault that the memory-altering drug does not alleviate. Worse, she can no longer remember the facts of the assault, which also prevents the attacker from being found. As the plot twists and turns to an unexpected conclusion, the parents are divided over what matters most, revenge, justice or…staying in tune with their town’s country club mores. Walker published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and is currently writing her second thriller. She will be introduced by her colleague an FOSEL advisory-board member, Mari Passananti.

The South End Writes is sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. All the events are free. Books by the speakers will be available for borrowing, sale and signing by the author. The branch is fully handicapped accessible. We serve refreshments. Seating is limited. Below are listed upcoming authors, whose bios will be more detailed as the dates of the talks approach.