The Parks Department took its proposal for the redesign and upgrade of Library Park to the South End Historic District Commission (SEHDC) on Tuesday, January 2. During the presentation before the Landmark commissioners, the Parks Department project managers were asked to adjust the proposed redesign to reflect commissioners' concerns about three issues. These included the location of a bench near the library entrance that might impinge on a easy flow of foot traffic; how to best protect the root system of an oak tree near a proposed expanded patio between the library and the park; and how to enrich the proposed new concrete pathways by adding 'accents' in materials that are historically appropriate for the South End landmarks district, such as thermal bluestone, or brick. Commissioner John Amedeo pointed to an alley way between the South End's Cathedral gymnasium and its high school that featured such accents which, he suggested, made an otherwise dull concrete surface more interesting. The Parks Department will return with the changed proposal to SEHDC in the next few weeks.
A previous public hearing on the proposal was held at the South End library on November 29, 2017 and attended by a small but very engaged group of local residents. At the November hearing, Parks Department's project manager, Lauren Bryant, and Brandon Kunkel, landscape architect with the Weston & Sampson design and engineering firm, presented attendees with three proposals for Library Park's overhaul. Two designs preserved the current layout of the park, while the third offered a different configuration. The latter was the one favored by the audience, and that is the one that was presented for review by the Parks Department.
In the proposal, the deteriorated bluestone pavement will be replaced with a new one made of shaded concrete. In addition, the patio between the library and the park's entrance will be expanded to accommodate outdoor events; two garden circles will be established on the Tremont Street side of the park; and curved benches and to-be-determined seating arrangements will be included, together with substantial infrastructure improvements. After deducting the cost of design services, the remaining budget for the reconfiguration is $115,000.
With public and SEHDC comments in mind, the Parks Department will produce a final design which is scheduled to be put out to bid sometime in February. Construction, weather permitting, will start in March. The park is scheduled to reopen in late summer. Further information can be obtained at the Parks Department website, linked here.
The Society of Arts and Crafts, which sponsored the twelfth holiday exhibit of juried crafts by artists from all over the country at the Hynes Convention Center from December 14 to 17, has installed a Local/Focus display in the South End library's Tremont Street window featuring some of the crafts for sale at the Hynes. So you missed it this fine display of American craft works? You have another chance this coming April 20 when the Society will have another spectacular show at the Cyclorama, just down the street from the South End library, on Tremont Street.
The Society of Arts and Crafts dates from the end of the 19th century and is America's oldest arts and craft nonprofit organization. It was located for forty years on Newbury Street but moved last year to the Seaport District. The mission of the Society has been to "develop and encourage higher artistic standards in the handcrafts." Local/Focus is a project sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect local non-profits, creative entrepreneurs and artists to the branch library with installations in its Tremont Street window.
The reception to send off longtime South End library staffer, Deborah Madrey into retirement next January brought so many well-wishers to the branch that food ran out within an hour and several tables were needed to hold many gifts. Madrey was quickly overcome by emotions and had to sit down for most of the event in the seating area, where she remained most of the time, surrounded by friends and paper handkerchiefs.
It remains uncertain who will take the place of Madrey, whose pronouncements over the years on the villains of the day --or as she refers to them, the 'you-know-whos'-- and the sports scene (specifically tennis and football) were always sought after by patrons who could not quite make up their minds as quickly on the same subjects. It is also not clear who will from here on out provide biscuits to the dogs who patiently waited outside for their owners to get their library materials checked in or out, or their opinions vetted.
Born and raised in Boston, Madrey attended church across the corner from West Newton and Tremont Streets. After obtaining a degree in Education from Emerson College, she spent 17 years as a public-school teacher in Los Angeles but returned to Boston in 1995 to join the staff at the South End library. She has observed many changes in the neighborhood and treasures the many friends she made at the branch. She is looking forward to retirement, hopes to travel, and would like to see libraries keep books and not go "all digital."
Madrey saw most of the changes when computers arrived and when tapes and DVD’s became a “hot commodity,” so much so that she thinks libraries helped put Blockbuster out of business. And, of course, she notes with some reservation the increasing availability of digital books for Kindles. But the biggest changes have been people's tastes in reading, she says. She recalls how popular V. C. Andrew was back then, especially the novel Petals on the Wind. She has not seen western novels and science fiction in a long while, noting, “Now they watch it more than they read it”. She recalls when urban fiction became very popular, with the work of Terry McMillan, which open the door for other black writers who became well known.
Madrey will be around until early January, and will gladly reminisce with any of her friends who have not yet the chance to say goodbye. Bring the Kleenex, bring the dog. Biscuits are still distributed from the box on the shelf behind the circulation desk..
While the South End Writes author series has hosted culinary luminaries before (Chris Kimball, Joanne Chang, Gordon Hamersley), and some brought gifts from their kitchens (Kimball: cookbooks to sell to benefit the branch; Chang fabulous chocolate-chip cookies), none actually prepared a meal for library patrons at the South End branch until Jody Adams did so on December 5. The induction burners she brought to the beloved but outmoded branch had to be powered by extension cords, and one electrical circuit --dating from the 1970s-- quit altogether, but somehow a fabulous campanelle pasta with slow-roasted tomatoes was produced, accompanied by an arugula salad with shaved celery root, minced celery, baby kale and a champagne-based dressing topped with Reggiano Parmesan cheese, the latter freshly ground by Adams's husband and partner, photographer Ken Rivard. The audience was thrilled.
FOSEL board member, architect Michelle Laboy, who worked with Adams on several restaurant projects, described the Providence-born chef as a genuine and creative culinary star, dedicated not just to fabulous menus in expensive establishments but also as someone committed to working closely with local farmers and purveyors, using a finish carpenter from Pawtucket and a metalsmith from Western Massachusetts, for example. Adams, who ran Rialto restaurant in Cambridge for 22 years until it closed in 2016, was awarded four stars within months after it opened by the Boston Globe, is also dedicated to child advocacy and hunger relief organizations. She was made Humanitarian of the Year in 2010 by Share Our Strength, an organization engaged in fighting childhood hunger. "I cooked beautiful and expensive meals at Rialto," Adams said, "but it is important to recognize food is important for many people so I balance my work with my efforts at food banks and related organizations. It's scary to think you wouldn't have enough to eat so I am honored to do that work."
Adams, who is currently is the chef-owner of Boston-based Porto, Trade and Saloniki (which has a second location in Cambridge), met cooking pioneer Julia Child accidentally when she washed dishes for a fundraiser sponsored by Planned Parenthood. The daughter of two librarians (father at Brown University, mother in the Providence Public Library and later at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford), Adams had just quit her first career (as a nurse practitioner) and her first husband. Not having had a television in the family she grew up in, she had no idea who Child was but it was the start of her culinary career. She was hired by Lydia Shire at Seasons, where Gordon Hamersley was the sous-chef, and where she "burnt myself and cut myself" on the way to becoming a star chef herself. She opened up Hamersley's with Hamersley and his wife, Fiona. When she started at Rialto, Joanne Chang, of Flour, and now herself the owner --with her husband-- of a four-star restaurant, Myers & Chang, was her first pastry chef.
Adams described running restaurants as a "tough business," where navigating a very challenging labor market is critical. "A good manger is hard to find," she reflected. Creating a team that feels invested in their work environment requires her to spend a lot of time teaching her employees on the ins and outs of it, which she enjoys. "We are looking at educating our staff so they understand our business. We open our books to them so they know how their jobs have an impact on the business." In a competitive labor market, Adams says, "this is what sets us apart."
Former Boston Globe columnist Sam Allis was at the South End library on November 28 to talk about the genesis of his first novel, A Hero of Two Worlds, which he said he wrote for two reasons: he simply wanted to write a novel set in Italy where he had lived and worked as a journalist and Time bureau chief and he hoped that, after his 2011 retirement, having a clearly delineated project would keep him and his wife from going at each other with knives. He succeeded at both.
His wife was his first reader, he said, but was not nearly as forgiving and kind as author Doug Bauer, a longtime friend who introduced him at the library talk, or as the editor of a New York publishing house who loved the book but was unable to pick it up for publication. "They helped me hugely," Allis said. "My wife, when reading the first chapter, said 'no one's going to read this shit.'" But Allis ploughed ahead, doing an enormous amount of research in Boston on the large expatriate community of American (many from Boston) and British artists and intellectuals living in Rome in the early to mid-19th century. He read dozens of books about Roman history, and took courses on the subject at Harvard University.
"I could have written non-fiction all day long but it's true what they say about writing fiction," Allis commented: "It's hard." He could do it only four hours a day and found that writing dialogue was 'the hardest thing in the world.' He also was not able to let his imagined characters go off and do their thing, wherever it might lead. "I needed to structure them," Allis recounted. He had lived in Rome for several stretches, with his family and as a working foreign reporter. His book's character, Rufus, was a sculptor caught up in the revolutionary fervor of Italy at the time. Italians wanted to unite the fractious collection of political fiefdoms, controlled by the Austrians, French, and other foreign interests, into one republic. That republic lasted for five months and Rufus married into an Italian family. After the deaths of his wife and son, he returned to the United States where he fought another war, this time to keep America from tearing apart in the Civil War. Based on his research Allis knew that in Rome at that time "there was a conversation between the Yankees and the Southerners" about the causes of the Civil War. Allis's hero was killed in the Battle of Little Round Top, where he had joined the Maine division and "died the way he wanted to, charging down a hill to face the enemy," Allis said.
Doug Bauer, the author of the award-winning collection What happens Next? Matters of Life and Death, introduced Allis and compared their many years of friendship to the many games of tennis they played, keeping down the cut-throat competitive instincts that lives in both of them and instead just enjoying the game and not keeping score. He praised the novel's 'emotional sprawl' and how it offered verbal glimpses of the private ways in which the characters executed their civil wars, in Italy to create one country out of many entities and, in America, to save the country from being torn apart.
By Michelle Laboy, member of the board of the Friends of the South End Library
This December, we say goodbye to our long time librarian Deborah Madrey, who will retire in January. Deborah has been part of the South End Library for the past 22 years. She started at the Boston Public Library as a student in Emerson College, working part time at the Copley library from 1971 until 1973. She graduated with a degree in education and moved to Los Angeles in 1978 to work as a teacher. In 1995 she moved back from California to her native Boston, and thanks to her previous experience at the BPL and the good impression she left with former colleagues, she was offered a full time position with the library. She started in the South End in October of 1995 and has worked here since.
She still remembers how the library felt when she arrived. The renovation in the late 1980s that added an elevator had just been completed, and the interior was freshly painted. She describes many changes that happened since, when the library started to get computers and when tapes and DVD’s became a “hot commodity,” so much so that she thinks libraries helped put Blockbuster out of business. And of course she notes with some reservation the increasing availability of digital books for Kindles. But the biggest changes have been people's tastes in reading. She recalls how popular V. C. Andrew was back then, especially the novel Petals on the Wind. She has not seen western novels and science fiction in a long while, noting, “Now they watch it more than they read it”. She recalls when urban fiction became very popular, with the work of Terry McMillan, which open the door for other black writers who became well known.
Deborah has also noticed how much the neighborhood changed during her time at the library. She still loves the South End where she observes, unlike other branches, a more diverse population coming together at the library: poor and rich, white, Hispanics and blacks, native-born and immigrants. She has seen the neighborhood get more “yuppified” and welcome many more families. For Deborah another important constituency is her doggy friends, for whom she keeps a box of milk bones behind the desk, to go outside and greet them with a treat every day. Library patrons who love sports will also remember her passion, as a self-described rabid Patriots fan who has won tickets to their games three times. She also loves to watch tennis matches. According to her co-worker Margaret Gardner, the children’s librarian, many teenagers who grew up coming to the library still come by to say hello to Deborah. Many other library users know her for her kindness and welcoming greetings as you pass the circulation desk or check out a book. When mentioning how much people say how nice she is, her answer says so much: “It's harder to be to be nasty than to be nice".
Her best memories of working at the South End Library are the holiday parties and the jazz concerts. Seeing people that come in during evenings for author talks really makes her feel like the library is doing something good for the neighborhood, that they are rendering a service. She is always impressed by how much we do in such a small space. Deborah loves that she knows many people here, and she will miss the patrons the most. She will also miss her doggie friends and the staff. She shares how happy it makes her to know that she has many friends in the community, and proudly says that some of the homeless who frequent the library are her friends too; evidently knowing a few of them by name and noticing when they are going through an especially difficult time.
She loves the library, and loves books, which she says, “take you places”. Her friend and long time South End resident Ms. Fanny Johnson stopped by to talk to Deborah, and shared with us the incredible importance of the library to her as a child. “If you grow up in the inner city, the library opens your world; it lets you know that it is bigger than these three or four blocks.” Deborah worries that children don't read as much anymore, especially when she observes them wanting “as little text and as many pictures as possible.” And she cannot understand why some are more interested in the movie than in the original book, noting that they will be miss the imagination that reading inspires.
For Deborah, the most important role of the library is to give people an opportunity to gain knowledge. But she also sees the library as an essential resource to so many who come to do their taxes, or to use a computer to search for homes and jobs, to do resumes, or use the free resources available to the community. While she recognizes that “we cannot be Bates Hall” and that it is important for a neighborhood branch to be able to be a little bit louder sometimes, she stressed that she will not miss some of the bad behavior that she has experienced on occasion from some of the library users. She is concerned about the challenges the library faces, as she says they cannot be everything to everyone. She knows the library is an important place for many, including the homeless who need a place to be; but she acknowledges that doing all of these things comes with challenges that they grapple with every day.
As we look towards the future without Deborah in the library every day, and we prepare to embark on a new renovation to allow the library to better serve the functions the community needs, her wisdom from years of experience working in this space should be treasured. When thinking about the future of the library, Deborah says that she hopes real books are preserved and that the library does not go all-digital. She thinks there is wisdom in hardcopy books that is shared and passed on from one user to the next. When asked what the library needs the most, she said she would like to see that dedicated teen space, but that we don’t need a coffee shop!
These few blocks hold many memories of Deborah’s youth. Growing up, she attended the church just across the street at the corner of West Newton and Tremont Streets. Deborah is the youngest of seven children, born and raised in a house on 741 Shawmut. She moved to Roxbury when she was three, and still lives in the same house. She remembers how growing up she felt she had to have a library card. Deborah describes herself as extremely shy, and while she taught in school, she claims that her ability to speak in public was learned in church. The last few years Deborah lived with her brothers; one of whom passed away recently, and she still has another brother who lives in Jamaica Plain. She misses her siblings dearly. But she looks forward to retiring and having time for many new things. She wants to do some traveling, especially to Europe, although she is not crazy about planes.
Deborah will be missed by so many friends of the South End library. We were fortunate to have her kind presence in the library for so many years, and we will remember her always. Most importantly, we want to take this moment of her retirement to celebrate the great community that Deborah helped cultivate in the library, the heart of our beautiful neighborhood. We wish Deborah a happy and healthy retirement, full of wonderful trips, many new friends, and a few more wins for the Patriots. And we hope that when she is not traveling, she continues to join us during summer concerns, holiday parties and author readings. All the very best wishes to you, Deborah!
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.
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."
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.
The first two operas of the Trial by Fire series, Tchaikovsy's The Maid of Orleans and Donizetti's Siege of Calais, received 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Child. Another 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 email@example.com.