BPL Presentation at City Council Hearing Shows a "Good News Budget," with $127 Million for Capital Renovations over Five Years and almost $50 Million for FY2020 Operating Expenses

President, David Leonard, now in his fourth year at the helm of the Boston Public Library

President, David Leonard, now in his fourth year at the helm of the Boston Public Library

The difference between a Boston mayoral administration that loves libraries and one that doesn’t so much is this: As little as six years ago library budgets had been cut every year by millions of dollars, branch renovations were few and far between, and new hires for a library system that could barely handle growing demand for Internet and other services were almost unheard of. By contrast, today, the Walsh administration’s FY2020 budget proposes to spend more than $127 million over the next five years to rebuild Boston’s branch libraries and critical departments at the Central Library (on top of $30 million already spent this year). “A good news budget,” is how a city financial manager described it.

The proposed FY2020 operating budget is almost $50 million (from $32 million six years ago) and a handful of new positions are included for project management, and teen and children’s librarians. Equally important, the administration and the BPL have a revamped Fund for the Boston Public Library to tap Boston’s private wealth and help sustain the growing demand for expanded public-library services. (Its predecessor, the anemic Boston Public Library Foundation, in its final years raised just enough to pay its employees’ salaries.) Even State funding for the BPL has increased, though minimally for now. That will likely be the next task the Boston Delegation to the Massachusetts Legislature is asked to consider when they get a visit from BPL’s executives and/or trustees, one of whom, Rep. Chynah Tyler, is expected to begin a term serving on that very board.

Mayor Marty Walsh, a committed library supporter, will receive the Bates Medal on June 7

Mayor Marty Walsh, a committed library supporter, will receive the Bates Medal on June 7

The enthusiasm and upbeat tone by president David Leonard, and the grateful response to his presentation by city councilors at the May 13 budget hearings (where they heard about their constituents’ new or to-be-renovated libraries) is a marked change from earlier days. Boston’s long-neglected library infrastructure is now on the upswing and his is what that looks like: The Adams Street branch renovation has an appropriation of $19.2 million; Uphams Corner, $17.9 million; the Dudley branch, $17.2 million; Faneuil, $12.6 million; Fields Corner, $12.1 million; Roslindale, $10.2 million; lesser amounts are set aside for smaller improvement projects at other branches, including the South End library. At the Central Library, moreover, the site of previously lost, misplaced, fungus-challenged and water-damaged prints and manuscripts, some $15.7 million is being spent to safeguard the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department.

Part of a proposed redesign of the 26,000 ft Dudley Branch Library

Part of a proposed redesign of the 26,000 ft Dudley Branch Library

Alongside the rebuilding program, the BPL is looking into mixed-use possibilities for their renovation projects, including the combination of low-income and affordable housing with libraries (Fields Corner, Eggleston and West End). Another possibility is making libraries part of an arts and culture district (Uphams Corner, where the Strand Theatre is located), or even building libraries in consort with separate commercial developments, including perhaps a permanent location for a Chinatown library (now in temporary quarters in the China Trade Center) that could be part of one or another BPDA-sponsored development project over the Mass Turnpike.

Collaborations between the BPL and other major Boston cultural institutions is another exciting change, exemplified by the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts. More than 100 prints owned by the BPL are on loan to the MFA, which assisted in restoration and preservation work of the BPL’s Toulouse-Lautrec prints collection, and agreed to offer free admission to the museum for the month of June to anyone who owns a BPL library card.

Holders of a BPL card can visit the Museum of Fine Arts for free the entire month of June and view the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit that includes more than 100 prints owned by the Boston Public Library

Holders of a BPL card can visit the Museum of Fine Arts for free the entire month of June and view the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit that includes more than 100 prints owned by the Boston Public Library

Services for homeless patrons of the BPL are still in their infancy, compared to, for example the San Francisco Public Library, but important progress is being made. A pilot project with the Pine Street Inn has brought a full-time social work navigator to the Main Library to work with homeless patrons, and assisted with obtaining housing. The BPL hopes to “add capacity” to this effort, said president Leonard. In addition, a program between the BPL and Simmons University is in process of being established for their social-work faculty and students to work with “vulnerable patrons.” Another one-year pilot program launched last fall is for library users to borrow a “hot-spot” kit for free Internet service elsewhere. Each kit contains a hotspot device, Micro USB cable, adapter, and instructions in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian Creole.

A Gala celebration that launches the new fundraising arm of the Boston Public Library, called the Fund for the Boston Public Library.

A Gala celebration that launches the new fundraising arm of the Boston Public Library, called the Fund for the Boston Public Library.

Sustaining and expanding these initiatives and services will be expensive which is why the April launch of a new and improved BPL foundation, called the Fund for the Boston Public Library, is so important. Their opening event will be a June 7 Gala at the BPL, which expects to raise $8 million. A new executive director was hired recently, Mary Myers. The last director brought on by the Walsh administration four years ago for what was then called the Boston Public Library Foundation concluded within a very short time that the foundation was beyond salvation after years of well-meaning but incompetent leadership and an overload of patronage appointments dating from previous administrations. No-nonsense BPL trustees, after doing an in-depth study of the teetering organization, closed the BPL foundation down three years ago and began to envision a new, effective and more muscular one, from scratch.

Let’s hope they succeed. So far it all looks good. The Gala will also be be the night when Mayor Marty Walsh will receive the Bates Medal for making significant contributions to the advancement of learning. From my perch of a long-suffering Boston public-library advocate, he has earned it.

Artist Carol Schweigert, a Former Resident of the Piano Factory, Has Installed a Local/Focus Exhibit of her Recent Work in the Library's Tremont Street Window

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Carol Schweigert is a Boston-based painter who explores terrain both inside and out. A former resident of the Piano Factory on Tremont Street, she now has a studio in Charlestown and paints “plein air” all over Boston, from the Arboretum to the Zakim Bridge. 

 “My passion is painting from direct observation in both oil and gouache, indoors and out, sometimes in the rain, occasionally in the ice. I like the vitality and physicality of plein air painting. It hints of extreme sport, with police encounters, slippery slopes, lightning storms, and chats with skinny-dippers,” she says.

 Schweigert returned to oil painting from the world of child rearing. “The abstract expressionism of my earlier education seemed so last century,” she says. “So I leapt back even further taking a wooden French easel and heading out into the fresh air.” She is intrigued by visual contradictions, carrying a 19th-century art kit into the 21st century, wondering what it is that makes a piece “of the moment.” 

 She received a BFA from Syracuse University, and has shown her paintings locally in a number of locations, including the Danforth Museum’s Off the Wallexhibit; the Hunnewell Visitor Center at Arnold Arboretum; and the St. Botolph Club. She takes continuing education classes at Mass College of Art, where she enjoys participating in a vibrant arts community.

A price list of her work is available inside the library, ranging from $250 to $1,200. The artist will donate ten percent of any art work sold from the Tremont Street window to the South End library staff for programming and supplies.

The Twelfth South End Library Easter Egg Hunt Came at the End of a Long Rainy Spell, Ringing in the First of Many Spring and Summer Events in Library Park

FOSEL volunteers prepared Library Park for the Twelfth Annual Easter Egg Hunt. From left to right: Walter Newman, Easter Bunny Chris Fagg, branch librarian Anne Smart, Marleen Nienhuis, Gail Ide, Michael Cox, Maura Harrington, Jacqueline McRath, Michelle Laboy, Noah Fiedler, Josh Fiedler.

FOSEL volunteers prepared Library Park for the Twelfth Annual Easter Egg Hunt. From left to right: Walter Newman, Easter Bunny Chris Fagg, branch librarian Anne Smart, Marleen Nienhuis, Gail Ide, Michael Cox, Maura Harrington, Jacqueline McRath, Michelle Laboy, Noah Fiedler, Josh Fiedler.

The crowd began to swell at 10:30 AM…

The crowd began to swell at 10:30 AM…

Last fall, it was not clear whether it was a good idea to plant spring bulbs in Library Park as their bloom time would most likely coincide with the Library Easter Egg Hunt. Should we not plant or not have the Easter Egg Hunt?

Easter eggs everywhere…

Easter eggs everywhere…

Neither was a good option, so FOSEL planted AND had the Hunt. The enthusiastic crowd of hunters carefully tipped around tulips and daffodils, knocking down only a few. Their spree to collect more than 1,700 eggs was over in minutes.

Nearly a dozen FOSEL volunteers had filled the eggs with chocolates, poems and knock-knock jokes the weeks before. Chris Fagg, our talented Easter Bunny, did a great job waving and giving hugs to whoever wanted one.

Tip-toeing through the tulips and daffodils..

Tip-toeing through the tulips and daffodils..

The sun came out after a long rainy spell. Parents and children were happy. They took pictures. They chatted. They consumed all the refreshments. A little girl noted, “the bunny has a costume on,” but agreed to keep it a secret for the littler children.

A new season in renovated Library Park has begun.

Opening up the Easter eggs and finding poems, knock-knock jokes and..chocolates

Opening up the Easter eggs and finding poems, knock-knock jokes and..chocolates

The Easter Bunny was at the center of attention of little kids and their parents

The Easter Bunny was at the center of attention of little kids and their parents

Josh Fiedler and son Noah

Josh Fiedler and son Noah

Nick Altschuller and son Gus waiting with the crowd.

Nick Altschuller and son Gus waiting with the crowd.

The New "Book Award Winners" Window Display Features 2019 Nominations and Previous Winners of the U.K.'s Women's Prize for Fiction, Formerly Known as the Orange Awards

Book Award Winners is a program sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library to connect local residents to a diverse group of organizations that recognize outstanding literary work in a broad variety of categories.

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 THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION

Written by Women. For Everyone.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly known as the Orange Prize, is one of the U.K.’s most prestigious literary prizes. It is awarded  each year to a female author of any nationality for the best full-length novel written in English, and published in the U.K. in the preceding year.

First awarded in 1996, its creation was in response to the selection process for the 1991 Booker Prize. That year, no women authors were short-listed for this prestigious award, even though 60 percent of the books written in 1991 were authored by women. Past Women’s Prize for Fiction winners represent a Who’s Who of the world’s female authors, including Boston area novelist Suzanne Berne, who spoke recently at the South End Library about her latest novel, The Dogs of Littlefield.  She won the Orange Award in 1999 for her first novel,A Crime in the Neighborhood.

FOSEL board members Jenni Watson and Reinhold Mahler, who installed the latest Book Awards Winners window at the SE library

FOSEL board members Jenni Watson and Reinhold Mahler, who installed the latest Book Awards Winners window at the SE library

Previous winners include: 2018:Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie; 2017:The Power by Naomi Alderman; 2016:The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney; and 2015: How to Be Both by Ali Smith.

 The 2019 prize will be announced June 5 and the nominees are: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker; Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton; My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite; the Pisces by Melissa Broder; Milkman by Anna Burns; Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi; Ordinary People by Diana Evans; Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott; An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li; Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn; Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli; Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden; Circe by Madeline Miller; Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss; and Normal People by Sally Rooney.

Local/Focus is Showcasing the Zeitgeist Stage Company, Closing its Doors in May after Eighteen Years of Presenting Contemporary Award-winning Plays in the South End's Boston Center for the Arts

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FAREWELL TO ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY:

The award-winning South End-based fringe theatre group has operated for eighteen years out of the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) on Tremont Street, where it is a Resident Theater Company. Frequently, Zeitgeist Stage was nominated for Elliot Norton and Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) awards, and over the years won many of them. Due to lagging ticket sales and lack of adequate funding and grant support, Zeitgeist will close its doors for good in May.

The theatre’s focus has been on social and political issues that play out in our culture today, and included last year’s Vicuna, a devastating satire of the Trump phenomenon. This year’s final production is the world premiere of Trigger Warning, a play by Jacques Lamarre about a mass shooting, presented from the point of view of the gunman’s family. It runs from April 12 to May 4 at the BCA. 

Zeitgeist’s artistic director, David Miller, has lived around the corner from the South End library for many years. He is proud to have supported the South End community with free tickets to the Boston Public Schools, the AIDS Action Committee, Hostels International, and the Boston Living Center. Every Wednesday, tickets are “pay-what-you-can” with a $10 minimum.

Director David Miller’s farewell words to the South End community are: “We wish you well as we say goodbye – or in a Zeitgeist frame of mind, Auf Wiedersehen. Please continue to support small and fringe theater companies in Boston; there are many deserving companies worthy of your attendance. And we look forward to seeing you in their audiences in the future!”

Chris Castellani's Latest Novel, "Leading Men," about Tennessee Williams and his Lover, Frank Merlo, Was Inspired by an Endangered Resource of the Instagram Age: People's Personal Letters and Journals

Chris Castellani presented a slide show of “real and imagined'“ characters in his latest novel ,   Leading Men

Chris Castellani presented a slide show of “real and imagined'“ characters in his latest novel, Leading Men

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Prize-winning novelist and South End resident, Chris Castellani, returned to the South End library on April 9 to read from his widely praised latest novel, Leading Men, about the relationship between playwright Tennessee Williams and his lover and muse Frank Merlo, as it may have played out in Portofino, Italy, in the early 1950s. The novel, for which Castellani researched the personal letters and journals of the playwright, received stellar reviews from the New York Times and and the Boston Globe, among other publications. The Boston Globe calls it a “seductive, steaming novel.” The New York Times book reviewer, Dwight Garner, describes it as a novel that casts "a spell right from the start” and “vividly reimagines” the relationship between Williams and Merlo, while offering “intricate thoughts about the nature of fidelity, the artistic impulse, and estrangement.” 

Aaron Lecklider, Professor of American Studies at UMass, and author of Inventing the Egghead: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture, introduced Castellani and remarked upon the unique richess of personal archives the novelist drew upon. Lecklider described how, when doing research himself in a trove of personal letters in an archive in Delaware, he found a feather hidden between some pages. The feather, placed there by someone many decades before, erased for him the distance between past and present, an experience that he suggested in our age of instant communications and Instagram may be lost forever. Lecklider, also a South End resident, described Castellani as a novelist who writes about “emotional truths and competing desires,” and someone who also is the “unstoppable force” who reinvented writing in the city of Boston as the artistic director of Grub Street, the independent creative writing center on Boylston Street.

Chris Castellani reading from Leading Men to a full house, including the author who introduced him, Aaron Lecklider, who wrote  Inventing the Egghead: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture.

Chris Castellani reading from Leading Men to a full house, including the author who introduced him, Aaron Lecklider, who wrote Inventing the Egghead: The Battle over Brainpower in American Culture.

In going through the personal letters and journals of Williams, Castellani discovered there was a gap in journal entries from the end of July until August 11 of 1953. He knew Truman Capote had invited Williams and Merlo to visit him in Portofino in 1953, by which time Williams had established his reputation with A Streetcar Named Desire, but he and Merlo were going through a rough time in their four-year relationship. Castellani wondered what might have taken place during the time of that hiatus in the journal when other characters also visited Portofino. These included John Horne Burns, the bestselling author of the first great post-war novel The Gallery, an alcoholic who passed away on August 11, the last day of the “gap’ in the Williams journal. Imagining what the answers to those questions might be formed the spine of the plot in which Castellani explored the emotional turbulence and shifting social undercurrents experienced by a post-war generation of mostly gay men in the seaside town of Portofino.

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Playwright Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, the subjects of Chris Castellani’s  Leading Men.

Playwright Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo, the subjects of Chris Castellani’s Leading Men.

For his library talk, Castellani presented a slide show of real and imagined characters who inhabited the Portofino of his novel, which he described as “an idyllic place fraught with peril.” One of them, part of a Swedish mother/daughter team that always dressed alike, reminded him of he actress Liv Ullman. Castellani asked himself, “what if Williams was writing a play just for her?” This is how Castellani ended up writing a one-act play in the style of Tennessee Williams embedded in Leading Men. The author also used that literary maneuver to try and get at the relationship between Williams and Merlo, and the guilt Williams felt after Merlo died of lung cancer in his early forties. Williams, who had become estranged from Merlo, did not visit him until the day he died, although he paid for Merlo’s care. After Merlo’s death, Williams, who had been at the peak of his career, fell into a long depression and did not write any more hit plays, a relief for Castellani who read the less-than-stellar late plays to fortify himself trying to write a Tennessee Williams-inspired play for Leading Men.

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Castellani said he was “in love with the character of Frank Merlo,” a working-class Italian-American truck driver who was the beating heart of the relationship, where Williams was more mercurial and sardonic. He was Williams’s muse, Castellani said, someone who organized Williams’s life and got him to where he needed to go. “He brought him down to earth and created space for him so he could write.” But, Castellani found out, he was never able to tell Tennessee Williams, “I love you.”

Castellani received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council to write Leading Men. He is on the faculty and academic board of the Warren Wilson MFA program and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. His previous work includes All This Talk of Love, part of a trilogy of an Italian-American immigrant family and The Art of Perspective: Who tells the Story.



Award-winning Writer and Harvard Review's Fiction Editor, Suzanne Berne, Makes a Passionate Case for Why Novels Matter: Privacy

Author Suzanne Berne in a talk about why novels matter.

Author Suzanne Berne in a talk about why novels matter.

Suzanne Berne, who won the U. K.’s Orange Award for her 2014 novel, A Crime in the Neighborhood, took a firm hand in talking about herself as a writer when she came to the South End library on March 19 to talk about her latest work, The Dogs of Littlefield. She didn’t really want to read from her latest book of crime fiction, but instead hoped to make the case for why novels matter. 

“I could have done any number of things in my life, and done them fairly well,” she told the audience. “But I decided to devote my life to being a novelist.” One reason to celebrate novels is that they offer privacy, she said. “When you read a novel, It’s between you and the writer. There’s no intermediary. As soon as you turn the page, you become ‘them.’ You’re alone in your chair with ‘them’ in a mysterious collaboration. You, the reader, dance to the writer’s words.”

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Berne, who is the fiction editor of The Harvard Review, acknowledged that, nowadays, novels face stiff competition from other forms of storytelling, including the many excellent television productions. “Unlike novels, they offer fine transitions, swift character development, easy flashbacks and efficient productions. You don’t have to sit through long passages about dress and place and time,” she explained.  

“Art is inefficient,” Berk countered. “It takes a long time to make and to understand.” She added that in fiction “the process of perception slows down the acquisition of information so you slowly build up sympathy for the characters’ flaws and terrors.” The New York Times reviewer of A Crime in the Neighborhood described Berne as a master at the craft of psychological menace

Berne was influenced in her literary life by the 19th-century Russian writer and theorist, Viktor Shklovsky, who spoke of art as a technique that would complicate that very easy and quick perception of things we now expect. He favored slowing down speed and efficiency of the story-telling, resist the cliches and habitual ways of describing our lives that we, said Berne, in our times have come to rely on. Shklovsky spoke for the kind of writing that makes “the stone stoney.” 

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Viewing her own work from the perch of the editor, Berne brought copies of the first couple of pages of a draft that eventually became The Dogs of Littlefield. The story is a social satire about a near-perfect place close to Boston where dogs are suddenly found poisoned to death. The Boston Globe said the novel was a near-flawless satire of middle-class America.  And Berne agreed her early draft wasn’t “terrible” as opening pages go: It had something to set the reader on edge, an ominous ‘it’ and an ‘attitude.’ “The sentences were smart and clever,” she added somewhat ruefully, “but this came at the expense of telling a story: The narration was not ok.”

So she began to think of how to “unmuffle” the opening pages. She wanted it to be a social comedy about a perceived menace that exists in a place like Littlefield that everyone considers ‘ safe.’ To narrate it for that effect she created characters who could judge the residents from the point of view of an outsider, including locals who were seen as outsiders for not fitting into the local corset of norms, or those who felt like ‘the other’ for a range of reasons. “I am intrigued by matters that locals are absorbed by, which are big to them but small to the world,” Berne said. “Certain places can be seen as safe, but can any place be safe, and is trying to feel safe a good idea?”

She wrote six drafts of the novel. “Things are never finished,” she said. “They are abandoned.” Berne is currently working on a novel set on a remote New Hampshire lake that involves a reclusive and difficult elderly woman from Amsterdam who summons her estranged daughter and her daughter's unhappy college-age son to help her when she sprains her ankle.  The visit does not go well.

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 A Crime in the Neighborhood, was a New York Times Notable Book and a Book of the Month Club and a Quality Paperback Book Club selection. Berne’s earlier novels are The Ghost at the Table and A Perfect Arrangement. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in magazines such as PloughsharesAgniThe Three-penny ReviewMademoiselleVogueThe New York Times MagazineThe Guardian, and The Quarterly.  She teaches creative writing at Boston College and the Ranier Writing Workshop.

 

Local/Focus Window Showcases the Many Local Writers Participating in the Fourth South End Authors' Book Festival, Held Thursday, April 4 in Tent City's Harry Dow Room

A selection of the many titles by South End authors participating in the Fourth Annual South End Authors’ Book Festival in Tent City on display in the South End library window

A selection of the many titles by South End authors participating in the Fourth Annual South End Authors’ Book Festival in Tent City on display in the South End library window

Here is how it began, in the words of South End author Alison Barnet: 

 “1n early 2015, Mel King said to Alison Barnet—both had new books coming out—“We should have a South End book festival.” It sounded good to Alison so she began compiling lists of authors who lived in the South End, or used to, or wrote about the South End. A committee was formed: Anne Smart, Russ Lopez, Charley Caizzi, Paul Wright and a USES staff member. South End Historical Society director, Lauren Prescott joined us later.

The First South End Authors’ Book Festival was held in the Harriet Tubman House in 2015

The First South End Authors’ Book Festival was held in the Harriet Tubman House in 2015

The First South End Author’s Book Festival was held at the Harriet Tubman House on November 16, 2015. Sitting at long tables with their books for sale were:  Blackfoot Warrior, Gary Bratsos, Charley Caizzi, Thom Donovan, Philip Gambone, Jean Gibran, Ralph Kee, Mel King, Steven Kinzer (made an appearance), Bill Kuhn, Aaron Lecklider, Russ Lopez, Bonita McIlvaine, Ife Oshun, Mari Passananti, Florence Potter, Lynne Potts, Matt Regan, Hope Shannon, Sylvie Tissot (represented by Tony Piccolo), Gabriel Valjan, Bessel Vander Kolk, Lydia Walshin with her Little Free Library, and Paul Wright.

South End’s former State Representative, community organizer and author, Mel King, featured in the flat-screen video with the title of his iconic work,  Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development,  surrounded by books authored by many of his writer colleagues.

South End’s former State Representative, community organizer and author, Mel King, featured in the flat-screen video with the title of his iconic work, Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, surrounded by books authored by many of his writer colleagues.

By the Third Annual Book Festival we had moved to the Harry Dow room at Tent City. Among authors who now joined us were: Stephanie Schorow, Sue Miller, Karilyn Crockett, and Lorraine Elena Roses. Fred Dow (son of Harry) was an impromptu speaker, giving us the idea of inviting Fred back and having other speakers as well at our Fourth Book Festival in 2018.”

Titles by current participating authors are on display in the library window and are part of the digital presentation on the flat screen.

In 1968, Architect Romaldo Giurgola Proposed a South End Library Building with a Lower-level Children's Room Overlooking a Sunken Courtyard; an Entrance on Tremont Street; and Two Large Reading Rooms

Dan Kelley, principal in MGA Partners, the Philadelphia architectural firm that succeeded the award-winning Mitchell/Giurgola firm when they moved to Australia. Kelley gave a presentation at the South End library on March 12 about the architectural history of the South End branch.

Dan Kelley, principal in MGA Partners, the Philadelphia architectural firm that succeeded the award-winning Mitchell/Giurgola firm when they moved to Australia. Kelley gave a presentation at the South End library on March 12 about the architectural history of the South End branch.

An early proposal by Romaldo Giurgola for a sunken courtyard next to the South End library, with a dug-out lower level

An early proposal by Romaldo Giurgola for a sunken courtyard next to the South End library, with a dug-out lower level

Some of the surprising details that came out during a captivating talk and PowerPoint presentation on March 12 about the architectural history of the South End library: Now located on West Newton Street’s corner, the building could have been sited on the Rutland Square side; the library entrance might have been on Tremont Street; the proposed design included a lower-level Children’s Room (now the basement) that overlooked a sunken courtyard; and there could have been two large reading rooms instead of the one cramped space the library offers today. What might have forced the decision to go for the current, arguably lesser, design? The 1960s budget, for one, suggested architect Dan Kelley in his presentation called Beyond City Hall. It was a grand total of $225,000.

A view from the interior of the library onto a proposed sunken courtyard

A view from the interior of the library onto a proposed sunken courtyard

Kelley, a principal in MGA Partners, who worked closely with Romaldo Giurgola, the library’s architect, traveled to the South End from Philadelphia at the invitation of FOSEL’s advisor (and assistant professor of architecture at Northeastern) Michelle Laboy. Kelley’s talk focused on the genesis of the library’s architecture and the Philadelphia School, based on research he did in the Giurgola archives at the University of Pennsylvania. The award-winning architectural firm of Mitchell/Giurgola, which in the 1980s built the Parliament Building in Canberra, Australia, was part of a group of architects of he 1960s and 1970s that helped rebuild the city of Philadelphia. .

The 1962 Mitchell/Giurgola proposal for a new Boston City Hall. It came in second.

The 1962 Mitchell/Giurgola proposal for a new Boston City Hall. It came in second.

How Giurgola got the assignment for the South End library is a matter of some speculation, said Kelley. Giurgola, who was awarded the AIA Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects in 1982, came in second in the competition to design a new Boston City Hall in 1962. Some think that the South End library assignment a few years later was the consolation prize. Progressive Architecture magazine wrote in 1963 that the Giurgola proposal should have won the City Hall competition as it succeeded better than the winner in proposing a design that was “an intimate part of the restructurization of the area, and not an isolated monument.”

Early designs for the branch showed the building on different sides of the lot on Tremont Street

Early designs for the branch showed the building on different sides of the lot on Tremont Street

In his talk, Kelley compared Boston and Philadelphia as two cities dating from America’s Revolutionary era that were similar in their once-upon-a-time history of wealth and glory followed by urban decline during the 1950s and 1960s. The Philadelphia School architects were recruited by George Holmes Perkins, dean of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. They were assisted in the realization of their so-called Post-Modern approach to urban architecture by Edmund Bacon, Philadelphia’s city planner, who wanted to rebuild the city in a progressive way. That meant, among other things, to take into account the context, surroundings and social needs of where the buildings were located, as if they were “a fragment” of a larger whole, rather than an isolated structure imposed on an urban environment, explained Kelley.

The final design for the South End library, approved in 1970; it opened in 1971.

The final design for the South End library, approved in 1970; it opened in 1971.

The tight budget for the construction of the South End library probably reduced the chances for the more attractive but expensive options of the sunken courtyard and the two large reading rooms on top of a dug-out lower level. Deficient site preparation led to the collapse of a trellis that surrounded the green space in the final design, making it unstable within a short period of time. An abutter to the library attending the presentation reported that refrigerators and other debris were thrown “down there.” In the 1990s the green space was replaced with a park surrounded by an iron fence, which is still there, today. 

Romaldo Giurgola (L) walking past the South End library’s construction site

Romaldo Giurgola (L) walking past the South End library’s construction site

The presentation was well attended by a number of local architects, as well as David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library. Leonard commented that three ideas struck him: First, the centrality of Library Park to the building’s design; second, the evolution of the library’s architecture and the possibility that the final version of the proposed designs was perhaps not the stronger one and, finally, the question of how the form that suited the function of the library then, is different from what would be the case today, now that libraries have changed so dramatically in how they provide services to library users. Other architects in the audience also expressed interest in Giurgola’s initial designs for the library, especially the ones that included the sunken courtyard, lower level windows overlooking green space, and a library entrance on Tremont Street.

The South End branch of the Boston Public Library is on track for a major renovation and expansion in the next five years, which will begin with a $100,000 Programming Study sometime after July 1, so the history of its current design comes at an appropriate time. In the immediate future, the library will receive a so-called “refresh,” with new carpeting, fresh paint, additional electrical outlets, a reconfiguration of the furniture and new seating arrangements paid for by FOSEL’s private fundraising last year.

Zeitgeist Stage's Director David Miller and Playwright Jacques Lamarre Take on Staging a Play about Mass Shootings from the Perspective of the Family's Shooter in "Trigger Warning"

How does a play go from the pages of a script to a full-blown performance on stage? Last February 26, award-winning director of the Zeitgeist Stage Company, David Miller, took a stab at answering that question. Seated in a semi-circle with Miller and playwright Jacques Lamarre, three actors cast in his play, Trigger Warning, read through scenes that took a look at how a mass shooting impacts one family, that of the shooter. Two of the actors were part of earlier Zeitgeist plays: Steve Auger in Vicuna; Kelley Estes in Far Away, Hiding Behind Comets, Cakewalk, and Tigers Be Still. For Liz Adams Trigger Warning will be her first Zeitgeist show.

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Trigger Warning’s genesis was a Boston Foundation announcement that it wanted to award grants to the Boston theatre community for new work, explained Miller, who contacted playwright Lamarre to commission the play. Lamarre had just finished reading the memoir A Mother’s Reckoning by Suzanne Klebold, mother of Columbine’s High School mass shooter, Dylan Klebold. Lamarre asked Klebold if he could adapt her memoir. She declined. Zeitgeist did not get a grant from the Boston Foundation, either. But the play, Trigger Warning, will open on April 12 at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Lamarre lives in Hartford, CT, the town where Colt Manufacturing Company created the town’s gilded age by producing weapons for the Civil War and later, as Lamarre commented wryly, guns for the country itself, including mass shootings. He lives minutes from the site of the Hartford Distributors shooting where nine people were killed in 2010; Newington, where five Connecticut Lottery employees were murdered in 1998; and one hour from Newtown, CT,  the site of the Sandy School Elementary School shooting of 20 students and six teachers by Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother earlier that same day at the home they shared.

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To demonstrate a play’s evolution, the three actors read from two scenes, the first followed by a discussion with the library audience about the main subject of the play, the role of guns in the American family and its consequences. In the scene, the parents of the shooter, Travis, who has fatally shot a number of people, injured his 16-year-old sister and killed himself, are alone for the first time at the home where the shooting took place. The father, a contractor, is a gun owner whose guns, though locked away, had been used by his son for the mass shooting. The injured daughter had left her parents’ house to live with her aunt.  The parents bantered back-and-forth in a manner that at some level felt surprisingly normal, the way any couple will go back and forth, but with comments and questions that alluded to the devastating turn their lives had taken and to their having entered the unknown territory of being shunned by their community, the fictional town of Plainville.

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“What’s going to happen to us,” they asked each other, and “I lost two clients today” and “should we sell the house?”  and “did you love Travis?” and the answer: “Yes, but I wish he’d never been born.” Playwright Lamarre talked about the killers’ families, the other victims of shootings who generally are not acknowledged even though their lives, too, have been destroyed by the shooter.  They become families at war with themselves: What could they have done differently? The mother of Dylan Klebold, for example, went from a well-respected member of the community to someone who had to go into hiding to mourn the loss of her son who had killed the children of families in that same community. At some point, she had to acknowledge her son had become “a monster.” Likewise, the mother of Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook’s mass shooter, had lived in fear of her son. But the fictional parents of Travis in Trigger Warning had known something was wrong, and had taken Travis from therapist to therapist, without finding something that helped their son. No one had an answer. 

Director Miller, whose plays were nominated last month for nine Small-Stage awards by the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE), told the audience that Zeitgeist Stage always produced plays that reflect “the spirit of the times,” so mass shootings was a relevant subject. There had been numerous documentaries, and plays, but never from the perspective of the shooter, he said. The initial title, Thoughts and Prayers, as in the usual comments offered, was determined to be too passive. Trigger Warning is both a general warning for events that may trigger trauma but, in this case, the word “trigger” has a more appropriate duality, he said.

After the cast held a read-through of the play’s first draft in December, followed by an in-depth discussion with Lamarre, the playwright returned two weeks later with a revised draft. “It evolved organically,” he said. “You never see the shooter. He had added several characters who each represented another aspect of the story: A  minister, who asked the shooter’s mother not to come to church anymore to avoid upsetting the other parishioners; and a lawyer, to fend off the lawsuits by enraged parents.  The Klebolds were bankrupted by their son’s ass shooting at Columbine, as was their insurance company. Scenes evolved further with the mother talking to the minister and the father to the lawyer, each describing from different points of view being cast out from the community they were a part of.  The daughter, living with the mother’s sister, moreover, attends a “Never Again” rally in town, multiplying the arguments for a law suit against the parents. 

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Lamarre said he wanted to capture the depth of the rejection by the community of the parents of the shooter: How can you go on when no one is on your side and there is no spiritual comfort or legal protection, and relentless media coverage turning the violence into entertainment? He noted that in Columbine, fourteen trees were planted to memorialize all the students killed, including the shooters, but those trees were cut down.

Director Miller said Zeitgeist Stage had once before staged a play about a school shooting, called Punk Rock. It was 2015 and the company was in rehearsal for it when the Marathon Bombings occurred. When the play went on stage, three weeks later, there were numerous discussions about mass shootings after the performance. “People felt they wanted and needed to talk about it,” Miller said. 

At the library’s Page to Stage discussion, several audience members brought up a 1,000-page book by Andrew Solomon, titled Far From the Tree. Miller and Lamarre had read it as part of the preparation for Trigger Warning as it deals with so-called expectations violation, when parents find themselves in a situation through their children that is not the norm. “No parent wants to be seen as a failure,” Lamarre said, but what do parents do when they experience expectation violation, whether through their children’s mental health issues, dwarfism, or mass shootings?

Trigger Warning will be performed at the Boston Center for the Arts from April 12 through May 4 and will be the last play of the last season of Zeitgeist Stage Company which has announced it will close. The staff and the cast will leave a big hole in the South End theatre community. Lamarre’s next play is an adaptation of Wally Lamb's holiday novella., called Within’ & Hopin.’

The Boston Center for Adult Education Is This Month's Local/Focus Subject in the Tremont Street Window, With a 30 Percent Discount Offered for New Registrations by South End Library Friends

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When the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) was established in 1933, our founder, Dorothy Hewitt, envisioned a place where people would meet to learn, discuss, and create for the sheer pleasure of it. More than 85 years later, the BCAE remains committed to enriching lives and creating community in a dynamic facility located at the heart of Boston. If you sign up before May 5 for first time registrations at the BCAE, you will receive a 30 percent discount. All you have to do is enter the code SELIBRARY at the checkout.

More than 10,000 students are served each year through 1,200+ exciting classes offered across a wide range of disciplines, including technology, languages, creative writing, arts, crafts, photography and food & wine. In addition, the BCAE regularly presents exhibits, lectures, and special events that draw new audiences and ensure our organization’s enduring relevance. The BCAE is proud of its successful track-record in providing opportunities for personal growth and professional development that are affordable and accessible so that everyone has the opportunity to expand their mind and explore their passion.

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 TOP TEN REASONS TO VISIT THE BCAE TODAY

 1.      fun and affordable classes in art, crafts, photography, food & wine, computers, writing, languages, and more

2.      smart and engaging instructors

 3.      a dynamic facility right in the neighborhood

 4.      unique experiences to share with friends

 5.      creative date night activities

 6.      thought-provoking lectures

7.      eye-opening exhibits

 8.      hands-on opportunities to create

 9.      new possibilities for recharging a career

 10.   an enthusiastic community of learners

 BOSTON CENTER FOR ADULT EDUCATION

WWW.BCAE.ORG/ 122 ARLINGTON STREET, BOSTON / 617.267.4430

 

Award Winning Books Display in the Library's Parkside Window Features the 2018 Edgar Awards Given by the Mystery Writers of America.

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The Edgar Allan Poe Awards, popularly known as the Edgars, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America. Since the 1950s, they’ve honored the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television. Past winners include leading authors  like Raymond Chandler, John Le Carre, Dick Francis, Elmore Leonard, Dennis Lehane and Stephen King. FOSEL’s second display of Award Winning Books in the library’s parkside window show the 2018 winners, also listed below.

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Edgar Allan Poe, for whom the award is named, was a writer, editor and literary critic best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Poe has a local connection; he was born in Boston in 1809 near what is today the intersection of Boylston and Charles Streets. A statue of Poe is located at that corner.

 BELOW ARE THE 2018 EDGAR AWARD INNERS:

 Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (novel)

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper (first novel)

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (paperback original)

Killers of the Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann (fact crime)

Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson (critical/biographical)

Spring Break by John Crowley (short story)

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Vanished ! by James Ponti (juvenile, 7-12 years old)

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (young adult)

Somebody to Love by Noah Hawley (episode in a TV series)

The Queen of Secrets by Lisa D. Gray (Robert L. Fish Memorial (Award for best first short story by an American writer)

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman (Mary Higgins Clark (Award for a suspense novel most closely written in the MHC tradition)

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Joan Diver, a Subject of J. Anthony Lukas's "Common Ground," and Author of "When Spirit Calls: A Healing Odyssey," Found a Spiritual Common Ground as Faith Healer

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January 15 was an auspicious day for claiming to be “on common ground.” It was the day of a reading by a distinguished former South End resident, Joan Diver, who returned to her former neighborhood’s library to read from her debut memoir, When Spirit Calls: A Healing Odyssey. The Divers were one of the three families profiled in the award-winning book by J. Anthony Lukas about the South End’s struggle with school integration and forced busing, titled Common Ground. January 15 would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 90th birthday and, as Rev. Tim Crellin of St. Stephens Church who introduced the author pointed out, also claimed “common ground,” for humanity regardless of the color of their skin.

Rev. Tim Crellin of St. Stephen’s Church introducing Joan Diver.

Rev. Tim Crellin of St. Stephen’s Church introducing Joan Diver.

Father Crellin captured the anticipation in the room where Joan Diver explained her quest for a spiritual life after devastating pain from an injured back forced her to seek relief in non-traditional venues and methods in cultural settings of both East and West. “Some of you may be joining us this evening because you know Joan from her days living just around the corner from where we are right now,” Rev. Crellin said, “or from her nearly two decades leading the Hyams Foundation, or from her leadership on boards like the Associated Grant Makers, the United Way and countless others. Perhaps you came because you know at least part of her story from reading Tony Lukas’ now classic book.  Or maybe you came out tonight because you’ve heard about Joan’s commitment to healing: physical, emotional, spiritual. Regardless of why you’re joining us tonight, you’re in for a treat.”

Joan Diver answering questions from an engaged audience about her spiritual voyage

Joan Diver answering questions from an engaged audience about her spiritual voyage

Diver, who with her husband Colin, had hoped to raise their two boys in the South End in the 1970s but was thwarted by the constant battle over street crime and school choice, said she will always be connected to the South End. Moving to Newton to access better schools for their sons was traumatic. They grieved over it and felt guilty for not staying to face the challenges of raising a family in the South End.  When Lukas sought them out to profile their experience for the book he was writing about busing, she was very reluctant at first but then relented. “Tony told our story, which was a healing experience for us,” adding, “I could never have written my story of healing without the Boston story.”

Longtime South End resident Ann Hershfang reconnecting with Colin Diver, who became Dean of the U. Penn. Law School after leaving the South End, and subsequently served as President of Reed College (OR)

Longtime South End resident Ann Hershfang reconnecting with Colin Diver, who became Dean of the U. Penn. Law School after leaving the South End, and subsequently served as President of Reed College (OR)

She fondly remembers the rich diversity of the South End, and requested a few moments of silence. “I want to talk about why I left a job I loved to write my healing story,” she said. “It was both an adventure and a love story and a tale of discovery of universal love that connects us and is the ultimate common ground. The adventure took me from West Newton Street to Newton Corners, from convicts hanging out on our street corner to watching people led to their execution in China, from an operating room at Beth Israel to a healing room in Santa Fe. These were never planned events but ones that called on me.”

Her medical crisis led her to surgery, after which she experienced certain phenomena, like a blinding white light that came and went, and a growing psychic awareness of “some challenges that come from dimensions that we’re not familiar with,” as well as a growing sense of the existence of “a universal consciousness.” A friend, a psychic, suggested this was part of a re-balancing of physical, mental and psychological energy. Diver became convinced that turbulent times, in a personal and a broader sense, represented “a great breaking open,” something that is “coming up for its healing, like a boil.”

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On various trips she took after her surgery she became familiar with members of  healing communities with whom she was able to communicate in a spiritual understanding. She  experienced a “crossing of boundaries” into previous lives she may have lived, including ones where she had been raped and committed suicide. “I felt love and forgiveness after that,” she said, “like I had become a different person, one with more confidence.”  Lurching from painful medical crises to recovery and back again several times, Diver traveled a parallel path of the mind that led her to want to train as a healer, hoping to help others who were in psychic and physical pain. She participated in healing initiations that took her to Egypt, India, China and Mount Sinai. She became convinced  that we were “all led in some way, in our mind or by something beyond our minds,” but kept wondering, “what was driving me?” 

 Diver began to connect a new-found spirituality to certain decisions she had made,  including of a medical procedure that she had suspected she did not need but left her in pain for nine months. She focused on whether there are “multiple messages” to help determine what one should do but concluded that “you need to open up to it.” 

Southenders standing in line to buy a copy of Joan Diver’s book and having her sign it…

Southenders standing in line to buy a copy of Joan Diver’s book and having her sign it…

Members of the audience asked her to expound on this, pointing out that some people may see signs that lead to good places and others to bad ones. “How do you know the difference?” they asked. Diver answered that “everyone has their own path but if each of us, and enough of us, open our hearts a whole population can shift. It’s a shift of consciousness.”

Diver described how a certain incident had caused her family to leave the South End: Husband Colin had hit a burglar with a baseball bat, and became terrified he would hurt someone even worse in the future.  “But now you see it as a call,” someone asked her. 

“Whether we are led or called, we all have these signals,” she said. “Some see it, others don’t.”

The January Local/Focus Installation of Crime Fiction in the Tremont Street Window Features Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Novels by Local Writers or Tales Set In or Around Boston

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 FOSEL advisory board member, Nick Altschuller, has compiled a selection of mysteries, suspense novels and thrillers to get you through the dark season and into the light of spring. The  stories either take place in or around Boston or are written by people from the area. Here’s Nick’s take on it:

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 The mystery genre is impossible to pin down to just the usual suspects. Even the protagonists are slippery. Detectives can be a Holmesian men of society, dressed in tweed and smelling of fine tobacco. Or they can be the exemplars of noir: hardboiled, hard-drinking and reeking of unfiltered cigarettes. Spies can come besuited at a baccarat table or bespectacled behind a desk. Heroes don’t even have to be good; they can be decidedly “anti.”

 Even narrowing the scope to Boston doesn’t limit the genre’s breadth. The writers themselves come from all walks, as former prosecutors (Margaret Mclean, Raffi Yessayan), medical examiners (Patricia Cornwell) and cops or criminals (or in the case of David Marinick, people who were both). Their stories can be suspenseful and brutal, or cozy, focusing on housework, crochet or cats (Barbara Neely). 

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 The novels of Robert Parker and Tess Gerritsen have spawned television shows. The works of Dennis Lehane, Chuck Hogan and George Higgins are the basis of movies. Exhilarating tales can come in fiction (The Art Forger) and non-fiction (The Gardner Heist), even when taking place in the same peaceful setting, like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 

 The genre has something for every reader. (You could say it has us all figure out.) With so much variety, the thrill lies in narrowing down which types of mysteries are for you. 

 

 

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Stephen Kinzer, Believes Ayanna Pressley and Her Freshman Colleagues Need to Try and Change U.S. Defense Priorities to Pay for the Domestic Programs They Champion

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Stephen Kinzer, a former bureau chief for the New York Times in the Middle East and current world affairs columnist for the Boston Globe, addressed a large audience at the South End library in December by saying he was “very impressed” with the new crop of Congressional representatives elected in 2018. A longtime critic of America’s interventionist foreign-policy, Kinzer’s talk focused on what would be a sensible US relationship with Iran and Syria. The concern he expressed, however, was that the new representatives are “too focused” on domestic issues and not enough on foreign policy. Taking as an example Ayanna Presley, the new congresswoman from the South End who defeated Michael Capuano, Kinzer said she “has not said a word” about the outside world.

“She defeated someone who did,” Kinzer added. “Her goals are domestic ones, free Medicare and so on. But the enormous outlays required for defense will be used to deny her the funding for the domestic programs she would like to see. We have to work on Ayanna Pressley to make sure she understands the linkage between domestic and foreign policies. Our job is to keep asking questions.” As a “refreshing example” of a new approach to world affairs Kinzer referred to Rashida Tlaib (D. -Michigan), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, who is not going to take the traditional freshman trip to Israel sponsored by AIPAC but instead hopes to take a trip to Palestine and highlight the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and provide an alternate perspective.

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Kinzer was introduced by the widely admired radio host of WBUR’s Open Source, Christopher Lydon, who also reported for the New York Times, before he started The Connection on WBUR in the 1990s. Lydon said that during the 2016 presidential campaign both he and Kinzer thought Hillary Clinton’s approach to foreign policy was “a problem” and that Trump at that time seemed to be sending a different signal, among other things, by calling the Iraq invasion, and Hillary’s support for it,  ‘catastrophic.’ “He doesn’t seem so bad,” Lydon recalled they thought.

“But now,” he asked, “should we repent?”

The background for the invasion of Iraq, which Kinzer and Lydon agreed was the worst policy decision by any American president ever, was the Carter Doctrine. Laid out in the 1970s by National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, it proclaimed that the US would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf. The 1978 revolution in Iran, which overthrew the US-backed Shah, and the 1979 hostage crisis is what set the stage for a hostile relationship with Iran, as far as the US is concerned. But says Kinzer, for the Iranians, it began much earlier, in 1953, when the US overthrew their democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the Shah of Iran. 

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Now, for the US, Iran is a red flag. “ They are considered the demons in the world. If a country is a friend of Iran, the US can lay waste to them,” said Kinzer. “The US is so deeply involved in Yemen because the Saudi and US justification is that there’s a group in Yemen that likes Iran.” Similarly, he said, negotiations sponsored by the United Nations under Kofi Annan and the Arab League to end the Syrian war early on didn’t proceed because Secretary Clinton would not sit down with Assad. There was little recognition that Iran supports Syria for fear that if it doesn’t, ISIS will take over Syria, remove Assad, kill his (Alawite) supporters, and Iran will next have a Sunni state on its border. “For Iran, there are two existential threats,” Kinzer explained. “Their environmental problems related to lack of water and droughts is one, and the Jihadists under ISIS is the other. This is why Iran would not allow for the destruction of Syria and Assad. We’re now six years into the Syrian war which might have been avoided.”

Kinzer’s position is that we should align ourselves with those countries whose goals are similar to ours. “Why are we in the Middle East at all, we should ask ourselves. Iranian society looks so much more like ours than Saudi society. We have similar goals: They hate ISIS and Al Queda even more than we do.” He suggested we need to “reassess our misunderstanding about Iran after two generations of misguided obsession.”  

Having taught journalism, political science, and international relations at Northwestern University and Boston University, Kinzer appreciates news sources that offer a broad and varied perspective on news. They include TomDispatch (for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of our post-9/11 world and a clear sense of how our imperial globe actually works); Lobelog (A Different Perspective on Foreign Policy): and Consortium News (An Investigative Journalism and Political Review Since 1995). “The lack of agility in American foreign policy is remarkable,” he commented. “The world has changed but our foreign policy goals have not. Iran is a big country in the middle of the Middle East: We can’t ignore it.” He acknowledged that there are terrible dictatorships in the Middle East but the US has not been able to make better countries out of any of them by being concerned about human rights.

In 2006 Kinzer published Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq  which describes the 14 times the United States has overthrown foreign governments, why these interventions were carried out and what their long-term effects have been. He has made several trips to Iran, and is the author of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Word has it, this book was part of John Kerry's library when he was Secretary of State under the Obama administration. It described, among other events,  how the CIA overthrew Iran's elected government in 1953.

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Kinzer, a South End resident, said that Congress appears to be waking up from its “Iran coma” and show the beginnings of a rebellion against our involvement in the Saudi war with Yemen, as a result of the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But, he warned, the US arms industry is very powerful and has Congress in its grip. “Not just the individual members of Congress are in their corner with contributions, but when Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors get a large contract, it is subbed out to many districts in the US and provides jobs,” Kinzer pointed out. “Cutting back on defense means loss of jobs and politically difficult decisions for politicians.”

Answering a question from the audience about how to make things better, Kinzer circled back to the newly elected members of Congress, including Ayanna Pressley. “We need to make sure that she will advance on her victory and articulate the foreign policy goals that she would pursue that would not be a waste of money. We have to build on their success by encouraging them to do so.”

Kinzer is a Senior Fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, where he teaches International and Public Affairs. “I love my students,” he said. He is currently working on a ne book that will be out in October. It is called, Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb, MK-ULTRA, and the CIA Search for Mind Control, about the American chemist and spymaster who was involved in the CIA's assassination and mind control program, known as Project MKULTRA, in the 1950s and 1960s. Kinzer promised he would be back at the South End library to talk about it. Stay tuned…

 

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Award-winning Books by Massachusetts Authors on Display in a New Project Sponsored by FOSEL Featuring the Best Authors and Illustrators Selected by Different Organizations in a Range of Subjects

The first display in the South End library’s Book Award window. FOSEL has ordered window banners for the project, which will be installed as soon as they come in.

The first display in the South End library’s Book Award window. FOSEL has ordered window banners for the project, which will be installed as soon as they come in.

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The Friends of the South End Library has initiated a new project to highlight award-winning books in the South End library’s park-side window to the left of the entrance. FOSEL board member Reinhold Mahler has worked closely with library volunteer, Jenni Watson, to install the first display, of the 2018 winners for books authored in 2017, selected by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Our goal is to connect local residents to a diverse group of organizations that recognize outstanding literary work in a broad variety of categories and..if inspired, to apply.

The Massachusetts Book Awards recognize significant works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s/young adult literature published by Massachusetts residents. They are sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and have been awarded since 2000. Winners are selected for originality, liveliness and engaging presentations, as well as for the quality of their publication. 

The winners of books (published in 2017) are: Mercury, by Margot Livesey (fiction); A World of Color: The World of John Singleton Copley, by Jane Kamensky (non-fiction); Vivas to Those Who Have Failed, by Martin Espada (poetry); and The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, by Susan E. Goodman (children’s).

Any individual, organization or company can nominate a book for these awards. The deadline for the 2018 awards is December 31, 2018. Selections are made by a panel of judges from across Massachusetts. Prize-winning books are added to the Special Collections at the State Library of Massachusetts and promoted throughout the state. 

For more information visit www.massbook.org. or call 617 872-3718.

 

Delicious Platters of Food, Fabulous Jazz Music by the Pat Loomis Band & Trombonist Jeff Galindo, and a Crowd of Library Supporters Made the South End Library Holiday Party the Best Ever

FOSEL board members, library staff and volunteers dishing out delicious dinners for all

FOSEL board members, library staff and volunteers dishing out delicious dinners for all

Saxophonist Pat Loomis and Special Guest Jeff Galindo on trombone

Saxophonist Pat Loomis and Special Guest Jeff Galindo on trombone

Each year, the South End library’s holiday party gets bigger and better: time for a bigger library to accommodate it all. On December 18, a crowd of more than sixty people stood in line for a holiday dinner featuring platters of delicious food prepared by the chefs at the South End Food Emporium on Columbus Avenue, generously donated as their holiday gift to the South End library. In addition, library supporters, Friends of the Library’s board members and library staff brought cheese platters, scrumptious appetizers, (non-alcoholic) mulled wine, jambalaya, hot chocolate with all the trimmings and an outstanding selection of cakes and desserts.

Antonio Loomis, Pat Loomis and Colescott Rubin weaving great music into the holiday party’s cheer

Antonio Loomis, Pat Loomis and Colescott Rubin weaving great music into the holiday party’s cheer

That was only the beginning: Pat Loomis and his fabulous Band of Friends managed to book a star performer, top trombonist Jeff Galindo, who graduated from Berklee College of Music, and has played with the greats, including Chick Corea, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Artie Shaw Orchestra, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and the Boston Pops, among others. The Loomis band included Pat Loomis, alto and soprano sax; Antonio Loomis, guitar; Jim Dower, piano; Colescott Rubin, bass; and Benny Benson, drums. The music they played together was fantastic.

The concert between-the-book-stacks featured O Tannebaum, Jingle Bells, the Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells, Christmas Time is Here and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. By eight o’clock, all the food had been consumed and the libations had been drunk, except for what had been put aside for the musicians by vigilant food servers who ant them to return next year...

Retired library staffer Deborah Madrey returned to see her friends and supporters

Retired library staffer Deborah Madrey returned to see her friends and supporters

Young and old enthralled by the musical performance

Young and old enthralled by the musical performance

Hot chocolate with all the trimmings for the children provided by library staff

Hot chocolate with all the trimmings for the children provided by library staff

Joan Wickersham, Prize-winning Author of "The Suicide Index" and "The News from Spain," Says "Bungling" When Writing is What Writing Is About for Her

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Joan Wickersham first visited the South End library in May of this year when she introduced Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Megan Marshall who presented her acclaimed biography of the poet Emily Dickenson. Wickersham, herself an award-winning author and op-ed writer for the Boston Globe, also covers architecture and was immediately taken by the Michell-Giurgola design of the South End branch. “I am so pleased to be back in this beautiful library,” she said when she returned on November 30 to talk about her own work. “And I love the idea of writers speaking in libraries. It is the ‘backstage’ part of the book.”

The author of a short-story collection, The News from Spain (2012), and a memoir, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order (2008), was introduced by novelist Sue Miller. She described the arc of Wickersham’s work as “going from strength to strength.”

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But Wickersham would not linger on the glory: “I want to talk about the bungling that happens,” she said. “There’s a lot of bungling in writing books. When I bungle, I feel lost and stupid. But that is what writing is for me: I have to be wrong before I get it right.” To illustrate, she described how long it took to write about her father’s suicide, first as a novel, which took eight years and, as she put it, “wasn’t very good,” and then by reducing the novel’s 400-some pages to about 70. “It felt liberating,” she recalled. The process to publication of the memoir took eleven years.

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She rewrote what remained not as a ‘genre’ but as an ‘index’ with fragmentary pieces and bits of stories about the suicide, in first-, second- and third-person narratives. Some of it was dark; some of it funny, but the process was deeply personal and took a long time. “Suicide interferes with memory,” she commented, “and that always had to be factored in.” When her mother died of natural causes, she knew the person who she was missing. “But missing my father had a mystery,” she explained. “The suicide was a major piece of information that interfered with my memory of him. So while I can remember writing about a good day we had, perhaps it was not a good day for him.” Some agents she showed the manuscript to loved the material and the voice, but not the organization. “The reader needs a safe place to stand,” she was told, which is how she came up with the idea of the Index. 

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The Suicide Index was chosen as one of the year's best books by the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and New York Magazine, among others. It was an ALA Notable Book. It won the Salon Book Award, the Ken Book Awards of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and was a finalist for the National Book Awards.

The News from Spain, begun during a MacDowell Fellowship, was an easier project. She wrote three of the stories in six weeks. A collection of 17 short stories, each with the same title, Wickershim said they described thwarted love stories about feelings no one wanted to talk about. “In a sense both my books presented formal structures for messy materials, like a corset,” she commented. She read selections from a few, one about a middle-aged couple about to get engaged but not feeling any passion, yet, not wanting to be alone. The collection was named one of the year's best books by Kirkus Reviews, the San Francisco Chronicle, and NPR. Two of the stories were chosen for The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading

The author has received the Ploughshares Cohen Award for Best Short Story and has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. She has taught at Harvard, Emerson, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), and the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Wickersham is currently working on a book based on the true story of a warship built in the 17th century on the order of the King of Sweden. It was deemed unsinkable. But its bronze cannons and other extravagant features made the ship so top heavy that it sank in Stockholm harbor within minutes of encountering a breeze on its maiden voyage. Wickersham might call that a bungle, too.



Melinda Lopez, prize-winning actress and Playwright, Who Insists Plays Must Have "Heart and Compassion," Will Present Her Adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Yerma" in June at the Huntington

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Prize-winning actress and playwright Melinda Lopez came to the South End library in October, on what she joked was the first “Red-Sox-free night,” to talk about her remarkable career in the theatre. She was introduced by Isabel Alvarez Borland, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Humanities at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, who called Lopez “one of the most exciting playwrights in the US.” They met through work at Holy Cross where Lopez was a speaker at Borland’s Transcending Borders seminar. “She still skypes with my students,” Borland noted.

Lopez grew up bi-lingual and launched her career by reading new plays at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, MN. From there, she moved to staged performances, including Romeo and Juliet at the Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME (1997); and A Month in the Country (2002); The Rose Tattoo (2004) and Persephone (2007) at the Huntington.  Attuned to dialogue, Lopez wondered if she might do more than interpret the stories of others if she had her own compelling stories to tell? 

Lopez began to write plays “to see what I had to say,” and discovered she had a lot to say. “Theatre is meant to keep a community together, like a church, where you are with your people,” she said. She writes plays with big themes, centered on Latino/Cuban women. because, as she put it, she likes to see them on stage as she sees them, flawed, complex, powerful. Although she discovered through her writing that she is “deeply political” she said she doesn’t write “political” plays. “They are plays with complicated, messy, talented women at their center,” she said. “My evil plan is, I think I can make you feel you like them.” Lopez was accepted into the MFA Playwrighting Program at Boston University where Nobel Prize-winning poet and author, Derek Walcott, was her mentor. In 2013, Lopez was named the first Playwright-in-Residence at the Huntington Theatre, thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Her 2004 play at the Huntington, Sonia Flew, was awarded both the IRNE and Eliot Norton Awards for Best New Play that year. Sonia Flew has since been produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, the San Jose (CA) Repertory Theatre and other theater companies. Lopez's other plays include Alexandros (2008); Caroline in Jersey (2009); and Becoming Cuba ( 2014.). Her poignant and powerful one-character play Mala, the only one of her works in which she also appears, won the 2016 Eliot Norton Award for Best New Play.  Based in part on cellphone notes taken while caring for her mother at the end of her life, Lopez wanted to remember that time, though it was difficult and overwhelming. “All plays ask intensely personal questions,” Lopez reflected, “and Mala is the most personal.” She started to create the play just before her mother died. “I was trying to be a good daughter,” Lopez said. “I did not always succeed.”

Lopez read sections from an adaptation she is working on of the 1934 play Yerma, part of a rural trilogy by Federico Garcia Lorca, who was assassinated by Spanish fascists in 1936. Written in the last five years of his life to include Blood Wedding and The House of Bernarda Alba, Lopez felt the translations from the Spanish were written by academics, not by dramatists for actors who speak it. A play has to have “heart and compassion” and must “celebrate the human condition, whether it is for the author, a cast member or, as with Yerma, the translator and adaptor,” she said. The play, an adaptation with music, songs and flamingo guitars, will open in June, 2019, at The Huntington.

The dialogue Lopez presented was between two friends in the countryside, Yerma, a young woman who longs for a child but can’t have one, and her best friend, Maria, who keeps having babies. All Yerma wants is an ordinary life. It becomes her obsession. Maria tells Yerma, “but you have other things, quiet mornings. I am fed up with having them. Every day there’s more desire and less time.” Lopez feels that theater is at its best when exploring the existential questions of life and living. “We believe that if we work hard, we can achieve what we want,” Lopez says. “What if our fate and desire are in conflict? Where does desire go if it can’t be fulfilled?”

Lopez is also working on a podcast serial in collaboration with Audible, of which she has completed four episodes. The story centers on a “Big Oil” lawyer, Tony, who defends an 80-year-old man over a marijuana-related offense, someone with whom he shares a secret dating from the time of the 1980 Mariel boat lift when the Cuban government released many prisoners who then sought asylum to the United States.

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South End Visual Artist Marianne A. Kinzer Has Installed a Local/Focus Window Display Inspired by Nature’s Ecology of Prairie Landscapes and Wetlands

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Marianne A. Kinzer is a German-born visual artist who works from her South End studio at 46 Waltham Street. She studied art at the College of Fine Arts in Berlin and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she lived from 2000 to 2010. She spent many summers in Truro, MA, where she participated in workshops at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. She has taught art at the Oak Park Art League (near Chicago) and at the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, MA.

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Her work has been shown in community centers and galleries abroad (Germany and Turkey), and in the U.S., including a solo show at the Snow Library in Orleans, MA. She had various other exhibits at the J jake Art Gallery, in the South End; the Truro Center for the Arts, in Truro, MA; the Watercolor Art Gallery in Pawtucket, RI; and at the Watson Institute in Providence, RI. Kinzer regularly participates in South End Open Studios.

While living in the Midwest, Kinzer painted prairie landscapes and wetlands and learned about their vital importance to our ecology. This shifted her focus to water itself, its pattern of flow, and its meaning for mankind. Even though she has painted the figure and landscapes throughout her career, the major focus of her work now is an investigation of humankind’s relationship to nature. “Humanity needs to remember its origin and place,” she says. “All of life is connected through the water cycle.”

The artist has specialized in watercolor as her medium. Kinzer says she creates her work to look open, abstract and pleasing, thereby inviting the viewer to reflect on the central importance of water for all of life. For additional information, please visit www.marianneakinzer.com.