South End Writes

Urban Historian, Russ Lopez, Entertains a Room Full of South End Residents with Remarkable Tales from his Latest Work, "The Hub of the Gay Universe"

Urban historian, Russ Lopez, greets new South End resident John Thomson

Urban historian, Russ Lopez, greets new South End resident John Thomson

South End author Russ Lopez found a room full of admirers and some local luminaries at the library on May 25, all ready to hear about his latest work of urban history, The Hub of the Gay Universe: An LGBTQ History of Boston, Provincetown and Beyond. The reading took place close to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, the event that provided the fuel for the civil rights battle that led to the legalization nationwide of gay marriage.

Russ Lopez answers questions from the audience

Russ Lopez answers questions from the audience

David Scondras was there, the first openly gay Boston City Council member, elected in 1983, now living in Worcester. Open Source radio host Chris Lydon found a seat up front, preparing for his own show commemorating the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Beyond Stonewall: From Power to Pride. State Rep. Jon Santiago, the freshman legislator from South End’s 9th Suffolk District, who succeeded Byron Rushing earlier this year, introduced Lopez, and reminded the audience of the important role his predecessor played in making gay marriage legal in Massachusetts.

Open Source  host Christopher Lydon speaks with David Scondras, the first openly gay Boston City Councilor elected in 1983

Open Source host Christopher Lydon speaks with David Scondras, the first openly gay Boston City Councilor elected in 1983

Lopez, whose earlier books include Boston’s South End: The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood and Boston 1945-2015: The Decline and Rose of a Great World City, worked on the Hub of the Gay Universe for five years. Compiling facts for the region’s LGBTQ history was a challenge. The lack of written records from before the first Europeans arrived made establishing prevailing gender norms tricky, although some native nations welcomed what we now call LGBTQ people, he said. But nothing is known about how Boston-area tribes treated LGBTQ people before those arrivals. “Another major challenge for any LGBTQ history is who to include in it,” Lopez said. “Even those who were regularly having relations with people of the same sex, did not consider themselves to be gay or lesbian.” That is because the idea that someone who has sex with members of own gender was a “distinct type of person,” i.e. gay or lesbian, emerged only in the 1890s, according to Lopez.

Facts about accepted gender norms were further skewed by class and educational differences among LGBTQ people. Those who could write described their relationships in journals and letters, accessible to researchers now, but those who could not left no trace. “That is why my regional history of LGBTQ people begins with the arrival of the Europeans in the 17th century,” Lopez said.

Lopez commented that it sometimes seems as if the LGBTQ community consisted of “newcomers” to the region, and that in the early days of the colony there were no LGBTQ people. But they were always here. How does he know? Laws prohibiting sodomy and cross-dressing, occasionally punishable by death, existed from the time the first Pilgrims set foot on the shores of what is now Massachusetts.  “If nobody was doing it, there wouldn’t be any laws against it,” Lopez postulated. Moreover, Pilgrims and Puritans had left England, in part, because they frowned upon the “rollicking pleasures of seventeenth-century England, with its ribald entertainments, sensuous lifestyles and conspicuous consumption; excess that guaranteed damnation.”

russ lopez poster.png

Yet, even though homosexuality was considered a grave sin, the definition of homosexuality was flexible and relationships among men (and for that matter, women) could be far more intimate and intense than today’s heterosexual norms would suppose. For example, Daniel Webster referred in his letters to male friends as “dearly beloved” and “lovely boy” and described his close friend, James Harvey Bingham, as the “partner of my joys, griefs and affections.” Others shared a bed and slept in each others’ arms. Painter Washington Alston, moreover, had a romantic relationship with Washington Irving when in Rome in the early 1800s. 

From the 1800s on, it was acceptable for the LGBTQ community to meet in numerous places, including poetry readings on Beacon Hill and the Back Bay and, later, in various private venues and places in Bay Village where popular gay venues attracted large crowds from the mid-1900s. Bostonian class distinctions kept apace, according to Lopez’s research, because those cruising in the Public Garden reportedly wouldn’t stoop to getting intimate with those “lower-class types” from around the Common.

MA State Rep. Jon Santiago introduces South End urban historian, Russ Lopez, who grew up in California but settled in the South End in the 1980s after attending a party here.

MA State Rep. Jon Santiago introduces South End urban historian, Russ Lopez, who grew up in California but settled in the South End in the 1980s after attending a party here.

Police records provided another source of information about prevailing attitudes, from comments that “we don’t have those kind of people here” to the time around World War I when gay venues were raided and many arrests were made on street corners in and around Scolley Square and East Dedham Street. “But until the advent of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, no one fought back,”  Lopez observed; It took a while for the news about Stonewall to even get to Boston. The Boston Globe didn’t report it until 1972.

People of Massachusetts nevertheless became the pioneers of nationwide gay marriage and early supporters of civil unions. As was the case with the abolition of slavery in MA, Lopez says, the change in attitude toward tolerating the LGBTQ community began with the lack of enforcement of certain laws discriminating against them, just as laws protecting slavery had become unenforceable when the idea that people were not property and couldn’t be owned had become accepted.


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

catellani 2.png

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.

castellani 4.png
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.

leading men.png

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.”

s berne poster.png

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.” 

dogs littlefield uk.png

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.

suzanne berne signing.png

 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.


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.


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.

trigger warning.png

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.

far from the tree.png

“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. 

sue klebold.png

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.’

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

joan diver.png

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.”

joan d 1.png

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.”

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

kinzer 2.png

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.

kinzer corrected.png

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. 

kinzer 3.png

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.

kinzer books.png

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…



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

wickersham poster.png

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.”

joan w 11:30:18.png

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.

suicide indez.png

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. 

news from soain.png

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

melinda lopez poster.png

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.

melinda lopez 10:30.png

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.





Odyssey Opera Backer, Randolph Fuller, Delivers Another Passionate Talk at the South End Library about his Favorite Subject: Great Opera in Boston

Randolph Fuller,  Odyssey Opera  founder (with composer/musical director Gil Rose), ready to treat the audience to a talk about his favorite subject

Randolph Fuller, Odyssey Opera founder (with composer/musical director Gil Rose), ready to treat the audience to a talk about his favorite subject

South End resident Randolph Fuller, whose unflinching enthusiasm for opera in Boston was on full display in an October 9 talk, described the mission of the Odyssey Opera company he founded with conductor Gil Rose as “staging important but unheard masterpieces by famous composers,” or by others who are not so well known. ”There’s no Grand Opera’ House here In Boston,” said Fuller, a longtime financial backer of local opera, “so you can’t hear them live other than at Odyssey.” Fuller graciously replaced Gil Rose, who had been scheduled to speak, but was unable to due to an unexpected scheduling conflict.

19th-century French composer Charles Gounod

19th-century French composer Charles Gounod

Rose and Fuller began the Odyssey Opera series in 2013, the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner’s birth, with his opera Rienzi, inspired by the tale of rebellion by a 14th-century army officer against the nobility. Rose and Fuller like to have a theme for the season, such as was the case in 2016-17’s Wilde Opera Nights, when three of the five operas that season touched on the life and work of Oscar Wilde: Lowell Liebermann’s semi-staged The Picture of Doran Gray; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s sung The Importance of Being Earnest; and the Arthur Sullivan/W.S. Gilbert fully staged Patience; or Bunthorne’s Bride. Last year’s season, Trial by Fire, focused its five operas on the life and trials of Joan of Arc.

This year, Odyssey Opera features two works by Charles Gounod in what they call the Goun-Odyssey, on the composer’s 200th anniversary of his birth. For the well-reviewed October performance of The Queen of Sheba, months of detective work was required by Fuller and Rose to get the original score, including a search of the archives Library of Congress. “The last piece was found in a trunk in Italy,” Fuller reported.

An illustration of the final scene of Charles Gounod’s  Faust , with the Devil, Faust and Gretchen (or Marguerite).

An illustration of the final scene of Charles Gounod’s Faust, with the Devil, Faust and Gretchen (or Marguerite).

Gounod, who Fuller described as the greatest French composer of the 19th century, produced twelve operas, including what was perhaps the most popular ever written, Faust, the subject of Fuller’s library talk. “The Faust legend had been irresistible since the late Middle Ages and was reflected in all aspects of art,” Fuller said, including literature and the visual arts. However, the greatest impact of the Faust legend was in music and opera, as in the Franz Liszt symphony, Faust; Wagner’s Faust Overture; Robert Schumann’s Scenes from Faust, and in the operas of, among others, Hector Berlioz The Damnation of Faust and Gounod’s Faust. At the library, Fuller played the Gounod orchestral prelude of Faust for the audience, pointing out the unresolved harmonies and not-quite-clear melodies at the beginning of the piece, resolving themselves into Gounod’s most famous melody at the end when sung by the trio representing Faust, the Devil and Gretchen.

On November 9 and 11, Gounod’s comedic opera will be staged at the Huntington Theatre, based on Moliere’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself.

The Acclaimed Author of "The Widow of Wall Street," Randy Susan Meyers, Says her Little Branch Library in Brooklyn, NY, Is the First Place Where She Lied...

randy susan meyers poster.png

Randy Susan Meyers, known for her novels of domestic drama (Accidents of Marriage; The Murderer’s Daughter; The Comfort of Lies), told the audience at the South End library in late September that she was “raised by a library” and “worshipped at its altar.” It was an old, shabby public-library branch in Brooklyn, NY, “as small as my hand,” she recalled. But that’s where she discovered Betty Smith’s 1943 coming-of-age novel about Francie Nolan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. “I must have read it 10 or 20 times,” she said. Herself the daughter of a single mother with a challenging history of domestic violence, Meyers felt she was not alone any more.

randy s meyers.png

That little library was also the first place where she lied, Meyers confessed: She would get a ‘smart’ book that she knew she’d never read and put it on top of the pile of books she really wanted. “I didn’t want the librarian to think I was a dope,” she said. “But I didn’t really read smart books.”

It was perhaps the first step on a long road of better lies and other misdeeds like regular shop lifting when a teenager. This was followed by years of working with families impacted by violence, counseling convicted criminals out on probation and coming to terms with a father who tried to murder her mother that helped her write the fictionalized character of her latest book, The Widow of all Street. Based on the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the novel’s character, Jake, was a nasty guy. “I had to find a way to get into his head,” Meyers said. Focusing on her life experience, including her own transgressions, made that possible for her.

Meyers published her first novel at fifty-seven, her version of winning the lottery. The Widow of Wall Street, her fourth, is told from two points of view: Jake, a man with a criminal lust for money, and Phoebe, his wife, who had no idea. What would it be like to be Madoff’s wife? Meyers asked herself, to be married to a man who pulled the wool over the eyes of the Securities and Exchange Commission and many captains of industry? “What I learned is how different one spouse’s idea of a marriage can be from the other, and how often the children are collateral damage,” she said. The arc of her fictional themes represents her personal long journey from idolizing “bad boys” to “loving a good man.”

randy susan meyers.png

The Widow of Wall Street, was called an “engrossing emotional journey” by Kirkus Review, and “compelling” by the Associated Press. Library Journal wrote it was  “full of deceit, scandal, and guilt" and that it "expertly explores how rising to the top only to hit rock bottom affects a family. The consequences will leave readers reeling.” Meyers, who describes her latest book a roman à clef, in which real people or events appear with invented names, is a form of fiction she enjoys reading herself. The author won the 2015 Must Read Fiction Massachusetts Book Award for her earlier work, Accidents of Marriage. The Boston Globe reviewer said Accidents, which explores emotional abuse in an educated but stressed-out family living in a Jamaica Plain Victorian, a 'complex, captivating tale.'  It was chosen by People Magazine as "Pick of the Week."  

In the New Era of #MeToo, Author Karen Day Describes her 2018 Debut Novel, "I'll Stay" as a 'Testament' to a Time when Girls Stayed Quiet

Author Karen Day signing copies of her debut novel,  I'll Stay.

Author Karen Day signing copies of her debut novel, I'll Stay.

Karen Day, a successful author for middle-grade readers (A Million Miles from Boston, No Cream Puffs, and Tall Tales), spent the better part of the last decade writing a novel about close friendships between young women and young women and their mothers. Day's 2018 debut novel for adults, I'll Stay, examines the relationship between Clare and Lee, college friends who on a vacation experience a traumatic event that negatively changes Lee's life forever, while Clare, the daughter of a famous mother, is able to flee to safer grounds. In the novel, the friends went back to school. They didn't talked about the event. The story is narrated by Clare at three different times, 1983, 1986 and 1991.

karen day 3.png

The plot was based very loosely on an incident in Day's own life when she and three college friends went backpacking. They found themselves in a scary situation, surrounded by men, but were able to escape unharmed. They returned to school and never talked about it, either. "It was as if nothing happened," said Day, who ever since wondered why not. "We didn't do it because in those days we didn't do things," Day says now. "We blamed ourselves:  We said it was our fault because we flirted with those guys. We questioned our behavior."

Enter the #MeToo era, when Day's book, written before it was okay for women to publicly point the finger at men behaving badly, but published after. Day, a frank and engaging speaker who appeared unafraid to re-examine the premises of her own work, told the audience at the South End library in June that in writing I'll Stay, she explored where stories come from beyond the words on the page, looking to discover who she and her friends were, and how conflicts between them affected their friendships. She now sees her novel as "a cautionary tale about the impact of split-second choices" and a "testament to how easy it is for girls to stay quiet." 

Novelist Day describing her search of where stories come from and how they evolve.

Novelist Day describing her search of where stories come from and how they evolve.

Day has been writing since she was a child growing up in Indiana, and came East to go school. She was a journalist for newspapers and magazines in the 1990s, and among other articles secured the last interview with tennis champion Arthur Ashe. She has a BA in Journalism, an MA in English Literature and taught undergraduate composition when studying for her doctorate at NYU. With her husband, she raised three children, getting up mornings at 4:30, often with her kids next to her in the beanbag chair, she said. It took her twenty years just to learn how to revise.

I'll Stay was the 2017 winner of BUZZ  Books; a  previous speaker at South End Writes, Jenna Blum, the author of Those Who Save Us, and The Lost Family, called it a “smart, compassionate, psychological spellbinder” with “one of the scariest scenes you’ll read anywhere.” The novel got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.



Acclaimed Novelist and Short-story Writer, Allegra Goodman, Delves into the World of Teachers and Gamers, the Focus of her Latest Book, "The Chalk Artist"

allegra poster.png

When the acclaimed author of short stories and novels, Allegra Goodman, came to the South End library in May, she pointed to a list of 20 names at the beginning of her latest novel, The Chalk Artist. "These are all my teachers," she said. "The first one was Dana Izumi, my Kindergarten teacher; the last, Stephen Orgel, was my dissertation advisor at Stanford." Listing them wasn't just because she ran out of relatives to thank, she joked: "Think of who was your best teacher: probably the one who was toughest on you," she said. "I was not a good student. I was left-handed. I had terrible handwriting. Miss Izumi used her blue pencil freely but she never gave up on me. Actually, I was in love with her. She had a page haircut. She was beautiful."

Author Allegra Goodman with FOSEL board member, Maura Harrington

Author Allegra Goodman with FOSEL board member, Maura Harrington

Now a prize-winning author whose Kaaterskill Falls novel about a reclusive Orthodox-Jewish community summering in upstate New York was a finalist for the National Book Award, Goodman's research for The Chalk Artist took her to public high schools in Boston, where she found classrooms that were chaotic and problematic with overwhelmed teachers. She saw the demoralization of the teachers, which was also reflected in the students. "No one wanted to be there," she commented. One of the characters in the novel, a young teacher from a wealthy family who wanted "to give back" finds herself having to teach students obsessed by gaming, lured away from 'real life.' To explore that angle of The Chalk Artist, Goodman studied gaming, even creating her own graphics for invented games. As a traditionalist who, when interviewed by The Boston Globe, said her favorite app is a book, and, no, she doesn't text, she was an unlikely person to dive into that world. She concluded that gaming is more social than anything, with a massive audience and multi-game players. "Gamers look for community on-line and engage in elaborate role-playing on-line," she observed. "My book is not about 'literature is good and screen time is bad," she added, "but about the importance of imagination and the push and pull between words and images." 

allegra 2.png

Goodman grew up in Hawaii, in a conservative Jewish family of academics who taught at the University of Hawaii. She attended the same exclusive school as did President Obama, though at a different time. Her early stories about intricate family dynamics were published as The Family Markowitz. Her recent ones, Apple Cake and F.A.Q.s came out in The New Yorker, as she focuses her attention on different members of the fictional Rubinstein family of Boston, in clear-eyed but compassionate and often hilarious descriptions of long-buried grudges and unexplored conflicts that can surface unexpectedly at inconvenient times. 

How belief systems are challenged by life's changes is the recurring theme in Goodman's books. Her earlier novel, Intuition, delves into the world of cancer researchers whose particular belief systems are challenged by the 'professional betrayal' of a post-doc whose girlfriend  thinks his data are too good to be true. "The book came about when I was considering the various aspects of marital betrayal and began to wonder, 'what about professional betrayal'?" she explained.

allegra g books.png

Goodman described herself as an American Jewish woman writer, but elaborated that "we all own the language we share." She pointed to George Eliot wrote about doctors and Jews but was neither. "It's true that you need to know what you write about," she said "but you need to expand what you know." 

A resident of Cambridge whose fourth child is about to leave the parental home, Goodman is about finished with another novel. A textbook she co-wrote with a colleague about the craft of writing will be published in the next year. Charmed by the South End where she now takes her youngest child to dance lessons, she promised to be back with her new book. 



State Rep Byron Rushing, in a Talk about his Political Career, Says the Most Gracious Thing in Our Politics is Finding Ways to "Be" in the "We"

rushing poster.png

In a room filled with admirers, friends and curious  constituents, State Representative Byron Rushing reflected about his life as a social justice activist and politician in the Massachusetts State House, in a talk called My Life and Debt in the Massachusetts State House.  The legislator quickly described himself as one of a select group of politicians, paid by constituents to represent them fairly. But “we are all politicians,” Rushing declared, though not necessarily paid. When teenagers succeed in convincing their parents to have a later curfew, they engage politically to get a rule changed. Changing rules or making new ones is all part of being politically active. 

Rushing, who is up for reelection this November after 35 years in the Massachusetts House,   said that what he engages in for his constituents comes out of his "understanding of who is in the 'we' of 'we the people.'"  "If John Quincy Adams was here today, he’d be very surprised to see me in the Massachusetts legislature," he said. "That is my 'debt' to all those who fought to be in the 'we,' and my guide to the politics I engage in."

As soon as the words "we, the people," were written down centuries ago, no one could agree on who “we” was, Rushing said. "When the Constitution was written, most of the adults in the US could not vote. People knew way back when that 'we' was not everybody. The most gracious thing in our politics is," said Rushing, "that people could find a way to be in the “we.”  Even though Thomas Jefferson owned and sexually abused people, he said, among them were those who heard the words, 'we the people' and figured out ways, as he put it, "to be the 'we'".

Rushing, currently the Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts State House, has represented the Ninth Suffolk district since 1983, succeeding the influential South End social justice activist, Mel King, who spoke at the South End library last year.  Rushing sponsored the law to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public schools, as well as the original gay rights bill in Massachusetts. He also led the effort for Massachusetts state pension funds to invest in the development of poor communities in the state, among many other efforts to promote equal justice in the state. 

During the 1960s he was active in the civil rights movement, working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Syracuse, NY, and as a community organizer for the Northern Student Movement in Boston. He directed a group of organizers, Roxbury Associates, who helped found the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation, one of the first community development corporations in the nation, and began some of the earliest organizing efforts in black communities against the war in Vietnam.

From 1972 to 1985, Rushing was president of the Museum of Afro-American History, when it purchased and began the restoration of the African Meeting House, the oldest  black church building in the United States. In 1979, Rushing oversaw the lobbying effort in Congress to establish the Boston African American National Historical Site, a component of the National Park Service. Byron led the Museum in the study of the history of Roxbury for which the Museum conducted the archaeological investigation of the Southwest Corridor for the MBTA. As a legislator he sponsored the creation of Roxbury Heritage State Park and occasionally leads walking tours of African American and working class neighborhoods in Boston and Roxbury. 

rushing 2.png

Having attended Harvard College and MIT, Rushing is an elected deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church; a founding member of the Episcopal Urban Caucus; and serves on the boards of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice. His priorities are and have been human and civil rights and liberties; local human, economic and housing development; environmental justice and health care. 

In 2010, Rushing was appointed a trustee of the Boston Public Library by Mayor Thomas Menino, who was under fire at the time over his unfortunate attempt to close up to a third of the BPL branches. His appointment was seen by library advocates as a signal that, as long as Rushing was a BPL trustee, no libraries would be closed in Boston.


Lauren Prescott, the Dynamic New Leader of the South End Historical Society, Is Looking for Ways to Make the Organization a Vibrant Local Institution Relevant to All

lauren prescott poster.png

Since she arrived in 2016 as the new executive director of the South End Historical Society, Lauren Prescott has immersed herself into projects that would make the organization broadly relevant to as many South-enders as possible. She is working on using social media to connect archived stories in the SEHS collection. She wants to enlarge the SEHS  oral history archives. She has agreed to install a Local/Focus display in the library's Tremont Street window with historical images of the South End on a continuous loop on a flat screen.

Judging from the standing-room only crowd that came to hear her present her first book and watch the slide show, Boston's South End, a Post Card History, Prescott may have succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. All the copies of the book she brought were sold. Many people had to leave for lack of space. And numerous  comments from the engaged audience made it clear that there is a large group of 'old-timers' living here whose memories and personal stories about growing up in the South End are needle sharp. "My father used to take me to the stables on Shawmut to see the horses," said one. "I got my first job at the First National Store where Foodies is now," said another. "There was a fudge room next to the library in the Franklin Square Hotel," reminisced a former occupant. 

Lauren Prescott, executive director of the South End Historical Society, signing copies of  Boston's South End, a Postcard History,  at the South End Library

Lauren Prescott, executive director of the South End Historical Society, signing copies of Boston's South End, a Postcard History, at the South End Library

prescott se 1.png

Prescott, who was born in New Bedford, MA, is a public historian who received a B.A. in History at UMass Amherst and M.A. in Public History at UMass Boston. She was introduced by one of the South End's three district councilors, Frank Baker, who told the audience that many of the postcards date from what is called “the golden age of postcards,” the period from the late 1890s into the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1905 alone seven billion postcards were mailed around the world. In 1907, the postcards’ popularity may have skyrocketed further after Congress passed an act to allow senders to use the left side of the back of postcards to write personal messages. Those were the days when, in a number of cities in the United States, there were up to seven mail deliveries a day; in New York City, nine. (In London, England, there were twelve.)

For an interview with Prescott by FOSEL board member Kim Clark, click here. 


Local Historian Russ Lopez, Author of "Boston 1945-2015," Fears Adding 50,000 Amazon Employees May Displace Thousands of Bostonians, as Happened During the Calamitous Urban Renewal Days of the 1960s

lopez poster.png

Russ Lopez, who came to the South End library in February to talk about his latest dive into Boston's history with, Boston 1945 - 2015: The Decline and Rise of a Great World City, told the audience that the best thing Boston did for its neighborhoods to preserve housing was 'linkage,' establishing affordable housing units as part of the development of luxury housing. But, he added, having grown up in Southern California and watched the impact of eBay, Netflicks and Apple on his family's neighborhoods, he feared that 50,000 new Amazon employees coming here threatened to displace as many people living in Boston now. "We don't have room for 50,000 wealthy residents," said Lopez. "Those 10,000 jobs require schools and 10,000 housing units." And Boston can't do it alone, he pointed out. The Federal government needs to step up to assist in building the infrastructure needed for new housing, including transportation and schools.

lopez cover boston 1945.png

Lopez was introduced by the South End's new District 2 Councilor, Ed Flynn, who said that one of the biggest challenges in the newest Boston district, the Seaport, is transportation. "I can't explain to people how to get to where they want to go," Flynn said. "If people want to relocate there, the question is 'what about public transportation?' There is no way for the workforce to get there." Lopez described the Seaport development as a 'massive failure of urban planning." He explained that the Seaport area was set up for the automobile as an industrial park, with big streets and big bocks for big buildings. By the time it was laid out under the Menino administration, there was no longer much demand for industrial use. Instead of revisiting and rethinking the original zoning, office and residential buildings were simply built on top of the industrial site plan. "It's pedestrian hostile, and a failure of lands and design," Lopez commented.

russ lopez.png

Lopez, whose earlier work, Boston's South End: The Clash of Ideas in a Historic Neighborhood, focused on the disastrous impact on neighborhoods when urban planners ignore public processes, documents in his recent book how the apparent unstoppable downward spiral of Boston since the 1920s somehow righted itself into something new and vastly better. He maintains that Boston's business class was simply 'out of ideas.' There never was a 'roaring Twenties' in Boston, nor a 'baby boom,' Lopez recounted and a survey by the Brooking Institute in the late 1970s listed Boston as in worse shape than Detroit and Baltimore. But it somehow turned around because, Lopez said, 'everyone in Boston stayed.' Even during the catastrophic  conflicts over busing, mostly people stayed because they felt this is where they lived and wanted to make a stand. 

Author Russ Lopez, listening to newly elected Councilor Ed Flynn, who said he wanted to work hard for the library and would be there as a strong leader for the South End

Author Russ Lopez, listening to newly elected Councilor Ed Flynn, who said he wanted to work hard for the library and would be there as a strong leader for the South End

Lopez is an adjunct assistant professor in Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health and received his Master of City and Regional Planning degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked at the State House and City Hall for, among other people, Mayor Ray Flynn, the father of the current District 2 councilor, Ed. Lopez recalled that when Mayor Flynn asked him about his background, Lopez said he was Mexican, Italian and a little bit Irish. "You'll go far," Flynn said, "but the next time someone asks, say you're 'Irish, Italian and a little bit Mexican.'" 


Jody Adams, Award-winning Chef and Daughter of Two Librarians, Prepares a Delicious Campanelle with Slow-braised Tomatoes, Arugula Salad, and Meze Platters at the South End Library

Award-winning chef Jody Adams cooking Campanelle at the South End library

Award-winning chef Jody Adams cooking Campanelle at the South End library

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.

Adams's husband, photographer Ken Rivard, showing the audience the texture of the slow-braised tomato sauce

Adams's husband, photographer Ken Rivard, showing the audience the texture of the slow-braised tomato sauce

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." 

Jody Adams signing copies of her award-nominated cookbook,  In the Hands of a Chef.

Jody Adams signing copies of her award-nominated cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef.

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.  

A first for the South End library: consuming a home-cooked meal by a celebrity chef

A first for the South End library: consuming a home-cooked meal by a celebrity 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." 


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

rose:fuller poster.png

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

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

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."  

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

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

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.  

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

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

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."

trial by fire program.png

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





Does My Toddler Have Bi-polar Disorder? Unlikely, Suggests Pediatrician Claudia Gold, Author of "The Silenced Child:" But Making Time and Space for Listening Is Critical for Their Healthy Development

gold poster.png

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.

silenced child cover.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lynne potts poster.png

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.

lynne potts 2.png

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.

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

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

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.