South End Writes

Dramatic Reading by Author Stephen Kinzer Brought a 19th-century Debate about America’s Role in the World to a 21st-century Library Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

The Avocado-pit Self of the West Versus the Flexi Self of the East: Author Gish Jen Suggests the More Communal Approach of the East Might Benefit the West’s Lone Ranger’s View of the World

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

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Now an acclaimed novelist, and the author of  The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East West Culture Gap, Jen drew a full room of people to the library on March 28, eager to hear her take on the divergent views between East and West and the importance of the individual versus the  society he or she is a part of. Jen, the winner of numerous prestigious awards and fellowships who has written five novels and two non-fiction books on the East-West cultural divide, suggests that, in the West, the individual sees the path to achievement and success as inextricably linked to the core self, as if it were  a “sacred avocado pit” to which one must remain true; it is second in importance to the needs of community or family. It is seen as a universal value in the West, even though in most of the rest of the world a more communal view of individual achievement prevails: the idea of a “flexi-self” tends to be the norm, and the ideal place to be is part of a group which, in turn, is associated with a sense of wholeness.

Gish Jen patiently signing copies of her book for her admirers, including some who drove in from New Hampshire through pouring rain.

Gish Jen patiently signing copies of her book for her admirers, including some who drove in from New Hampshire through pouring rain.

To illustrate her point, Jen showed two short videos,  one a monologue by a young American man talking about watching video games where the story plot celebrates male fighters surviving in a world where “everyone is screwing you,” a  profoundly anti-establishment message, Jen pointed out. The second video was produced not too long ago in reaction to an incident at Columbia University, where  a group of Chinese students found their name tags ripped off their dorm doors one morning.  Titled “Say My Name,“ each student described what their Chinese names meant in English.  “My parents had great hopes for my future,” said one student whose Chinese name translated as Brightest Star in the Night Sky.  “My name reminds me of my roots,” said another, “the place where I came from, each time I say my name.”

Other examples of the East-West divide include the true story behind the title of Jen's book where the proverbial girl at the baggage claim, who turned out to be the sister of a young Chinese woman accepted at Milton Academy, showed up to take her place at the school, instead. The incident that led to accusations of fraud and caused changes in admissions rules at secondary schools. While Jen did not endorse the practice of attending a school impersonating a sibling, she explained that in Eastern cultures it is ok to help a family member because it benefits the group, even though it is seen as clumsy and wrong in the West, where individual achievement is preeminent.  The extreme focus on personal success has other negative consequences, Jen suggested, including for the American unemployed, for example, who believe not having a job is “their fault.” In Israel, she said, which is a more communally oriented society,  being unemployed is blamed on “the system.”

Herself the daughter of Chinese immigrants, Jen said she noticed that in the world of sports, winners of  Olympic medals from the West tend to describe their individual achievements as “showing what I could do,” while  non-Western winners generally make a point of thanking their coaches, friends and family, emphasizing, “I didn’t do it alone.” Jen, whose first book about the East-West cultural divide, Tiger Writing: Art Culture and the Independent Self, is based on the prestigious Massey Lectures she gave at Harvard University in 2012, made a point of complimenting New England Patriot football quarterback Tom Brady for consistently crediting his team for his achievements, even as it earned him the accusation of practicing ‘false modesty.’ “No false modesty,” she said, “He’s just Asian.”

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Jen's earlier novels, Typical American, Who Is Irish?, The Love WifeMona in the Promised Land and World and Town (winner of the 2011 Massachusetts Book Prize) were widely praised for their often hilarious but also profound and warm descriptions of Chinese-American families adjusting to suburban life and the racial and religious divides they navigate. A contributor to The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, Jen’s work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1988, 1995 and 2013, as well as The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an International IMPAC Dublin Book Award, Jen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellowship, and numerous other awards. In 2003, an American Academy of Arts and Letters jury comprised of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates granted her a five-year Mildred and Harold Strauss Living award.

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

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

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

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

Celebrated Author Junot Diaz, Drawing a Record Crowd, Praises Libraries, Cajoles the Audience to Become Actively Engaged Citizens, and Reads a Vivid Passage from "This Is How You Lose Her"

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The audience coming to hear Junot Diaz, the award-winning writer of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Drown and This Is How You Lose Her, had filled every seat 45 minutes before the program started, yet more people kept streaming through the South End library's Tremont Street doors. The South End Writes author series fielded large crowds before,  (Jack Beattie, Jamaica Kincaid, Chris Kimbal, Police Officer John Sacco, Dennis Lehane, Joanne Chang, Edith Pearlman, Bessel Van Der Kolk and Steve Kurkjian) but this January 10 event felt different. More as if a prophet had arrived who also happened to be a literary icon, someone who might speak to the sense of political  foreboding many in the audience expressed, days removed from a controversial new President's inauguration. "Are you worried?" asked Diaz, holding a cup of coffee mid-drink, scanning the audience that stood layers deep in the stairwell, moving into the middle of the community room so all could hear him. Many affirmative sounds and groans ensued.

Author Junot Diaz talking about the importance of libraries at the beginning of his talk on January 10/17

Author Junot Diaz talking about the importance of libraries at the beginning of his talk on January 10/17

Before launching into audience existential anxiety, Diaz eloquently expressed his deep gratitude for libraries. "I am a creature of the library," he said. It gives you access to everything poverty strips you of. Poverty is profoundly undemocratic. It narrows your world. The library's ethos is fundamentally democratic, fundamentally contemplative, a place that itself is concerned with citizenship and civic good--everything that poverty tends to strip from people's minds," he suggested. "I wonder if it had not been for libraries, would there have been anything left from the childhoods some of us have had?" Diaz, who reportedly often walked four miles to his public library to borrow books when he was growing up in a poor immigrant family in New Jersey, emphasized that "we are born in these places and certainly the part of me that led me here to this moment was born in my public library under the tutelage of my librarian."

Junot Diaz reading a passage from  Nilda,  a story in the collection  This Is How You Lose Her

Junot Diaz reading a passage from Nilda, a story in the collection This Is How You Lose Her

Introduced by author and poet Pablo Medina (Cubob City Blues), Diaz was described as one of the very few writers who use a particular voice to distinguish themselves from everyone else, much like Mark Twain, Toni Morrison and Faulkner did. “He opened a voice and way of life that had not been explored before and brought Latino life into the mainstream,” Medina said. Diaz, winner of numerous awards and honors including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, commented that the strange thing about being known as a writer in any way is that you are "standing in for better artists who haven't been given the acclaim they deserve," and thanked Medina and his contemporaries for the enormous influence and genius he received from them.

Junot Diaz receives the traditional FOSEL gift of a FOSEL library bag and copies of his event poster

Junot Diaz receives the traditional FOSEL gift of a FOSEL library bag and copies of his event poster

Turning back to the moment of political gloom, Diaz asked what people in the audience themselves were doing about it. “I wanna know what are you gonna do,” said Diaz, who is active in the Dominican American community.“I’ve been doing my community work forever. If you feel you've been hit by a Mac truck, you can appreciate the life that many of us artists have been reporting, and the diabolical forces in American society that have plagued us and made us miserable for so long." He said he is “intentionally activist"  and not interested in his work as an artist taking the place of his civic responsibility. "Being an artist doesn’t excuse you from your civic responsibility,“ he said, observing that artists are "more inclined to the febrile excuse of ‘my art is my politics.' Investment bankers," he added, "not so much. You see them volunteering in soup kitchens."

South End library's head librarian, Anne Smart, with author Junot Diaz, who described himself as a great admirer of librarians

South End library's head librarian, Anne Smart, with author Junot Diaz, who described himself as a great admirer of librarians

Answering several questions about his writing, Diaz, who is the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at MIT, described himself as a very slow writer, very 'avoidant,' 'wildly rewarded,' and having come of age reading giants of African-American literature like Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed as well as Sandra Cisneros, Scott Momaday, Oscar Hijuelos, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin. Families are great inspiration "for the spectrum of behavior,” he said but cautioned that stories have minds of their own. “You can have wild ideas about stories,” he said, “but the stories themselves have other ideas. They happen at the levels of the unconscious. The story is the boss. It is an enormous amount of work to decipher what the unconscious wants. Every draft brings you closer and closer to the mysterious story. Every version sucks."

With that, he picked up a copy of This Is How You Lose Her, and read a richly descriptive passage from the story Nilda.  When he was done, he patiently listened to, and talked with, his admirers waiting in a long line to be photographed with him and, with a cursive flair, signed all of their books. Within days, he and four other authors --Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Colson Whitehead and Barbara Kingsolver-- would have lunch with then-President Obama, who admired them and described the writers as having helped him shape his presidency.

Junot Diaz surrounded by admirers after his reading

Junot Diaz surrounded by admirers after his reading

Dina Vargo, Author of "Wild Women of Boston: Mettle and Moxie in the Hub," Will Describe a Parade of Reformers, Socialites, Criminals and Madams on Tuesday, December 6, at 6:30 PM

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Dina Vargo writes in her introduction to Wild Women of Boston that filling two or three volumes with the stories of Boston's female firebrands is "almost a no-brainer." A tour guide for the Boston By Foot, Vargo became interested in off-beat walking tours that revealed a hidden history of people and places which led her to the stories about women not so well known but revolutionary in their own right. An African-American abolitionist, Sarah Parker, refused to give up a seat in a play about a hundred years before Rosa Parks did. Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall handed the Audubon Society leadership to men so as to not cross prevailing boundaries of female comity, but at the same time brought the fashion industry to its knees when they led a boycott against plumage in ladies clothing.  And then there was Rachel Wall, a pirate, and  Ann Hibbing, who dared to take on a contractor who she felt charged her too much. Both Wall and Hibbing were hanged. Fargo will tell you all about it, and more. Her books will be available for sale and signing. The South End Writes is sponsored by the Friends of the South End Library. All the events are free. Books by the speakers will be available for borrowing, sale and signing by the author. The branch is fully handicapped accessible. We serve refreshments. Seating is limited.

This will be the final author talk of the 2016-17 season. 

Gordon Hamersley Tells His Admirers Cambridge May Offer the Best Food Nowadays and Young Chefs May Be Opening Up Restaurants "Way Sooner Than They Should"

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Gordon Hamersley who, with his wife Fiona, put the South End on the map as a culinary destination at the dawn of the good-local-food revolution of the 1980s, told a packed room at the library that his many awards, honors and citations notwithstanding, the life of a celebrity chef was not for him. The tall, lean and voluble chef who now writes regularly about food for the Boston Globe, said that after more than two decades of a highly successful run of Hamersley's Bistro, where his wife created a fabulous wine list, they found themselves thinking about the next phase of their lives. They liked to do "other things," Hamersley said, like tying flies for trout fishing, training dogs, hunting grouse and woodcock, walking in the woods, writing, being a family. They had always agreed to wait for the other to be on the same page for any momentous decision about the Bistro. "Are you ready?" they asked each other one day in August 2014. "Totally," they both said. From that moment until they closed the restaurant, two months later, they were sold out each night. It had been their best year ever, financially. "But my kid still refers to me as 'my absentee father,'" joked Hamersley.

Gordon Hamersley signing copies of his (out-of-print) book, Bistro Cooking at Home.

Gordon Hamersley signing copies of his (out-of-print) book, Bistro Cooking at Home.

Gordon Hamersley describing hosting President Obama at Hamersley's Bistro while his friend, Ron Geddes, listens

Gordon Hamersley describing hosting President Obama at Hamersley's Bistro while his friend, Ron Geddes, listens

The financial pitfalls of opening a restaurant are many, and Hamersley credits the "Scottish blood" that runs in the veins of his wife, who also was  his business partner, for avoiding them. "Today, the South End is full," said Hamersley. "The best food by young chefs now is found in Cambridge." He cited Giulia's, run by another husband-and-wife team, Michael Pagliarini and Pamela Ralston, as a good example. Responding to complaints from a library audience member about so many mediocre meals served in newly opened restaurants nowadays, Hamersley commented that today's chefs start their own place as soon as they can, perhaps too soon. "I had ten years of experience before I opened Hamersley's, he said. "I am a big believer in experience. How many roast chickens I have done: I know how to mingle the flavors because of that experience. The culinary schools are remiss by not allowing for that. You have to teach cooking as you teach law: it requires experience. A culinary school can’t mimick the experience of a Saturday night at Hamersley’s when a cook doesn’t do so well at four but somehow by seven is on top of his game.”

Longtime South End realtor, Ron Geddes,  introduced Gordon Hamersley for his talk  about his experience as a restaurateur

Longtime South End realtor, Ron Geddes,  introduced Gordon Hamersley for his talk  about his experience as a restaurateur

Those hectic but exhilarating Saturday nights at the Bistro is what he still misses, Hamersley says, but other than that he has no regrets. He never took the awards and honors he received too seriously, and dismissed the authority bestowed on him by some in the media to comment on a variety of subjects merely because he was an award- winning chef. "What do I know about the meal tax?" he asked, "or what the best knife is?" Hamersley's philosophy was to prepare good-quality but simple food in a casual setting, which was different from the traditional chef’s role in the 1980s where the chef always stayed in the back. Hamersley was enthralled by the South End’s diversity. “I stood on Tremont Street and watched what was going on, felt the vibe, and decided I was going to be comfortable for us there,” he said. “We wanted the restaurant to be a reflection of us, Fiona and I, as if you would ‘come into our house,’” he added. Their approach to running a restaurant was based on the old European chef’s notion that they were part of the community. “This is what we wanted it to be,” Hamersley said. “We fulfilled our dream.”

Louise Miller, Pastry Chef and Author, Will Present Her Debut Novel, "The City's Baker's Guide to Country Living," at the South End Library on Tuesday, October 25 at 6:30 PM

Poster design by Mary Owens
Poster design by Mary Owens

The South End Writes fall speaker season continues  with pastry chef and debut novelist Louise Miller who will talk about her work of fiction, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living on Tuesday, October 25. Miller received a scholarship in 2012 to attend GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program, a year-long workshop. Her novel, The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, was picked up quickly for publication by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking this past summer. The story begins when its main character, a thirty-something pastry chef carrying a flambé dessert, accidentally sets fire to the swank private club in Boston where she works. She flees north to Vermont where she becomes enmeshed in a small town’s intrigues.

Miller grew up in the Boston area and attended Portland School of Art where she studied photography. She started her first baking job in 1994, at a little bakery in Cambridge, MA, where her baking mentor talked her into staying on by offering to teach her the art of pastry.  For the last twenty years Miller has been a baker/pastry chef, currently at The Union Club of Boston.

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

 

Award-winning Suspense Author, Joseph Finder, Says the Inspiration for his 2016 Thriller, "Guilty Minds," Came From the Downfall of Elliot Spitzer and the Demise of Gawker

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"...But right now I can't even remember the details ofGuilty Minds," joked Joseph Finder, whose publishing contract with Dutton has him produce a thriller a year. He explained to  the small but enthusiastic library audience on October 27 that he is already deeply ensconced in the details of his new novel, scheduled to come out in 2017. Guilty Minds seems eons removed from the book he's focused on now, which he works on, he says, in an office close to home ("can't work at home when your child lives there, too"), or in the barn next to his second home on the Outer Cape, where he and his wife write and paint, respectively.

Finder traces his fascination with conspiracies to the 1973-74 Watergate hearings when he was a teenager. "My siblings were watching Star Trek but I was glued to the words of Howard Baker," Finder recalled, adding the 1970s were already the heyday for paranoia and conspiracy thrillers. "So when one of Richard Nixon's assistants, Alexander Butterfield revealed that everything in the Oval Office was taped, I realized there actually was a conspiracy." Now Finder sees conspiracies where others don't, and describes himself as a "conspiratologist," which he says is different from being a conspiracy theorist: Finder studies the impact of conspiracies on society. Two of Finder's twelve suspense novels, Paranoia  and High Crimes became major motion pictures.Answering a question of an audience member, he estimated he has sold some five million copies of his work. His 2006 Killer Instinct won him the International Thriller Writer's Award for Best Novel.

Thriller writer Joseph Finder talking about his work at the South End library

Thriller writer Joseph Finder talking about his work at the South End library

The plot of Guilty Minds, which centers on the threat to defame a Supreme Court Justice by a gossip web site, echoes the downfall of former New York governor, Eliot Spitzer, who was outed by the FBI for using an escort service where he was listed as Client Number Nine. "What was the FBI doing with a list of call girls from the escort service Spitzer used?" Finder asked. "And what about Clients One through Eight?" Spitzer had made too many powerful enemies, especially on Wall Street, who had him followed and brought him down, he suggested. The saga was not a mere accident, Finder posited, anymore than the law suit against Gawker that led to a $140 million judgment that shut down the gossip blog was. The Gawker case that was brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan over the web site's publication of a sex tape featuring him as the lead character, turned out to have been funded by another Gawker victim, PayPal's billionaire founder Peter Thiel, who had been outed as a gay man by the same site.

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Finder's private-eye character Nick Heller is the hero of Guilty Minds, as he was in two earlier thrillers, Buried Secrets and Vanished. Heller is a composite of people Finder has known, former CIA employees who, after the Cold War ended, went into the private sector doing the same kind of work. "I like this character," Finder said. For Guilty Minds, he had to reread the Heller books he wrote a few years back, and take notes, to make sure he wouldn't get previous details wrong which, he said, he would be sure to receive emails about from his very attentive readership. The next novel will  be another "standalone" thriller but after that, he said, he'll go back to Nick Heller.

WGBH Commentator Callie Crossley Tells a Huge Audience "Hillary's Motivation Is She Knows How to Do Things and Wants to Find Solutions;" Trump "Just Wants to Say 'I Won,' But Does Not Like Policy"

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The acclaimed WGBH journalist and commentator,Callie Crossley, stood for an hour-and-a-half in  a filled-to-capacity community room at the South End library last Tuesday, patiently answering questions about the current political scene, but not before she teased the enthusiastic crowd by sighing, "It's been such a boring season." And not until she professed her love for libraries by reading from an essay she wrote for an anthology by local authors about libraries, called Cambridge Voices: A Literary celebration of Libraries and the Joy of Reading, put together for the opening of the renovated Cambridge Public Library in 2011. "It's impossible for libraries to disappoint me," she said, adding she carries two library cards with her at all times. Then the questions of the Political Gabfest began: Is Hillary lack of transparency a woman's thing or is Hillary held to a different standard?  Why are black millennials not more enthusiastic about Hillary? Why was Hillary not indicted? Why did Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, get $40 million when he was ousted over sexual harassment accusations but Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who was harassed, only $20 million, when she had done "nothing wrong?" What motivates each of the presidential candidates? What question would Crossley ask if she were a moderator of a candidates' debate? What will Bill Clinton do as First Fellow? What about the hacking threat by Julian Assange?

Crossley's answers were elaborate and direct: Yes, being private is in part a woman's thing, but that's not the whole story. Yes, Hillary has been held to a different standard, and will continue to be. Yes, she and other African-American colleagues are very concerned about the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary among black millennials. Crossley who, like Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College,bemoaned the "meh, meh" approach to voting by many young black women she talks with on college campuses, among them, she confessed, her niece. She attributes it, in part, to the millennials not having a historical context of Hillary's decades-long dedication to families and children, which began well before this generation was even born.

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ccrossley

As to the motivation of the candidates: For Hillary it is her desire to find solutions and her belief she knows how to get things done, Crossley said,  and, no, Hillary is not power hungry. She took former Secretary of State Colin Powell to task for describing Hillary as having "unbridled ambition." "Here is a man who became a four-star general in one of the most competitive institutions, the US Army," said Crossley. "Yet, he accuses Hillary of being ambitious."

Donald Trump does not like policy, Crossley believes, and suspects Trump had not expected to topple his primary opponents so easily. If he wins the election, he'll wonder, "Now what?" she speculated. As to the question of what she would ask if she were the moderator of a presidential debate, she had her answer ready: She would want to know whether the candidates support the practice to settle with families of victims of police brutality, in return for their silence. "I get it that this is not all cops or even most cops who behave that way," she said, "but huge amounts of taxpayers'  money have been paid out under this policy," Crossley said, "even to families who were not asking for it." If you are a conservative, you would not want to have funds spent that way, she added, and would want to know what causes the problem so you can fix it.

To answer a question about "First Fellow" Bill Clinton, should Hillary become president, Crossley referred to an informative CBS News report on six other First Fellows, namely the current spouses of  six female governors, including New Hampshire's Thomas Hassan and Rhode Island's Andy Moffit. As to the threat by Julian Assange to release documents to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign, Crossley said it was "weird" but not unprecedented. There was a low-tech way to confirm gossip in office settings decades ago when she worked for ABC News, she recalled with a laugh. "It was the night cleaning lady who would tell me who was having an affair with whom," she said. "She knew."

"All Dogs Are Perfect; People Need Help," Says Monica Collins, a.k.a. the Dog Lady, Who Will Be at the South End Library, Tuesday, May 31, 6:30 PM

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dog lady

Ask Dog Lady by Monica Collins is one of the many unique columns that our distinguished neighborhood rag, the South End News, has launched since it first began publishing in the mid-1980s. There was the Area D4 Police Blotter, penned by its Poet Laureate, Police Officer John Sacco, widely known for his usual tart conclusion that "the scoundrel was arrested on the spot."  Then we had food writer Lydia Walshin's  delectable series, called The South End Cooks, and Alison Barnet's South End Character, the iconic reporting on the ebb and flow of the South End's culture of artists, immigrants, yuppies, washashores and, now, millionaires and billionaires. The South End News began to publish Ask Dog Lady in 2002 as ahumor/lifestyle column about dogs, life and love when Collins was  a media columnist and TV critic for USA Today, TV Guide and the Boston Herald. It has since become widely distributed in media outlets all over the country. On Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30 PM, Collins will be at the South End library to talk about her credo, All Pets Are Perfect; People Need Help. 

Collins says on her web site that she changed her journalistic focus from TV critic to lifestyle columnist after she acquired a West Highland white terrier. She realized how much a pet can transform relationships and shake up daily routines for the better; over the years, she  has answered pet owners’ most confounding questions involving relationships, dog park etiquette, divorce, custody complications, and whether the dog belongs in your marital (or single) bed. Collins produces and sells her own column and has written various profiles for USA Weekend magazine, including a cover piece on CNN's Anderson Cooper. She has contributed her work to Vogue, Boston Magazine, Town & Country, and Forbes/Life and she has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, Nightline, The O'Reilly Factor, Inside Edition, and been a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered. Collins also writes and coaches writers for non-profit organizations, and consults on media strategy. She lives in Belmont with her husband, a comedy writer, and is working on a book, of which she will read one chapter. She promises "it won't be boring."

The South End library is fully handicapped accessible. The event is free. Seating is limited. We serve refreshments.

This is the last talk of the 2015-16 season, which will resume in September. The previously announced June 24 speaker, best-selling author Jenna Blum, had to cancel due to a family emergency in California. She will return in the fall and her talk will be rescheduled for the fall/winter season. FOSEL regrets the difficulty and wish Jenna Blum the very best. 

China Expert Ross Terrill Sees the 'Tightening Up' by President Xi Jinping as a Clash Between U.S. and China's Approach Over the Question of Economic Freedom Without Political Freedom

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The distinguished China expert, Ross Terrill, began his talk at the South End library on April 26 by hanging a large map on the wall that left no doubt about China's size. "China has fourteen contiguous borders with other countries," Terrill said. "Most of them are not friendly, and neither is Japan, located just across the water. This is quite different from  the United States, which is surrounded by two oceans and two relatively friendly neighbors. It affects many things," Terrill said. "The Europeans and the Americans believe in the idea of the international community," he cited as an example. "China does not. They are nationalists." Some of China's neighbors are largely Muslim, Terrill pointed out which always brings up the question of loyalty for the People's Republic. He added. "The tension that exists now in China revolves around the question of whether China can have economic freedom without political freedom.  The grip it has over the economy is inseparable from its one-party system." He said he doubts there will be an evolutionary path to political change and expects, rather, more of a "big bang."

China expert and South End resident, Ross Terrill, hung up a map of China to explain why it feels surrounded by countries that are not its friends.

China expert and South End resident, Ross Terrill, hung up a map of China to explain why it feels surrounded by countries that are not its friends.

Australian-born Terrill, currently a Research Associate at Harvard's Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and the author of nine critically acclaimed books, had traveled to India as a  graduate student at the suggestion of his Melbourne professors who thought that, as a democracy, India would be of more interest than its authoritarian neighbor, China. But Terrill did not take to what he called the moralism of its Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, or India's grinding poverty, and decided China could not be worse. To get a visa, Terrill in vain badgered Chinese embassies all over Eastern Europe until, after one day accusing the Chinese embassy in Warsaw of "not wanting to let anyone know anything about China," he learned the next day that a visa to China was ready and waiting for him. It was 1964. There was not a single US diplomat in Beijing. At the time, there were 980,000 American troops stationed in a semi-circle around China and the political gap with the U.S. was deep. For the U.S., Taiwan was the legitimate government of China.

Ross Terrill speaking at length about his distinguished career.

Ross Terrill speaking at length about his distinguished career.

Terrill sent a report he wrote about his first experience in China to his fellow Australian  Rupert Murdoch, who still edited his own newspapers at the time; Murdoch published the work in six installments. Shortly thereafter, Terrill assisted another up-and-coming Australian, Labor Party leader, Gough Whitlam, to visit China and meet with Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People's Republic. As it turned out, Henry Kissinger was in China at the same time to lay the groundwork for the visit by Richard Nixon. The China trip catapulted Whitlam into political prominence as Australia's Prime Minister in 1972. Terrill, in the meantime, earned his PhD in political science at Harvard in 1970 and his thesis, which was published as Socialism As Fellowship, won the prestigious Sumner Prize. "People were hungry for information about China," Terrill told the audience at the South End library. For the rest of his career, he visited China annually, became an award-winning contributing editor to The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune,  the Miami Herald and the Washington Post, as well as a special commentator about China to many other media outlets.

Iowa-born and Boston-based Author Michelle Hoover Will Read from Her Acclaimed Second Novel, "Bottomlands," on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 6:30 PM at the South End Library

Poster design courtesy of Mary Owens

Poster design courtesy of Mary Owens

Michelle Hoover will be at the South End library on Tuesday, May 3rd, at 6:30 PM, to read from  her second novel, Bottomlands. Hoover's first, The Quickening, was set set in America’s rural heartland in the early 20th century. Bottomlands plays out in the same region, but takes place after the First World War, a time of strong anti-German sentiments. It is the story of the German-American Hess family whose four siblings struggle to survive as farmers in tough times while grieving for the loss of their mother and trying to piece together why their two teenage sisters vanished in the middle of a night. According to an interview with the author in DeadDarlings,Bottomlands takes from the shards of a legend in her own family, as did her earlier, critically acclaimed book, The QuickeningThe Boston Globe review described Bottomlands as a “potent new novel” with much contemporary resonance and “enough mastery to justify comparisons to Willa Cather.” The Quickeningis based on a great-grandmother’s journal and describes an unlikely friendship between two women in a time of harsh economic realities. In addition to being shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, it was a Massachusetts Book Award "Must Read" pick. Hoover is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University and teaches at GrubStreet, where she leads the Novel Incubator program. She is a 2014 NEA Fellow and has been a Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University, a MacDowell Fellow, and a winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Born in Iowa, she lives in Boston.

The South End Library is fully handicapped accessible. Seating is limited. The event is free. Books will be available for purchase, signing by the author, and borrowing.

"The South End Writes" Continues with Romance Novelist Saundra MacKay (April 12), Followed by Ross Terrill (4/26); Michelle Hoover (5/3); Monica Collins (5/3) and Jenna Blum (6/24)

Saundra MacKay, a long-time South End resident who describes herself as a former “fat child,” will talk about her debut romance novel, The Measure of Love on Tuesday, April 12 at 6:30 PM. A devotee of the romance novel, MacKay, who holds a gradual degree in education with an emphasis on social justice, hopes to start a conversation about the prevalence of size-intolerance as demonstrated by, among other things, the lack of full-sized heroines in romance publishing. The Measure of Love is the story of Vanessa, a career woman who finds herself in a body the voluptuous size of which she senses is not particularly valued in our slim-obsessed modern society, but who is nevertheless juggling the love interests of two very different men. Find out what the author, who grew from a plus-sized teen into a large-sized adult, has to say about what she describes as “the mystique and splendor” of the women of size of today, and feel free to weigh in with tales of your own.

 

What Does China Want? you may have asked yourself, watching the latest military and economic developments involving America’s second-most-important trading partner (after Canada) and not-infrequent political adversary. Renowned China specialist Ross Terrill will be at the South End library on April 26 to talk about what he calls The China Challenge, and touch upon the latest conundrums posed by the once-locked-away empire that is now deeply intertwined in the global culture. Terrill, a South End resident, is the author of innumerable articles and many books, including The Chinese Empire; Biography of Mao; China in Our Time: The Epic Saga of the People’s Republic from the Communist Victory to Tiananmen Square and Beyond; Madame Mao; and  The New Chinese Empire –winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2004. A Research Associate at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Terrill was a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly in the 1970s, when he won the National Magazine Award for Reporting Excellence and the George Polk Memorial Award for Outstanding Magazine Reporting for writings on China. Raised in rural Australia, he also also wrote The Australians. He has visited China almost every year for many years; within China, his biography of Mao, in Chinese translation, has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Terrill has recently been visiting professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and at Monash University in Australia.

michelle hoover
michelle hoover

Michelle Hoover’s two novels, The Quickening and Bottomlands, are both set in America’s rural heartland in the early 20th century. She will discuss them in a talk at the library on May 3. The Quickening, based on a great-grandmother’s journal, describes an unlikely friendship between two women in a time of harsh economic realities. In addition to being shortlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, it was a Massachusetts Book Award Must Read pick. Her latest, Bottomlands, is the story of a German-American family living in Iowa after the First World War, a time of strong anti-German sentiments. Struggling to survive as farmers, they are trying to piece together why their two teenage daughters vanished in the middle of a night. Hoover is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University and teaches at GrubStreet, where she leads the Novel Incubator program. She is a 2014 NEA Fellow and has been a Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University, a MacDowell Fellow, and a winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Born in Iowa, she lives in Boston.

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Or is it the reverse? You can find out May 31 at the library. Monica Collins is The Dog Lady whose columndog lady, Ask Dog Lady, appears in many publications, including The South End News, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, The Cambridge Chronicle and Salem News. A former staff writer for USA Today, TV Guide, and The Boston Herald, Collins writes on her web site that she changed her journalistic focus from TV critic to lifestyle columnist after she acquired a West Highland white terrier. She has answered pet owners’ most confounding questions involving relationships, dog park etiquette, divorce, custody complications, and whether the dog belongs in your marital (or single) bed. One reader wanted to know why an earlier advice-seeker should not have mentioned in a job interview that the garment she was wearing that day had been knit from her dog’s hair (yes, you guessed it: Too much information). With annual pet spending reaching close to $60 billion a year and American households owning almost 60 million dogs, Collins is barking down from the right tree, no doubt, and you can bark up hers at the library to receive her typically compassionate, intelligent and culturally resonant answers to your canine questions.

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Jenna Blum, the acclaimed author of the award-winning New York Times bestseller, Those Who Saved Us (2004), and The Stormchasers (2010) will talk about her latest work on June 24. It is a novella called The Lucky One, published in the new anthology coming out in June, called Grand Central. A collection of stories related to the Holocaust by ten bestselling female writers, Blum’s contribution was one she had been reluctant to write as it meant returning to the subject of the Holocaust. She says on her web site that the research and writing of Those Who Saved Us, which explored how non-Jewish Germans dealt with the Holocaust, was a searing experience. But she remembered one story she had heard when she worked for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, where she interviewed Holocaust survivors. It had struck a cord with her, she said, and became the genesis for The Lucky One. It is set, like each of the stories in the anthology, on the same day in Grand Central Terminal right after the Second World War. Blum’s successful writing career began when she was fourteen, and her first short story won a third prize when it was published in Seventeen Magazine. Another short story, The Legacy of Frank Finklestein, won first prize two years later. Since that time, Blum’s work has been featured in Faultline, The Kenyon Review, The Bellingham Review, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and The Improper Bostonian. Blum has taught creative writing and communications writing at Boston University, was the editor at Boston University’s AGNI literary magazine for four years, and led fiction and novel workshops for Grub Street Writers in Boston since 1997.

A Book Talk by Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot about "Exits: The Endings that Set us Free" Brings on Questions about Youth Violence, Parents' Fears and How to Console Grieving Children

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When Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot returned to the South End library for another one of her popular talks in early March, the subject was how we leave, exit, depart or retreat from our daily interactions, whether personal, professional, or merely neighborly. Author of the 2012 Exits: The Endings that Set Us Free, Lawrence-Lightfoot told her audience that she had always been curious about leave-takings, large and small. "Our culture applauds beginnings," she said , favoring a "tilt to the future" and a "readiness to seize opportunity." Exits are therefore seen as "negative spaces," as a "time to move on," often in the dark of night.

Lawrence-Lightfoot in discussion with a member of the audience

Lawrence-Lightfoot in discussion with a member of the audience

The long-time South End resident, who holds the Emily Hargroves Fisher Endowed Chair of Education at Harvard University where she has been on the faculty since 1972, finds the culture's disregard for exits "troublesome."  Especially because, she says, we have a society where leaving is so prevalent, as evidenced by a divorce rate of fifty percent, and so many immigrants who had to leave much behind. "The history of the United States is defined by  leave-takings," Lawrence-Lightfoot pointed out, "by the slaves' and native Americans' forced departures," as well as by other forces, often beyond our control, like economic crises or global and natural disasters.

FOSEL board member Kim Clark introducing Professor Sara Lawrence Lightfoot

FOSEL board member Kim Clark introducing Professor Sara Lawrence Lightfoot

Lawrence-Lightfoot, the recipient of many prestigious prizes and awards and the author of ten books, said she is intrigued by the ordinary, daily exits as well as bigger ones, such as the rupture of friendships, the departure of children for college. She said when her own son, now 33 and "a strapping handsome black man" leaves the house, she tells him,  "be careful," and is holding her breath. "Will I see him again?" she always wonders, or "is it the last time?"

"Managing the big goodbyes must be relational to the small ones, so it matters how exits are practiced,"  said Lawrence-Lightfoot, who won a MacArthur Prize in 1984 and was named the Margaret Mead Fellow by the Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 2008. "So do the rituals that accompany them, how one ends and another begins. Is it a victory or a defeat, or is it both?" She emphasized the importance of revisiting  how an ending happens, what provoked it to occur at that moment, and how was it communicated and to whom? "Exits are accompanied by feelings of loss as well as liberation, and it is worthy of deep exploration," she added.

Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot emphasizing a point in her latest book, "Exits: The Endings that Set Us Free"

Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot emphasizing a point in her latest book, "Exits: The Endings that Set Us Free"

Her children, too, became interested in the subject, she said, asking her how she said goodbye to her students at the end of the semester. Her daughter suggested she "stop sounding like a mom." Her son proposed she put her farewell in a song, advice she took: Lawrence-Lightfoot, whose  chair endowed at Harvard will be re-named the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Chair of Education upon her retirement, has sung farewells to her students ever since, a ritual she also engages in when giving talks and during book tours.

The author signs a book for an admiring neighbor

The author signs a book for an admiring neighbor

During the question-and-answer session, a woman in the audience stood up, saying she had six children, some in high school, whose friends recently died violent deaths from shootings and car crashes. She doesn’t know how to give advice to them, she said, tearing up. How should she talk with them about these endings? Lawrence-Lightfoot said she had no magic words but suggested it would be important to do a lot of talking about it, to go to the memorial services and be quiet so the children will talk. "They need to be part of the weeping community, and pay attention to the power of ritual, ceremony," she said. "It is horrific to see young persons die like that, but you have to let your children see that you are grieving with them."

And then Professor Lawrence-Lightfoot sang her goodbye to the audience at the South End library with the Song of Jeremiah from Iliad.She introduced it by explaining it was transformed as a negro spiritual from There’s No Balm in Gilead to There Is a Balm in Gilead: To make the wounded whole; There's power enough in heaven; To cure a sin-sick soul. 

The author's next book, Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers, will come out in the fall of this year. Lawrence-Lightfoot has agreed to return to the library to talk about it at that time.

Author Paul McLean Will Talk about His Book "Blood Lines: Fatherhood, Faith and Love in the Time of Stem Cells," Tuesday, April 5 at 6:30 PM

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What do you do when your seven-year-old daughter is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disease about which you know nothing and which requires making decisions that may determine her living or dying?Paul McLean, a former sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, one-time arts editor at The Boston Herald and a stay-at-home father after his daughter was born, courageously fought to protect his child, preserve his sense of self even when it seemed everything changed by the day and, with his wife, made those difficult decisions. He also took meticulous notes, and wrote about his searing experience. Blood Lines: Fatherhood, Faith and Love in the Time of Stem Cells is the harrowing and honest account of who he once was --a regular guy with a regular family, and who he had to become as a result of the existential threat to his child.

McLean is the social media coordinator for the Harvard Community Ethics Committee (CEC), a former fellow in the Center for Bioethics program, a current community member of the Ethics Advisory Committee at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Research Subject Advocacy Board of Harvard Catalyst. He is also a social media contributor to The Hastings Center. He is a regular contributor to WBUR's on-line magazine, Cognoscenti.The South End Library is fully handicapped accessible. Seating is limited. The event is free. Books will be available for purchase, signing by the author, and borrow

 

 

Acclaimed Harvard Sociologist and South End Resident, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Will Talk about Her Most Recent Book, "Exits: The Endings That Set Us Free," Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30 PM

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot at her home in the South End
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot at her home in the South End

Three years ago, when Harvard professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot walked the 142 steps from her home to the South End library to talk about her previous work (The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50), she mentioned her next book coming out later that year, titled, Exits: The Endings That Set us Free. She described it as an exploration of the premise that our society is pre-occupied with beginnings. "We ignore the departures," she said. Looking at many kinds of exits, from the voluntary to the forced, she found that endings can be a process that unlock regenerative powers "that set us free." On Tuesday, March 3, Lawrence-Lightfoot who won a MacArthur Prize for her work in 1984, will read from Exits. The title of her new book, due out in the fall, is called Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers. You can ask her about that, too.

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

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

Boston Globe Spotlight Reporter Steve Kurkjian Wants to Know "How We Can Get Boston to Feel the Loss" and "Rally the Troops" to Recover the Art Stolen From the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

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"Can we get Marty Walsh in front of it? Or Cardinal O'Malley?" a frustrated Boston Globe Spotlight reporter Stephen Kurkjian asked the overflow audience that had come to listen to him talk about his almost two-decades' long investigation into the unsolved theft of 13 priceless   works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In describing his disappointment over the lack of resolution after a 26-year hunt for the art, Kurkjian wanted ideas on how to re-ignite  the public's interest. He recalled a French detective who told him that when nine priceless Impressionists paintings, including a masterpiece by Monet, were stolen in 1985 from the Marmottan Museum in Paris, it was felt as a loss for every Parisian. "We got tip after tip after tip," the detective had said. "For you," he added, referring to the Gardner's art heist, "it's a cold case." Five years after the Paris theft, the French art was recovered, in Corsica. Twenty-six years after the Isabella Stewart Gardner plunder, the question in Boston still is "where is the art work?" "We don't feel this," lamented Kurkjian. "How can we get Boston to feel it?"

Rembrandt's only known seascape, stolen from the Garner Museum

Rembrandt's only known seascape, stolen from the Garner Museum

For Kurkjian, whose deeply reported Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the Greatest Art Heist in the World, came out last year, the loss of this art is personal. His father, an artist, was inspired by the Old Masters of the Gardner Museum. Two cousins, classical pianists, regularly performed at the Gardner's popular Sunday concert series. Kurkjian himself attended Boston Latin, across the street from the museum, and revered the extraordinary collection that resulted from the grand vision of its 19th-century founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner. "She put those pieces on the walls for us, " he said. "She filled up her houses on Beacon Street with European art, but didn't stop there. She understood civilizations survive because of their artistic achievement. She wanted to give the United States a tradition it didn't have yet. When the museum opened in 1903, it was free. She wanted to inspire America into the arts."

Former Boston Globe reporter M. E. Malone introducing the author

Former Boston Globe reporter M. E. Malone introducing the author

Kurkjian was introduced by former Boston Globe reporter M.E. Malone, who was hired by him "fresh out of college." Even as she described him as a Founding Father of the Spotlight Team, a Pulitzer-prize winner who knows Boston and what closets which skeletons are in, she assured the audience Kurkjian also applied his investigative skills to less glamorous subjects, such as when in 1982 the Registry of Motor Vehicles decided to replace free driver's license manuals with ones that cost $1. "Steve thought that was outrageous," she told the laughing audience. Kurkjian quickly discovered there were still 505,470 free manuals in the DMV's warehouse, as well as piles of them under the counters and in closets of some DMV offices. Within a short time during which DMV personnel could not find a logical explanation for the charge, the Boston Globe reported that the DMV had made free driver's license manuals available again.

Of all the accolades bestowed on Kurkjian, his father, the artist, told him that solving "Boston's last best secret" would be the crowning achievement of his career. "I thought the 25th anniversary would be the year," Kurkjian said. "There was a lot of publicity. My book came out. Ann Hawley, the Gardner museum director who labored with this loss, retired," and there was now a $5 million reward  for the recovery. In addition, a new Boston FBI prosecutor reviewed videotapes of the night before the theft, and discovered that a stranger was let into the museum 24 hours earlier, against the rules. "We hoped for an essential tip," Kurkjian said after reporting it. But none has led to the discovery of the art, yet.  "These artworks were for the haves and the have-nots," Kurkjian stressed. "Our kids haven't seen them. We have to rally the troops. How do you motivate them?"

Stephen Kurkjian discussing his book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the Greatest Art heist in the World.

Stephen Kurkjian discussing his book, Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the Greatest Art heist in the World.

Virginia Pye, Reading from Her Second Novel, "Dreams of the Red Phoenix," Says the Archives of Her Grandparents, Missionaries in North China, Are the Inspiration for Her Literary Work

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When Virginia Pye came to the South End library last month to talk about her second novel, Dreams of the Red Phoenix, she brought along a slide show of compelling photographs of North China she had found in her grandparents' home. They date from the first decades of the 20th century, during the rise of Communism, when the Pyes were Congregational missionaries in Shanxi Province. In one of them, a tall man stands with his wife behind a small child. He happens to be Pye's grandfather, Orson. He was among the first Westerners who returned after the Boxer Rebellion, when the Chinese had tried to rid their country of Western influence. He met his wife there, Gertrude, who had come to China on her own at age 25, from Ohio, where she had studied early childhood education at Oberlin College.

Virginia Pye's grandparents as missionaries, and father, age 4, in North China in the 1920s. Courtesy Virginia Pye.

Virginia Pye's grandparents as missionaries, and father, age 4, in North China in the 1920s. Courtesy Virginia Pye.

The little boy is the author's father, Lucian Pye, who later became a famous China scholar, and taught at MIT for decades. "When I wrote the novels, I kept those pictures by my side because they inspired the stories I wrote," Pye told the audience. Growing up in Belmont, MA, in the 1960s, Pye disavowed her family's missionary background, repelled by US imperialism, and opposed to the Vietnam War, which her father supported. She wrote other novels, but eventually found herself going through her grandfather's papers and discovered a more complex story than she had initially assumed. This archive became the inspiration for Pye's first novel, the highly praised River of Dust, which was chosen as an Indie Next Pick and was a finalist in the 2014 Virginia Literary Awards.

Author Virginia Pye signing her book for admirers who came to hear her talk.

Author Virginia Pye signing her book for admirers who came to hear her talk.

He was a "beautiful writer," she said, "an erudite man who wove Shakespeare and Dickens into his reports home about his mission, as he envisioned it." Her grandfather raised funds in America to have a road built so the Red Cross could deliver food to a population starving from years of drought, Pye learned. Their young daughter died of dysentary at age six, when her father, the little boy in the picture, was four. Orson Pye himself died of tuberculosis not long after, in 1926. "Through fiction, I dealt with how my grandparents weathered one disaster after another, and had to re-examine their faith," said Pye.

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Her second China novel, Dreams of the Red Phoenix --named Best Book of 2015 by the Richmond Dispatch-- was inspired by a family story: After Japan invaded China, her grandmother had fearlessly chased Japanese soldiers off her front porch in the Chinese mission compound with a broom. Widowed, Gertrude eventually returned to the United States with her teenage son in 1942, after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Unlike her husband, Gertrude did not leave a written record. But Pye was able to imagine details of those days when she came across journals by the pro-Communist US journalist Agnes Smedley, who had followed the Red Army and reported about it for English-language newspapers.

Pye, who returned with her family to the Boston area from Richmond, VA, when her husband was named executive director of the Di Cordova Museum, is currently working on the third and final novel in the China series, a personal odyssey of sorts, called Sleepwalking to China. While River of Dust and Dreams of the Red Phoenix played out against events experienced by her grandparents in North China before and after the First World War, respectively, Sleepwalking takes place during the anti-Vietnam era and the fall of Saigon, which she lived through herself. "Then I may be done with my China novels," Pye commented.

The desert-like landscape of North China in the 1920s. Courtesy Virginia Pye.

The desert-like landscape of North China in the 1920s. Courtesy Virginia Pye.