Category Archives: Library

Photo Challenge #199

Old library card catalogs never die. They just get recycled.

At the Westport Library, the repurposing is particularly creative. For a few years now, the cafe has filled the now-obsolete wooden drawers with utensils, sugar packets and the like. It’s a great way to save space — and save what was once an integral part of the library experience.

Fred Cantor, Seth Schachter, Arleen Block, Nancy Bloom, Rich Stein, Joyce Barnhart, Nina Streitfeld, Ronna Zaken, Karen Como, Molly Alger, Mary Palmieri Gai, Ellen Wentworth, Arlene Gottlieb, Arline Gertzoff, Trammi Nguyen, Jessica Newshel and Karen Kim all identified last week’s Photo  Challenge. (Click here for the photo.)

Sure, it was easy. Let’s hope it was fun.

This week’s Photo Challenge shows several security cameras, and other electronic equipment. They’ve become part of our lives, so now we barely notice them.

But have you noticed this particular set? If so, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Diane Lowman Masters Shakespeare

Diane Lowman always had a crush on Shakespeare.

For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.

But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.

For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”

When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”

Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.

“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”

The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.

So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”

Diane Lowman with her crush, at Stratford-upon-Avon.

The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.

“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.

It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”

The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.

Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.

Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.

She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.

Diane Lowman held this rare Shakespeare folio.

Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?

“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.

She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.

The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”

As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.

It’s a trip back to the summer of 1979. Diane — a 19-year-old Middlebury College student — spent 10 weeks working on a German container ship, with a nearly all male crew.

She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.

The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as  a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.

That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.

“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”

Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”

Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.

All’s well that ends well.

 

Saugatuck StoryFest: The “Write” Way To Celebrate

From F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger to John Hersey and Peter De Vries, then on to current residents A.E. Hotchner and Jane Green, Westport has long been a writer’s town.

Back in the day, a special Rabbit Hill festival celebrated the works of local children’s author Robert Lawson.

But there’s never been a community-wide event, for all ages, dedicated to every genre imaginable: young adult, sci-fi, novels, romance, horror, even graphic novels.

Until now.

October 12-14 marks the first-ever Saugatuck StoryFest. A collaboration between the Westport Library and Westport Public Schools — held at the library, in downtown restaurants, the Senior Center and Westport Woman’s Club and Staples High School — it is wide-ranging. Interactive. And very, very cool.

Saugatuck StoryFest has been in the works for a year. Staples English teacher Kim Herzog and literacy coach Rebecca Marsick had the idea. Library executive director Bill Harmer had been thinking of the same thing. He offered the help of library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini and program/events specialist Cody Daigle-Orlans.

A $25,000 grant from the Board of Education Innovation Fund helped secure authors like Newbery Honor recipient Jason Reynolds (a keynote speaker) and National Book Award nominee Nic Stone.

Those writers drew in others. National and local authors quickly jumped on board. Over 100 authors will participate, in a variety of ways.

The planning committee included a dozen students from Staples and Bridgeport, a Bridgeport teacher, and Fairfield University’s Connecticut Writing Project director Bryan Ripley Crandall.

Jason Reynolds

They’ve created a remarkable lineup. The 3-day celebration of reading, writing and ideas kicks off Friday, October 12 with a keynote by Emmy-winning documentarian Sheila Nevins, and a concert/storytelling session with Drama Desk-nominated composer/lyricist Joe Iconis.

Saturday, October 13 includes Reynolds, Stone, best-selling children’s author Chris Grabenstein and National Book Award winner Robin Benway, plus “Game of Foams” performances on Jesup Green recreating epic battles in the “Game of Thrones” books, and hands-on activities with comic creators.

Meanwhile, the Senior Center hosts “Writing Your Next Chapter: Inspiration and Support for Those Who Have Lived Many Stories.”

Saturday night features a lit crawl and pub trivia in downtown restaurants and bars. The evening ends at the Woman’s Club with a celebration of the legacy of Ray Bradbury, courtesy of author Sam Weller and Westport’s Play With Your Food.

On Sunday, October 14 StoryFest moves to Staples. A full day of workshops, panels and a mini-BookCon kicks off with a local authors’ breakfast, and conversations between our own noted writers like Charlotte Rogan and Nina Sankovitch.

Sunday’s keynote is delivered by National Book Award nominee Ibi Zoboi. Other headliners that day include Peter Blauner, Andrew Gross and Riley Sager.

There’s much more — too much in fact for even this local writer to cram in to this story. For full details, click here.

All kinds of books are featured at Saugatuck StoryFest — including “Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania.”

Bernstein On Broadway — And The Westport Library

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The legendary composer/conductor had a profound impact on Broadway, the Philharmonic, television, young people. You name it, he touched it.

He also had strong local ties. For much of his life he had a home in Fairfield, just over the Westport line. Area residents knew him well.

Leonard Bernstein

Andrew Wilk did not. But like many children of his era, he loved Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS. They inspired his career in music and TV.

At New York University, Wilk was the only student who could read a full conductor’s score. When the CBS music coordinator was sick prior to a Lincoln Center show, Wilk’s professor got him to fill in.

The network paid him $50, and fired the other guy. At 19, Wilk won an Emmy for his work on the “Young People’s Concerts.”

He now has 4 more. And — in addition to his noted career as executive director of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — the Westporter serves as a trustee of the Westport Library.

Last year he produced the organization’s Malloy Lecture in the Arts, one of the library’s signature annual events. Past programs have featured Arthur Miller, Christo, Joshua Bell, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Plummer and Salman Rushdie.

Andrew Wilk in the “Live From Lincoln Center” remote truck, during “Falsettos.”

Wilk had just produced the film version of “Falsettos” for PBS. He brought the director and cast to the library. It sold out the day it was announced.

So it’s only natural that this year he’s reprising his producing role for the Malloy Lecture — and focusing on Leonard Bernstein.

The event — set for Monday, October 22 (7:30 p.m., Quick Center at Fairfield University) has 2 parts.

The first focuses on Bernstein and Broadway. A panel discussion with his children Nina and Alexander will be moderated by conductor/composer/ producer George Steel. Rare family footage will be shown, including scenes from their life in Fairfield.

The second half of the evening features live musical performances of iconic shows like “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.” Broadway soloists will be joined by the Staples High School Orphenians.

Musical director Michael Barrett will also perform a 4-hand piano arrangement of the “Candide Overture,” with Westport’s own internationally famed Frederic Chiu.

It will all be “a unique perspective on an amazing man,” Wilk promises.

Susan Malloy

It’s one more in the series named after a remarkable person herself. Artist and philanthropist Susan Malloy  died in 2015, age 91.

Thirteen years earlier, she had endowed the lecture series. It’s a free, public annual discussion by a person with significant cultural influence, and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.

(The Malloy Lecture in the Arts has already sold out. Call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or email boxoffice@quickcenter.com to be put on the wait list. For more information, click here.)

 

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

And The Worst Sign In Town Is …

Last week, “06880” reported on Planning and Zoning’s enforcement of the town’s longstanding ordinance against temporary signs.

The removal of dozens of placards — promoting everything from the Library book sale to (ironically) junk removal — drew dozens of comments.

It’s about time! praised some.

Governmental overreach! howled others.

Predictably, the discussion veered away from the direct topic at hand. Eric Bosch noted that there are 309 permanent signs at Compo Beach alone.

Chris Woods suggested that people send in photos of the “worst” signs in town.

Great idea! 

Here’s mine, from Wilton Road:

Hey — this is Westport! Every place here has a school bus stop ahead.

Besides, have you ever seen this sign flashing? How would that even work? Do school buses have a special method to switch on these lights?

That’s my worst/least favorite/most annoying sign (though there are many contenders). What’s yours?

Email photos to dwoog@optonline.net. And let us know exactly why that particular sign is worse than all the others.

Abstract Irony

Alert “06880” reader — and ace photographer — JP Vellotti sent me this shot, from the weekend’s Fine Arts Festival. He calls it “Abstract Irony.”

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It took me a few seconds to figure out why he gave it that title.

When I realized the reason, it fit perfectly.

If you catch the irony in JP’s image, click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association for this year’s 45th annual event.

Over 180 exhibitors in charcoal, watercolor, pastel, pencil, ink, photography, digital art, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry and wood filled Main Street, Elm Street and Church Lane.

Live music, special performances, children’s activities, food and non-profit groups’ exhibits added to the flair.

Around the corner, the Westport Library‘s annual book sale drew plenty of bargain hunters (some of whom were also paying serious prices for art).

The book (and CD) (and DVD) (and more) sale continues tomorrow (Monday, July 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half price day) and Tuesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., everything free but contributions gladly accepted).

It was a great weekend to be downtown.

And I say that without any irony whatsoever.

Friday Flashback #99

At first glance, this photo looks unremarkable.

Fred Cantor took it in 1977, he thinks — during the Great Race. That was the fun, funny and often alcohol-infused event in which people dressed in costumes, created their own vessels, ran from Taylor Place to the river, jumped in their watercraft, raced out to Cockenoe Island, filled a bag with garbage (the cheaters already carried pre-packed trash), then rowed or sailed or whatever-ed back to shore.

Meanwhile, Main Street merchants held sales. This was the scene outside Remarkable Book Shop. The stalls were always outside, but on this day they attracted huge crowds.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Great Race is (regrettably) long gone. But this weekend the Fine Arts Festival returns to Main Street. It’s a great show.

Unfortunately, few Remarkable-type stores anymore offer something else to all those art-lovers (though Savvy + Grace is worth a trip from anywhere).

Also this weekend, the Westport Library hosts its 26th annual Book Sale. Those squintillions of volumes make this Remarkable scene look, well, unremarkable. But whenever and wherever people buy books, it’s a good thing.

Finally, this Friday Flashback raises the question: Now that Remarkable Book Shop is gone — and Talbots too is a long-ago memory too — will anything ever take their place?

P&Z Signs Off: The Sequel

I was busy this afternoon, posting a story about the Planning & Zoning Department’s decision to remove all illegal signs from town-owned property.

Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix were busy too.

They did the actual removal.

The P&Z Commissioners — call them the “De-Signers” — uprooted several dozen offending placards, all over town. Many were in otherwise handsome traffic islands and gardens, like those at the eastern end of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Regulations concerning such signs have been in place since at least 2002.)

A small bit of Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix’s haul.

They’re not finished.

Every illegal sign — even those for beloved institutions like the Westport Library book sale — is fair game, Chip says.

(Photos/Chip Stephens)

Westport’s streetscape is changing. The signs are everywhere.

 

Pic Of The Day #438

 

Reading on the Library Riverwalk (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)