Tag Archives: Westport Library

R.L. Stine To Star At Saugatuck StoryFest

When Alex Giannini told his mother that R.L. Stine was coming to Westport — he’s the keynote speaker for the Westport Library’s Saugatuck StoryFest next month — she said, “That’s all you read as a kid.”

“I know,” the library’s manager of experiential learning said. “He’s one of the main reasons I read the authors I read today.”

R.L. Stine (Photo/Dan Nelken)

Alex is not alone. Nearly every American under the age of 45 or so was weaned on Stine’s works: the dozens of “Goosebumps” books — and many other fiction/horror/ thriller works — by the man called “the Stephen King of children’s literature. He has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide.

On Saturday, September 28, his many fans of all ages get a chance to see him in the flesh. Stine will speak for half an hour in the Forum, answer questions, and autograph copies of his latest book, “Slappy World.”

Stine’s appearance was confirmed only recently. Library officials learned he was coming the morning their Saugatuck StoryFest brochure was going to press.

He joins an impressive list of authors and others appearing at the 2nd annual event. Co-sponsored by the Westport Public Schools, it’s an innovative, immersive 3-day experience, celebrating a wide variety of genres and interests.

Last year’s celebration of writing and stories drew more than 3,000 people, from around the tri-state region. This year’s event — held entirely at the newly transformed Library — builds on that foundation.

The theme for Thursday, September 26 is “Beyond Our Earth.” The StoryFest starts with a 6 p.m. “Gravity” show by new media artist Balam Soto. Using the Forum’s video wall, he’ll help participants “move planets” and “shape the fabric of space-time” with their fingertips.

He’s followed by Ray Bradbury’s biographer, Sam Weller, and Kate Howells, the author of “Space is Cool as Fuck,” who takes audiences on an interplanetary adventure far beyond our galaxy. The library can’t say it quite this way, but it will be exactly what the title promises.

Friday, September 27 — the only day of the 3 that is not free — features Mallory O’Meara (author of “The Lady from the Black Lagoon”), Broadway’s Rob Rokicki (“The Lightning Thief”), illustrator Dave O’Neill and the cast of Broadway performers for Rokicki’s “Monstersongs,” a rock musical song cycle celebrating literary monsters.

Joining Stine on Saturday, September 28 for a full day of panels and book signings are Tiffany Jackson, L.L. McKinney, Stoker Award winners Gwendolyn Kiste and Paul Tremblay, Hugo Award winner Seanan McGuire, horror editor Ellen Datlow, bestselling thriller writers Lynne Constantine and Wendy Walker, and more.

Saugatuck StoryFest promises to be an entertaining, fun, family-friendly 3-day celebration.

It’s enough to give you goosebumps.

(For more information on Saugatuck StoryFest — including panels and times — click here.)

Friday Flashback #154

The opening of the transformed Westport Library brought back memories of the original — and reminders, once again, that it was built on what was once the “town dump.”

Alert — and historic minded — “06880” reader Fred Cantor found a fascinating aerial photo, published by the Town Crier in 1965

(Photo/Robert Lentini)

Back then, the library was located in the building at the lower left of the photo. Today it’s the site of Starbucks, Freshii and other tenants.

Across the Post Road — at the foot of what we now call the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — is a block of shops and apartments that burned in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Today it’s South Moon Under, and other stores.

But the most fascinating part of the photo is seen beyond Jesup Green and the Taylor Place parking lot. There — in the center of town — sat the Rogers Little League baseball diamond. The dugouts are about where the upper entrance to the library lot is today. (Why is it so bumpy now? Landfill.)

Unfortunately, the photo does not show what lies beyond left and center field. That was the town dump.

It smelled. It attracted seagulls. It was not uncommon for the birds to swoop near unsuspecting outfielders, attempting to catch flies (the baseball variety).

Around that time — perhaps a few years later — Westport artist Arthur Cady drew a series of Westport scenes.

(Illustration by Arthur Cady/courtesy of Jim Ezzes)

This one may have been a bit of artistic license. I don’t think the dump was quite that close to downtown.

But it sure was near to what is now Tiffany, nestling right behind on Taylor Place.

Exciting New Project Is “Write Here” In Westport

The Westport Library attracts plenty of writers.

And not just in the stacks, or for book talks.

It’s a wonderful place for anyone — published author, budding writer, wannabe — of any age to sit and create.

Choose your spot: the big tables in the Forum, one of the smaller community rooms, a bench on the Riverwalk.

There are other places in Westport to write, of course. The Senior Center and Westport Writers’ Workshop offer classes. The Saugatuck Story Lab is a welcoming space too.

Jan Bassin.

But Jan Bassin believes our town pulses with places that can inspire words. To jump-start those muses, she’s teamed up with the library to offer a month-long community writing project.

Every day during August, Bassin — Senior Center coordinator of writing programs, and the library’s Maker-in-Residence — will host an hour-long write-in.

Every day, it will be at a different spot.

The Playhouse. Compo Beach. The Farmers’ Market. The boardwalk at National Hall. Longshore. The train station.

You name it — if it’s in Westport you’ll find Bassin, and writers of every age and ability, all month long.

Each “Write Here” (get it?) session begins with a brief introduction from a representative of that location. Bassin will provide a prompt. Writers will then free-write: prose, poetry, first-person, creative, whatever. At the end, anyone who wants to can share their creations.

“The act of writing connects us to ourselves and our community,” Bassin says. “When you write somewhere, you feel connected to that spot.”

One example: At Wakeman Town Farm, the prompt might spur one person to write about her memories of growing up on a farm. Someone else might react to the sights and smells of WTF itself. A third person might be inspired to create a poem about animals.

Scenes like this could inspire some great writing.

The project kicks off this Thursday (August 1, 12 noon, Westport Library). I’ve been known to write a few stories about “06880,” so I’ll join Jan Bassin to talk briefly about writing in Westport.

Then we’ll turn it over to you all, for your own words.

Every “Write Here” session is free. You can come to as many or as few as you want. You can read your writing aloud, or keep it private.

“Write Here” will evolve, Bassin expects. She may create a website for writers who want their words to live on (by name, or anonymously).

You might even be inspired to submit a “Write Here” story to “06880.”

You know: this blog, right here.

(For more information about “Write Here: Westport,” click here.)

Newest Vending Machine: Library Laptops

The Westport Library opened its transformed space last month.

The big celebration was hardly a one-off. We’re in the midst of “30 Days of the Westport Library.”

Giveaways, demos, pop-up performances, movies, talks — there’s always something new going on there.

Lost in all the hubbub may be one of the coolest innovations of all.

Right there in the Hub — the center of all the activity — is a vending machine.

For laptops.

For the price of a library card — in other words, free — anyone 12 or older can check out a Mac or PC for up to 2 hours.

The laptop kiosk is activated by a library card — either the actual one, or the one on your app. The 7 Macs and 7 PCs are in the slots below.

They’re great for people who forget their laptops. For those who don’t like lugging them around. For kids, who love vending machines.

And for anyone else who enjoys the flexibility and technological innovations of the new library.

But — just as there are still DVDs and CDs on the floor — if you’re a desktop fan, the library’s got you covered. Three of those machines are available around the corner; 7 more are on the lower level.

They’re just not as much fun to check out.

Westport’s Poet Laureate Raps With “06880”

During her 22 years in Westport, Diane Meyer Lowman has done a lot.

As her 2 sons moved through the school system, she was involved in many PTA ventures, including ArtSmart. She helped formalize and coordinate Staples High School’s library volunteer program, and was on the district’s food committee.

She was a substitute Spanish teacher, at Staples and the middle schools. She did pro bono nutritional consulting for Homes with Hope. She teaches yoga at Town Hall.

But until a few days ago, Diane — a graduate of Middlebury College, with a master’s in Shakespeare studies from Britain’s University of Birmingham — had never been Westport’s poet laureate.

That’s okay. Until a few days ago, we’d never had a poet laureate either.

Diane Lowman (Photo/Jane LaMotta)

If you missed the announcement, you’re not alone. It came in the middle of the Westport Library’s opening-day ceremonies. (The library was part of the selection process, along with the superintendent of schools’ office and the town Arts Advisory Committee, which manages the poet laureate program.)

The application process was rigorous: a resume, personal statement, 4 letters of recommendation, and several interviews. “It was like applying to college,” she says.

So what exactly does Westport’s poet laureate do?

Good question.

The job description includes the importance of promoting poetry as a form of communication, inspiration and entertainment; expanding and promoting awareness and appreciation of poetry and writing in general, and advocating for poetry, literature and the arts.

Diane admits she is not a poet, per se. (She has, however, written 1600 haiku.)

“This is the inaugural position,” she says. “There’s no template. But I’ve got some good ideas.”

They include working closely with schools, the library and the arts community; helping students and senior citizens collaborate through writing; organizing poetry slams at places like Toquet Hall and the library; bringing a “Poetry on Demand” desk (and local poets) to townwide events; putting bulletin boards around Westport, for anyone to post poems; working with ArtSmart, the Westport Arts Center and Artists’ Collective of Westport to include poetry alongside exhibitions; integrating poetry into WestportREADS — stuff like that.

“I wake up every morning thinking of something new,” Diane says.

She welcomes ideas from the community. “This is not about me. It’s about Westport,” she explains.

Diane knows that the word “poetry” can be intimidating to some people. When she studied Shakespeare, she realized that his name too carries “a cultural cachet that can feel elitist or off-putting.”

But, she insists, “everyone can read and write poetry. It’s just another way to communicate feelings. It makes us realize how much we all have in common, whether we’re seniors in high school or seniors at the Senior Center.”

Her favorite poets are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and her son Dustin. (He’s midway through an MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her other son, Devon, is an artist and art  handler, also in Chicago.)

Devon, Diane and Dustin Lowman.

There’s no type of poetry Diane does not like — except “poems that intentionally try to be difficult. Challenge is fine. Thinking, reflecting, questioning — that’s good. But it’s not good to make someone feel dumb or stuck.”

Westport’s new poet laureate — who began her honorary, non-compensated 2-year post on July 1 — is both excited and humbled.

“I’m so appreciative of this community,” Diane says. “I’m so glad to be able to give back to it. I know it sounds trite, but I’m very enthusiastic and excited.”

No, not at all.

Not trite; quite right.

(Westport poet laureate Diane Meyer Lowman welcomes all suggestions and ideas. Email waac@westportct.gov — with “Poetry” in the subject line — or dilo922@gmail.com)

Library Cafe’s Mystic-al Tale

Westport Library officials anticipated a big crowd at their “transformation” opening last Sunday.

They just didn’t figure it would be so big.

After a brass band led hundreds into the new building at 11:15, they swarmed into the new space. People oohed and aahed over the Forum, the recording studio, the children’s section, art galleries and reading rooms.

And they lined up, 20 deep, for sandwiches, salads, baked goods and coffee in the new café.

By 1:30, the library had run out of food.

They called Mystic Market — their new partner. Barely half an hour later, the café was fully restocked.

Heli Stagg in the library cafe, with prepared food from Mystic Market, baked goods from Sono Baking Company, and the brand-new espresso machine.

Mystic Market’s popularity has grown steadily, since opening a couple of months ago in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow Charles Street site near the train station.

Now, library users far beyond Saugatuck are discovering the market’s magic too.

The new partnership “was meant to be,” says Heli Stagg, Westport Library retail and café manager.

As the library expanded, she’d searched for a new partner. Oscar’s was the first, when the small original café opened several years ago. After owner Lee Papageorge died, Gold’s took over. Both were “great,” Stagg says.

But with the transformation project nearly complete, the library wanted to offer more than basic salads and sandwiches.

Stagg had heard raves about Mystic Market’s prepared foods. When she met general manager David Griswold, the first thing he offered was a tour of their state-of-the-art kitchen.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Stagg was impressed. Serendipitously, the market’s owners — Mystic-based Coastal Gourmet Group — were there for a meeting. She invited them to the still-under-construction library.

A few minutes in, they told her, “We have to do this.”

“Their food is excellent,” she says. “We want a high-end vendor. And we want them to succeed. This is a win for both of us.”

Mystic Market is not the only café partner. SoNo Baking Company is in its 4th year providing baked goods.

As with Mystic Market, Stagg had heard good things about the Norwalk-based firm. When she met the owners — and tasted their food — she was sold.

With both companies, Stagg says, “we’re doing exactly what the library likes to do everywhere: make connections. We want people to enjoy the café, and learn about businesses they might not know.”

Patrons enjoy the new Westport Library cafe inside …

The transformed library has made one more connection: with Food Rescue US.

That’s the innovate group that uses an app to match supermarkets, restaurants (and library cafēs!) having leftover food, with volunteers who can pick it up and deliver to shelters, kitchens and pantries.

Now — like Westport Library patrons — they too can enjoy the Mystic Market and SoNo Baking bounty.

… and out.

Pic Of The Day #797

The transformed Westport Library opened today. One key feature: a new entrance on Jesup Green. Moments before the ribbon-cutting, youngsters enjoy the once-overlooked sculpture nearby. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Westport Celebrates: Transformation Complete, Library Opens!

If you want to know what kind of town Westport is, consider this:

On a Sunday morning — the most beautiful day of summer (so far) — 1,000 or so men, women and kids turned out to celebrate the re-opening of our library.

Plus this: The multi-year project came in on time.

And within budget.

A large crowd waited for the opening ceremony.

There were brief speeches by Governor Ned Lamont and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Governor Ned Lamont — whose family endowed a library at Harvard University — talks about their importance.

A band played. Dozens of kids jumped in for the ribbon-cutting.

Kids celebrate, moments after 1st Selectman Jim Marpe cut the ribbon.

Then everyone clambered up the very new stairs, to the great new entrance. As Marpe noted, the library — originally a gift from Morris Jesup — now embraces Jesup Green, named for the founder’s family.

A brass band plays, as the crowd streams up the steps.

It’s a spectacular building we can all be proud of. It will evolve and be used in ways we have not yet even imagined.

Within minutes of the opening, the grandstand was packed.

Today was a great day for Westport. If you haven’t seen it yet: The festivities continue until 4 p.m.

To all who made today possible — especially our amazing library director Bill Harmer — thank you!

Music on the main stage, dance, podcasts, educational sessions, even composting and bees — it’s all on, all afternoon at the new library, until 4 pm. (All photos/Dan Woog)

Governor Lamont To Cut The Library Ribbon

Tomorrow’s fun, festive Westport Library Transformation Project ribbon-cutting ceremony just got more high-powered.

Governor Lamont has agreed to do the honors.

The event starts promptly at 11 a.m. Everyone will gather on Jesup Green, at the new “Grand Staircase.”

Andrew Wilk will introduce First Selectman Jim Marpe. He’ll say a few words, and introduce the governor.

The new Jesup Green grand staircase.

After the ribbon-cutting, the Hartford Hot Several Brass Band will play. They’ll lead the crowd into the new Library. The Forum will be the site of the first official event: a few short words from Library board president Iain Bruce, project architect Henry Myerberg, and executive director Bill Harmer.

Then comes 5 hours of interactive fun. Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.

See you at the Grand Staircase!

Library Transformation Is Complete. Grand Reopening Set For Sunday!

Few things in life exceed my expectations.

The Westport Library’s transformation project does.

I’ve written about the remarkable process that, over the past 18 months, has turned what was already a town jewel into a sparkling diamond.

I won’t go into all the details here. Suffice it to say that from top (expanded children’s section, more meeting rooms, wider balcony) to bottom (nestle between the stacks and the river) — with special attention paid to the main Forum floor (state-of-the-art stage, amazing people-watching pyramid, beautiful reading rooms, recording studio, brand-new café) and outside (shape-shifting stairs and entrance on Jesup Green) — the transformed library will awe all who use it. And everyone else downtown too.

Artist’s rendering of the main floor Forum. Come see for yourself on Sunday!

The public gets its first look at it all this Sunday (June 23).

A ribbon-cutting takes place at 11, on the new Jesup stairs. After a couple of brief speeches, the library will host 5 hours of fun, interactive events.

Bands, artists, live podcasts, a performance by world-renowned/Westport neighbor pianist Frederic Chiu, children’s music, discussions, acoustic guitar, dance, exhibits, MakerSpace demos — that and much more is in store.

Community partners like Earthplace, the Westport Historical Society, Wakeman Town Farm and Westport Garden Club will welcome the library into its new home.

Click here for full details.

Then book it!

The new Jesup Green main level entrance.