And the selection for the 20th anniversary of WestportREADs is … “he Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.” Westport Library — the sponsor of the annual event — will host thebestselling author, V.E. Schwab, for a keynote event February 26 (3 p.m., Zoom; click here to register).
Schwab’s compelling story is set in France, in 1714. In a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever — and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Her dazzling adventure plays out across centuries and continents, history and art, as sheh learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
“In addition to encouraging literacy and community bonding, ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ will provide some much-needed distraction during these challenging times,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer.
In past years, the Library chose books and topics that were timely and topical. This year, they say, a bit of escapism feels appropriate. They offer multiple copies of the book and discussion guides, and invite Westporters to organize their own book groups with friends and neighbors.
WestportREADS 2022 also includes companion books for younger readers. They include “Willa the Wisp” by Jonathan Auxier for younger elementary school readers, and “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt for older elementary students.
Created in 2002, WestportREADS is a community-wide event. It is supported by a generous bequest from the estate of Jerry A. Tishman.
For more information on how to obtain a physical, audiobook or e-book copy of “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” click here.
So Homes with Hope — the umbrella organization for the Gillespie Center, and a much-utilized Community Kitchen — is running a food drive. It’s this Saturday (May 1, 1 to 4 p.m., Gillespie Center, behind Barnes & Noble and Don Memo on Jesup Road).
It’s contactless: Just pull your car up, and pop the trunk.
The most needed items: canned meats (chicken, tuna, salmon, Spam); cold and hot cereals; canned soups and stews; peanut butter and jelly; mayonnaise; pasta sauce, canned vegetables.
In addition, Homes with Hope’s Community Kitchen program is gratefully accepting prepared lunches and dinners, 7 days aw eek. To become a Community Kitchen volunteer, click here. Click here for volunteer guidelines.
NOTE: During COVID, the Gillespie Center and Hoskins Place buildings are closed to the public. Staff serves all meals to shelter guests.
The Westport Library’s thought-provoking WestportREADS programming continues with virtual events this spring.
Tuesday, May 4 (7 p.m.): Ty Seidule discusses his new book, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, with Maggie Mudd. He describes how he confronted the racist legacy at the core of his identity, and challenges the persistent myths of the Lost Cause. Click here for information, and to register.
Wednesdays, May 5 and 19, June 2 (7 to 8:30 p.m.): Me and White Supremacy: The Challenge Continues. Small group discussions on Layla Saad’s groundbreaking book. Click here for information, and to register.
Thursday, May 6 (7 p.m.).: The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. The Library hosts a virtual screening of Keith A. Beauchamp’s documentary, followed by a conversation with Beauchamp and the film’s producer, Steven Laitmon. Click here for information, and to register.
Saturday, May 8 (7 p.m.): Beechwood Arts presents the 2nd AMPLIFY Festival at the Westport Library. Black artists present music, song, and theatrical works. Click here for information, and to register.
Tuesday, June 1 (12:30 p.m.): In her book, We Need New Stories: The Myths that Subvert Freedom, Nesrine Malik examines 6 political myths used to deflect and discredit demands for social justice with Catherine Lewis. Click here for information, and to register.
Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.
A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.
We do things differently here.
For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.
In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run.
Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.
Not even COVID can slow it down.
The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.
This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”
The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).
Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.
Layla F. Saad
Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.
In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.
The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.
“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”
WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.
The United States has never had a female president.
Then again, 101 years ago women were not allowed to vote.
As the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920 — the Westport Library joins in. A year-long series of events looks back on that then-controversial decision.
They’ll also examine the current voting landscape. A century after half the country finally joined participatory democracy, our country grapples with issues like voter suppression, and the security of our ballots.
The library’s programs are part of its first-ever year-long WestportREADS initiative. Formerly a one-month event, it’s now expanded into a full campaign: “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders.”
More than a year ago, Westporters Lucy Johnson and Marcia Falk asked director Bill Harmer if the library could note the upcoming 19th Amendment anniversary.
He embraced the idea, and suggested it fall under the WestportREADS umbrella. The program encourages the entire community to read the same book, and organizes events around that theme.
Last fall’s kickoff featured journalist Elaine Weiss. She discussed her book “The Woman’s Hour,” a riveting account of the far-harder-than-it-should-have-been political and social drive to pass the amendment.
The next book event focuses on fiction. On Tuesday, March 3 (7 p.m.), Kate Walbert welcomes Women’s History Month with a discussion of “A Short History of Women.”
Her novel explores the ripples of the suffrage movement through one family, starting in 1914 at the deathbed of suffragist Dorothy Townsend. It follows her daughter, watches her niece choose a more conventional path, and completes the family portrait with a great-granddaughter in post-9/11 Manhattan.
The battle for suffrage was long and hard.
But that’s only part of the WestportREADS schedule.
Here are just a few other events:
The League of Women Voters tells its story (February 9, 1:30 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club)
“Battle of the Sexes” video, about the groundbreaking tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (February 18, 2 p.m., Westport Library Komansky Room)
Opening reception for an exhibit on Westport women central to the suffrage movement (March 6, 6 p.m., Westport Library Sheffer Room)
Talk about Lillian Wald, social activist and founder of the Henry Street Settlement who retired to Westport (March 18, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum).
Lillian Wald: social justice warrior, and Westporter.
Authors, historians and journalists will present other panels and exhibits through August. That month — marking final ratification of the 19th Amendment (you go, Tennessee!) — WestportREADS sponsors a final, big program. Details will be announced soon.
Working on this project has been enlightening, Johnson says.
“The fight for suffrage began long before the 20th century,” she notes. “It took a long time. But without television, the internet or social media — through sheer will and determination, with marches and lobbying, state by state — people got it done. It was an amazing feat.”
The library has partnered with the League of Women Voters. Representatives will be at every event, to enroll new voters.
All women are encouraged to register.
All men, too.
(For more information on the “Westport Suffragists” WestportREADS program, click here.)
Much of the town just finished WestportREADS. This year’s novel — “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid — focused on 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run.
A great book — but a bit much for elementary school readers.
No problem. Kings Highway just finished something very similar.
Everyone in school — all grade levels — read “Masterpiece,” Elise Broach’s mystery novel about friendship and stolen art.
Entire families were encouraged to read together at night. There were school-wide assemblies and online activities. Teachers recorded chapters on computers, so youngsters could listen at home or in the car.
There was a surprise ending: Broach herself showed up, to read the final chapter to students.
Author Elise Broach reads to Kings Highway Elementary School students.
It was a fun project for everyone. But then they took things a step further.
The school’s motto is “Kindness Happens at our School.” (The acronym is KHS — get it?!)
So when they were done, the kids donated their “gently loved” copies to the James J. Curiale School in Bridgeport. Now everyone there is doing the same school-wide reading too.
One book. Two schools. Too cool!
A bulletin board shows some of the many ways Kings Highway students read “Masterpiece.”
WestportREADS ended a few days ago. But for 2 months folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Mohsin Hamid’s novel about 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run. (Photo/Westport Library)
As Americans debate a slew of important items, immigration stands at the top of any list.
Here in Westport, we’re far removed from our southern border. The Wall is an abstraction — not a reality — to most of us.
But — for one reason or another — the immigrant experience resonates with nearly every Westporter.
This month, several events shine historical, artistic, literary and nuanced lights on a variety of immigration stories.
On Friday, January 18 (6 to 8 p.m.), Saugatuck Congregational Church opens an intriguing exhibit.
“Art Across Borders” features the work of 18 area artists, from Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. All migrated to the US. Each will share his or her own story, through art. The bold, emotional exhibit is curated by Rene Soto, owner of a gallery with the same name in South Norwalk.
One of the pieces on display at the Saugatuck Church — by Jose Munoz, from Guatelama.
“Lots of people come to the US — and to this area — for better lives,” says Saugatuck Church Arts Committee member Priscilla Long. “And many of those people express themselves through art.”
Saugatuck Church has long been concerned with social justice. This show is a natural outgrowth of that commitment. The exhibit will remain up for a month. Click here or call 203-227-1261 for more information.
The following week, a different house of worship offers a different program, on a different immigrant experience.
In June 0f 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees escaping Nazi terror on the SS St. Louis were within sight of Florida. Heartbreakingly, they were denied safe haven by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Canada also refused entry.
Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis.
The captain returned the ship to Europe, where countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France accepted some refugees. Many, however, were later caught in Nazi roundups of Jews in occupied countries. Historians estimate that a quarter died in death camps during World War II
Three passengers who survived — Judith Steel, Sonja Geismar and Eva Wiener — will be in Westport on Thursday, January 24. At 7 p.m., Chabad on Newtown Turnpike will screen “Complicit” — a film about the SS St. Louis’ ill-fated journey. The trio will participate in a post-film Q-and-A, led by its creator/producer Robert Krakow.
Click here for more information. Tickets are $25 for adults, $18 for students.
Meanwhile, all month long — and into February — the Westport Library sponsors WestportREADS. This year’s book is Exit West. Novelist Mohsin Hamid follows 2 refugees who — against all odds — find life and love while fleeing civil war.
WestportREADS activities include book discussions, a conversation with migration experts, art exploration, world dance instruction, storytelling, music, genealogy research, and a presentation by a Syrian refugee family sponsored by members of the Westport community.
Click here for a complete calendar, and full details.
Unless you’re an original Pequot*, every Westporter is an immigrant.
Each of us has a story about how our family got to this country.
Tomorrow — and twice more next month — you can tell yours.
As part of this year’s WestportREADS — the selection is Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, an award-winning novel about 2 refugees who find life and love on the run — the Westport Library and Westport Historical Society are collaborating on an exhibit.
“Liberty to Set Down: Immigrants and Migrants in Westport, Connecticut” will be displayed at the WHS from January 23 to June 30.
But to do that, they need us to provide stories, pictures and artifacts.
They’ll be collected — and images and physical objects can be scanned — tomorrow (Thursday, December 27) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Historical Society on Avery Place.
The other dates are Saturday, January 12 (11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Westport Library) and Wednesday, January 16 (10 a.m. to noon, Senior Center).
Everyone has a story. Don’t miss this opportunity to share yours!
The other day, “06880” celebrated the end of WestportREADS — this year’s book explored World War I — and the 100th anniversary of the “Great War” armistice with a story on military contributions of Westport artists a century ago.
This photo did not make it into the story. But it provides a fascinating peek into a local link between two wars that, today, we think of as completely distinct from each other.
As the caption notes, the photo above shows “soldiers, sailors and veterans from World War I and the Civil War.” They posed together on “Welcome Home Day.”
Three Westport Civil War veterans were there: James H. Sowle, Christopher Tripp and Edwin Davis. Sowle — in the 2nd full row, 2nd from right — presented medals to the newest veterans.
Three things strike me as noteworthy.
First, for a small town, the number of men serving seems remarkable.
Second, though Westport was still a small town in 1918, much had changed in the more than half century since the War Between the States.
Third, 50 years after this photo was taken, American would have fought — and helped win — World War II. We fought to a standstill in Korea. And then got mired in Vietnam.
There would be no more “Welcome Home Day” ceremonies then.
This year’s program — in which the entire town is encouraged to read the same book, then participate in discussions, lectures, videos and more — focused on “Regeneration.” Pat Barker’s historical fiction features a British officer who refuses to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.
The novel inspired Kathie Motes Bennewitz to do some digging.
The town arts curator knew that when “The Great War” began, Westport was already a thriving arts colony.
What, she wondered, was the connection between local artists and World War I? Kathie writes:
Over 220 Westport men fought in the US armed forces. Many were “doughboys,” a nickname given to soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces.
We know from wartime draft records the names of many artists who lived here in 1917, as every man ages 18-45 was required to register. Among the residents were Karl Anderson, Edmund M. Ashe, E. F. Boyd, Robert Leftwitch Dogde, Arthur Dove, Ernest Fuhr, Ossip Linde, Lawrence Mazzanovich, Henry Raleigh, Clive Weed and George Hand Wright.
While Ashe, Mazzanovich and Dodge registered as national guardsmen with the Connecticut Militia, many others were too old to do so. So they used their talents to serve the home front in other ways.
Editorial cartoonist Clive Weed, a summer resident since 1910, made spirited illustrations on wartime events, like this one: “He Might Be YOUR Boy,” for the Philadelphia Public Ledger.
George Hand Wright drew similar illustrations.
Other Westporters — including Ashe, Boyd, Fuhr, Raleigh and Wright — created graphic posters to recruit servicemen and nurses, or urge citizens to purchase Liberty Bonds to finance the war. One example is Ashe’s “Lend the Way They Fight” (below), which shows an American infantryman hurling a hand grenade at German soldiers in a trench on the western front of France.
Hundreds of posters like this were made, raising $21.5 billion for the war effort. Here’s one from Raleigh:
In August 1918 — only months before the war ended — Anderson joined creative and patriotic forces with his Westport neighbors Mazzanovich and Linde to paint a billboard advertising war stamps, in downtown Bridgeport. The trio were filmed in action by the government for a newsreel, which was shown in movie houses nationwide.
When the war ended, younger artists flocked to Westport.
Kerr Eby, James Daugherty, and Ralph Boyer and his future wife Rebecca A. Hunt had each served as camoufleurs. They painted camouflage — a novel and demanding job.
Eby — assigned to the Camouflage Division of the US. Army 40th Engineers, Artillery Brigade in France — had it the hardest. Working on the front, he produced camouflage for artillery and troops. He also made drawings of the horrific images he witnessed on the battlefield.
Boyer and his art school friend Daugherty were both assigned to Baltimore for another important job: to execute “dazzle” painting designed to protect Navy vessels from enemy site and fire.
This new art involved painting abstract murals on ships that would soon be loaded with troops and ammunition. Swinging from a bosun’s seat, the artist laid the design on the side. A gang of painters followed rapidly behind, cutting in the geometric pattern with precision.
USS Leviathan in “dazzle” camouflage, 1918.
“The result was supposed to confuse and befuddle the German submarine gunner,” Daughtery said. “It could hardly do less.”
Of course, Westport’s most enduring legacy of World War I is the Doughboy statue at Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Bennewitz explains:
Sculptor J. Clinton Shepherd was another wartime camoufleur. He served in the Illinois National Reserve and Air Corps. When he moved to Westport in 1925, the town had voted to erect a monument to honor its soldiers and nurses, who had returned from the front, and memorialize the 7 who had died.
In 1928 Shepherd received the commission. He sensitively rendered a life-sized soldier “with a pensive expression to memorialize the personal side of that ‘war to end all wars.'”
Dedication of the Doughboy statue in 1930. It was located on the grass median dividing the Post Road, between what is now Torno Lumber and the former Bertucci’s restaurant. This view looks east. The statue was moved in the 1980s to its current location opposite Town Hall (below).
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