Tag Archives: WestportREADS

Party Like A Gatsby

If you weren’t at Gerry Kuroghlian’s fascinating talk about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in Westport last Saturday — well, the event was last Saturday; they were here in 1920 — you were not alone.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept -- and partied -- here.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald slept — and partied — here.

The only folks who heard the beloved former Staples English teacher were the lucky 20 whose names were drawn after attending WestportREADS events all last month. (The book WestportREADS read was The Great Gatsby. The talk was held in the actual home the Fitzgeralds lived in during their wild time here.)

In addition to snapshots of Westport back in the day — most of the town was farmland, Saugatuck was an isolated area populated by immigrants, Green’s Farms was the wealthiest part of town — “Dr. K” painted a vivid picture of Westport’s wild side.

  • A Marmon.

    A Marmon.

    In the summer of 1920, Scott and Zelda put most of their money into a 1917 Marmon. They set out on a drive to the country, even though neither of them had had driving lessons. They stopped in Rye, but Zelda didn’t like it. So they headed for Lake Champlain, stopping in Westport for lunch. With Zelda at the wheel they crashed into a fire plug on Main Street, near what is now Onion Alley. The car was gutted.

  • They ended up living for a few months at 244 Compo Road South. Built in 1758, it was known as a “Switch House” — a switching station for people coming from downtown by trolley to switch to another trolley to get to the beach. Obviously, if you’d just gutted your car…
  • F. Scott and Zelda partied hard, hitting all of the speakeasies around. (There were plenty.) Their favorite drink was orange juice and gin.

Kuroghlian said that Fitzgerald’s books The Beautiful and the Damned and The Great Gatsby were heavily influenced by his time in Westport. The house was strong enough to withstand huge parties, while Westport — which voted against Prohibition — was a perfect place for the hard-living couple.

Great Gatsby partyIf you missed Saturday’s discussion — or any other WestportREADS event — you’ve got one more chance. And this final chapter may be only slightly less crazy than F. Scott and Zelda’s high-flying summer.

This Saturday night, the Westport Library turns into a speakeasy. There will be  swanky gin cocktails (legal, now), live jazz and dancing.

The only way to attend is by registering online (click here). You’ll receive a password to get in.

Guests are encouraged to wear Roaring ’20s garb.

Which, according to some reports, is a lot more than F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald wore to some of their Westport parties.

Channeling Gatsby

You gotta hand it to Westport. When this town embarks on a project, it’s not half-assed.

Take WestportREADS. The 10th annual program — in which everyone reads the same book, then joins in a month of activities related (sometimes, um, tangentially) to it — begins next month. This year’s selection is The Great Gatsby.

Westport READS

In addition to the usual (a discussion of The American Dream; a reading by Frank Deford; films about the ’20s; a headband-making workshop;  Charleston dance lessons, and much more), there’s a talk by former Staples High School English instructor (and Gatsby expert) Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian.

What’s so great about that last one?

Oh, not much. Just that it’s in the house Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in in 1920. Where, it is said, he got the inspiration to write — you guessed it — The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

I hope there’s wine and cheese. Because being as realistic as possible — bringing back Prohibition — is just not a good idea.

(For the full WestportREADS program of events, click here.)

Amelia Earhart Lands In Westport

Three years ago, at the end of a Westport Library “Booked for the Evening” event, Sue Davis thanked director Maxine Bleiweis for a lovely evening. Sue said she’d enjoyed the broad cross-section of the community that had come together, and casually offered to get more involved with the library.

Within days, she was the new chair of WestportREADS.

For a few years, Sue had read the book selected for the annual project (the entire town is encouraged to read the same work; over the course of a month the library sponsors lectures, films and other special programs based on that book’s theme, encouraging a “community dialogue”).

But she’d never gone to any of the events. “I was busy raising my kids,” she says. “I didn’t go out at night.”

Quickly, Sue grew enamored with WestportREADS.

“It was so exciting to watch it all unfold,” she explains. “The entire staff — especially Joan (Hume) and Marta (Campbell) — take one book. They brainstorm companion books that are appropriate for all different age groups. They think about all the aspects of the book, and find an amazing group of speakers.”

This year’s book — the 9th annual — is I Was Amelia Earhart, Jane Mendelsohn’s novel that continues the story from the day the pioneering aviator and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific. Here, Earhart returns to life to tell about her childhood, marriage, public life and eventual fate.

“Joan and Marta look at Amelia Earhart as one of the first true feminists,” Sue says. “So they’re bringing in Susan Ware, a leading feminist biographer, to talk about that idea. If I’d read the book on my own, I don’t think I’d have made that connection.”

As director of WestportREADS, one of Sue’s jobs is to help encourage the entire community to participate, in whatever programs appeal to them. Her reward comes at random moments — standing in a supermarket line, say, overhearing a young woman and an older man talk about that year’s book.

She’s also looking forward to a tropical island-themed party. (In the novel, Earhart and her navigator land on a tiny island called Nikumaroro).

There will be music, a variety of rums, and plenty of fun. “It’s a fun-raiser, not a fund-raiser,” Sue says. The event builds on the success of last year’s first-ever party — New Orleans-themed, because the novel was Zeitoun, a riveting tale set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I Was Amelia Earhart is “a quick, easy read,” Sue says.

She adds, “I might not have chosen it myself. And when I read it, I didn’t really get it. But at our first meeting with Marta, talking about all the different points of human interest — and all the ways WestportREADS could go with it — I understood how important it will be in creating the sense of community we want.

“And now that we’ve got all these great events planned, I realize how great this choice really is.”

This year’s WestportREADS includes a talk by the author, films, book discussions, talks about Amelia Earhart, displays of aviator photographs and paper airplanes, a flight simulation game for teens, and the tropical island party. All events are free and open to the public, except for the party which requires tickets. For a full schedule of events, click here.

The program begins Tuesday, January 3 (2 p.m.) with the movie “Amelia.” A poetry contest for all Westport students is open now through January 13. For details and submission guidelines, watch the YouTube video below.


Other places have community-wide reading months.

Westport is not “other places.”

For WestportREADS — the 8th annual event in which individuals, families and organizations read, discuss and share the same book — Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis and her staff have created a series of lectures, movies, music and more that is a local, literary version of Mardi Gras.

The analogy is apt.  Zeitoun — the 2011 WestportREADS book — is a riveting tale that leaves no inch of New Orleans unexplored.

Dave Eggers — a young, cool and very insightful writer — describes the true tale of Syrian-American Abdulrahman Zeitoun, his American wife Kathy, and their 4 children, as they are buffeted by 2 of America’s toughest challenges:  the war on terror, and Hurricane Katrina.

The library says:  “Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is an inspiring story of one family’s unthinkable struggle with wind, water, and forces beyond.”

With its themes of heroism, chaos, tolerance and stereotypes, Zeitoun practically begs to be read — and responded to.  The library has devised many ways to do that.

But, in typical WestportREADS fashion, plenty more thought-provoking programming builds upon the book’s base.

  • Tomorrow (Wed., Jan 5, 7:30 p.m.) Dr. James Hansen — arguably America’s leading climatologist — will discuss the hurricane’s relationship with climate change.
  • On Thursday (Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m.), New Orleans author Tom Piazza talks about the culture and uncertain future of this great city.
  • This Sunday (Jan. 9, 1:30 p.m.), the movie “My Name is Khan” follows an autistic Muslim man from India who — following 9/11 and a personal tragedy — embarks on an inspiring journey to prove his loyalty.
  • Next week (Wed., Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m.) 3 intriguing women — a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew — discuss how their search for understanding led them to found The Faith Club.
  • Later (Thurs., Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m.) Columbia University provost Dr. Claude Steele tackles the topic of stereotypes, and their effect on everyone.
  • “Zeitoun Monologues” — original staged readings by New Orleans playwright Rob Florence, with casting assembled by Westport’s Carole Schweid — is set for Sat., Jan. 29 (7:30 p.m.).
  • Throughout the month there are book discussions — some led by the library, others not.
  • And — if all this jawing and thinking tires you out — get ready for Friday, Feb. 11 (8 p.m.).  A big party features live jazz, and New Orleans cuisine.  It’s a fundraiser for both the library and the Zeitoun Foundation.

“When WestportREADS happens, so do connections,” Bleiweis says.

“People meet their neighbors.  And they talk about things they otherwise don’t.”

New Orleans has plenty of stereotypes — good and bad.  So do Muslims.

And so does Westport.

WestportREADS offers an opportunity to burrow beneath the surface of those stereotypes.

And read a great book, too.

(For more information on WestportREADS, click here or call 203-291-4800.  There are 2 companion books for children: Two Bobbies (about a cat and dog left behind during Katrina) for the youngest readers, and Ninth Ward (about a girl and her grandmother in the hurricane) for upper elementary and some middle school readers.)

A Lot Of Hot Air?

Last Wednesday, the New York Times published a long story on global warming.

In scary, yet very scientific, terms, it examined the ongoing controversy over the seemingly irrefutable fact that every day, the world pours more carbon dioxide into the air.

Next Wednesday– at 7:30 p.m. on January 5 — Dr. James Hansen will speak at the Westport Library.

Dr. James Hansen

He’s the man who brought global warming to the world’s attention in the 1980s, in testimony before Congress.  With a background in both space and earth sciences, he has a broad perspective on the status and prospects of our little planet.

Hansen is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, an adjunct professor at Columbia, and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

His library appearance is part of WestportREADS month.  The 2011 book is Zeitoun — Dave Eggers’ account of a devout Muslim’s life during and after Hurricane Katrina.

The tie-in with that horrible hurricane is important:  global warming may be implicated in rising sea levels, and a rise in fierce hurricanes.

Every Westporter should put James Hansen’s library appearance on their calendars.  We’re a shoreline community — and global warming may have a major impact on our shore.  Some believe it already has.

Sure, the talk will be on a mid-winter night.  But it’s worth venturing out to.  Just bundle up.

Or not.

Compo Beach, a few years from now?