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Category Archives: General

Brendan Kiely, Jason Reynolds, and Boston Public Library Visit DYS

Posted on October 28th, 2016 by awilliams in General

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Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds speak youth in the DYS residential programs in Dorchester.

Boston Public Library’s partnership with the Massachusetts juvenile justice agency, the Department of Youth Services (DYS), is one of the key ways that BPL helps connect people of all ages and backgrounds with books that reflect their lived experiences. As part of these outreach efforts at DYS, on Wednesday, October 5th the Boston Public Library brought Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, coauthors of the young adult book All American Boys, which examines police brutality from the perspective of two characters, to speak to youth in the DYS residential programs in Dorchester.

Kiely and Reynolds met with two groups of DYS youth to discuss how and why All American Boys, a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, came to be. Jason Reynolds, recently short-listed for the National Book Award for Ghost, wrote about Rashad, a black teen who experiences violence at the hands of a cop. Kiely, author of The Last True Love Story and The Gospel of Winter, contributed the sections featuring Quinn, Rashad’s white classmate who witnesses the incident.

The book has roots in the authors’ own experiences and perspectives. When he was a teenager in Washington, D.C., Reynolds explained, he and three other black friends were pulled over by a cop for running a yellow light. When one of his friends opened the car door to hand the cop the registration, the cop pointed a gun at them. Four more cop cars pulled up, and the officers ordered the boys out of the car, handcuffed them, and searched the car. After the cops finally let them go, Reynolds and his friends never talked about the incident – for them, Reynolds said, there was nothing unusual about it. Kiely explained that growing up as a white kid in the Boston area, he didn’t have the same experiences as Reynolds, and he created Quinn because he wants people like him to understand that police encounters like the ones described in the book actually happen.

keily-and-reynolds-1The DYS youth had plenty of questions for the authors. In response to a boy who asked what it takes to write a book, Reynolds replied “Discipline.” Another asked how they chose the title for the book, and Kiely and Reynolds said that they wanted to show that the character of Rashad is as much of a typical American as Quinn. Reynolds added that his one objection to the title is that it leaves out girls; he said that women have always been the backbone of change in America, and the book’s strong female characters reflect that.

In addition to bringing authors to DYS, BPL’s teen and youth librarians make monthly trips to the residential facility to give book talks and make books available for the youth to borrow. The youth can also request books, and the librarian will bring them on the next visit.

“Our partnership with DYS helps connect the youth residents to books with characters and experiences they can identify with,” says Jessi Snow, Central Teen Services Team Leader. “Talks with such notable authors as Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds get DYS youth excited about reading.”

Other Boston Public Library outreach initiatives for children and teens include visits to Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, where youth librarians read to patients and introduce teen parents to the BPL’s many free resources related to children and literacy.

Ted Reinstein and the “Feud of First Flight”

Posted on September 28th, 2016 by awilliams in General

img_0658“Feuds are fascinating, unless they are yours,” Ted Reinstein declared to the audience filling the Central Library in Copley Square’s Abbey Room on the night of September 27. Reinstein’s new book Wicked Pissed: New England’s Most Famous Feuds is a testament to this statement, covering everything from sports to politics to literary disputes in the region.

After touching on a variety of New England feuds, including the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, Breed’s Hill vs. Bunker Hill, and a fight between British author Rudyard Kipling and his brother-in-law that drove Kipling from Vermont, Reinstein delved into the “Feud of First Flight.”

Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant, claimed to have flown a plane in August 1901 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, two years before the Wright brothers flew their plane. Whitehead later downplayed this assertion so as to not draw attention to his uncertain immigration status, and he died penniless. However, thirty years after Whitehead’s supposed flight, the story resurfaced thanks to lawyer and journalist Stella Randolph, who interviewed eye witnesses in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and wrote several subsequent articles and books about Whitehead.

In the 1980s, Reinstein explained, Connecticut asked the Smithsonian, owners of the Wright brothers’ flyer, to investigate Whitehead’s claim, but they refused; Whitehead supporters asserted that this was due to a contract between the Smithsonian and the Wright’s descendants agreeing to acknowledge no one other than the Wright brothers as having achieved first flight. In 1986, a Connecticut teacher built and flew a replica of Whitehead’s plane, garnering national attention for the Whitehead claim. A private detective also found a newspaper article from Bridgeport documenting Whitehead’s flight along with potential photographic evidence.

Reinstein said that in 2013, the aviation publication Jane’s published an opinion piece declaring Whitehead the first person to fly a plane, triggering Connecticut to pass a resolution that recognizes the state as first in flight. In response, Ohio, home of the Wright brothers, passed its own resolution rejecting Connecticut’s claim.

After relaying the story of the Feud of First Flight, Reinstein noted that his book also explores Edgar Allan Poe’s hatred of Boston.

Our next lecture, part of our Local and Family History Series, is Wednesday, September 28, at 6 p.m. in the Central Library’s Commonwealth Salon and features Stephen T. Moskey, author of Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age.

Stacy Schiff Explores “The Witches: Salem, 1692” at the Central Library

Posted on September 21st, 2016 by awilliams in General

lowresAuthor Stacy Schiff visited the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square on Tuesday, September 21, to discuss her latest book, The Witches: Salem, 1692, with help from moderator Brenton Simons, President and CEO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The nonfiction book examines the social, political, and legal landscape of the Salem witch hysteria, an ordeal that began in late winter 1692 and ended nine months later.

Schiff, who joked that she came to Boston from New York City via broom, explained that a variety of political and historical factors—including the recent King Philip’s War and the coup of Massachusetts governor Edmund Andros—contributed to an environment of fear and paranoia in 1692 Salem. It was in this unstable landscape that the first witchcraft accusations emerged after two pre-adolescent girls in the home of town minister Samuel Parris began to act strangely. Soon, other teenage girls throughout the town began to shriek and writhe, and accusations of witchcraft were leveled against everyone from a beggar woman to one of the wealthiest merchants in Salem.

Schiff explained that unlike the modern-day conception of a witch with a pointy hat and broomstick, a 17th-century witch was a religious figure, a colleague of the devil viewed as a very real threat. Witches, she said, were a way to explain everything from a misplaced item to the death of a family member—they helped explain the unexplainable. She added that accusing someone of witchcraft was also a convenient way to retaliate against an enemy.

A 17th-century court room, Schiff said, was already a rowdy place; the shrieking girls who filled Salem’s courtroom as evidence of witchcraft only added to the chaos and confusion. The accused soon learned that they could save their lives by confessing and in turn pointing a finger at a neighbor. By August of 1692, everyone on trial was confessing to witchcraft. When the hysteria ended, Schiff noted, a veil of silence fell over the trials and records were destroyed. As recently as the 1950s, when Arthur Miller visited Salem for research for The Crucible, residents were reluctant to discuss the trials.

In response to Simons’ question about possible causes for the hysteria, Schiff dismissed the old theory of poisoning by ergot—a fungus found in rye that causes hallucinations—as not possible for a variety of reasons; instead, she believes trauma resulting from King Philip’s War was a contributing factor. The brutal conflict between the colonists and Native Americans had ended about fifteen years before the trials, and everyone in Salem knew someone who had died or was a captive.

Before concluding with a question and answer session, Simons pointed out that, thanks to an invitation from the New England Historic Genealogical society, a number of the night’s audience members were descendants of the accused.

Boston Public Library holds original records from the Salem Witch Trials, including manuscript depositions, as part of our Colonial and Revolutionary Boston Collection of Distinction.

The next Author Talk features Larry Tye, author of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, on Thursday, September 22, at 6 p.m. in Rabb Hall.

Karin Tanabe Discusses “The Gilded Years” at BPL

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by rlavery in General
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img_1869The Gilded Years author Karin Tanabe visited the Central Library on Thursday, September 15 to discuss her historical fiction work, which tells the story of Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to attend and graduate Vassar College by passing as a white woman in the late 1890s. Anita has local ties – she grew up in Roxbury and worked at the Boston Public Library as a cataloguer, and likely met her husband at the BPL. Tanabe is a Vassar alumna and first got the idea for the book in 2014, when she flipped through her alumni magazine and saw mention of Anita. She began researching the woman and quickly found that not too much information could be found, but the subject of her next book was quickly brewing in her head.

Tanabe and some of her friends visited Vassar to search through their archives to find correspondence and details about Anita Hemmings. She was active in school, a member of the debate club and choir, and a very intelligent woman. Though no “majors” existed at Vassar at the time, Anita focused on languages and wanted to be a teacher. The year after she graduated, her college roommate of two years leaked the news that she was an African-American woman after her suspicions were raised in their senior year. After college, Anita married and lived with her husband in Tennessee before relocated to New York City. Anita did not pursue a teaching career after marrying and having children.

A question and answer period followed the reading of a passage. Audience members were curious to know if Anita was related to Peter or Sally Hemmings (maybe), and if Tanabe had communicated with any of Anita’s ancestors; Tanabe has been in touch with Anita’s great granddaughter. Listeners also asked if Anita was involved in civil rights issues, and Tanabe said she was not, to her knowledge, but Anita had a best friend who went to Wellesley College who was. One of the most challenging aspects of writing this book, Tanabe said, was tracking down the name of Anita’s roommate; she wrote most of the book without knowing. Tanabe also discussed how the book has relevance today, as racial tensions and acceptance of others is still an issue more than 100 years later.

Tanabe concluded the talk by signing books and showing photographs of Anita and others related to The Gilded Years.

The next Author Talk is Tuesday, September 20, at 6 p.m. in Rabb Hall at the Central Library in Copley Square, featuring Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches: Salem, 1692.

Michael Patrick MacDonald Kicks Off Fall Author Talk Series

Posted on September 14th, 2016 by kmiller in General
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mpm_1Michael Patrick MacDonald, the author of All Souls and Easter Rising, spoke to a captivated audience that filled the newly renovated Rabb Hall at the Central Library in Copley Square last night. MacDonald spent the hour reading from his debut novel All Souls and exploring his emotional journey and experience in South Boston during the 1980s and 1990s. A slideshow of his family and the South Boston Old Colony Housing Project where he grew up played in the background, giving a quiet but powerful context to the memories MacDonald related.

The first reading included an ode to the time MacDonald spent at the Boston Public Library during his high school years. He described the library as his shelter and safe haven. He spent so much time at the library, he added, that he eventually got a job shelving books—an anecdote that garnered applause from the audience. Fond memories of the library segued into his relationship with the world of punk rock. MacDonald’s story of stalking the band Sex Pistols, who were staying at the Central Library’s neighbor the Lenox Hotel, illustrated his sense of living in two worlds: South Boston and the punk rock scene, which allowed him to escape the harsh realities of Southie life.

MacDonald also explored the tragedies that took the lives of four of his eleven siblings and informed the writing of All Souls. His grief over these losses manifested as physical ailments. After going to see doctors all over the city, MacDonald finally was recommended to a therapist, an experience that made him realize that what happened to his family and his circumstances in Southie were not “normal.” Even more importantly, it helped MacDonald acknowledge the tragic events in his life.

The night concluded with numerous questions from the audience. MacDonald talked about his community organizing and the importance of that work as a way for him to transform his pain into good. MacDonald’s new book, with the working title The Echoes, focuses on the heroin epidemic in South Boston and Charlestown in the 90s and is slated for release in 2017.

This talk is part of the Boston Public Library’s Lowell Lecture Series and is generously sponsored by the Lowell Institute, established in 1836 with the specific mission of making great ideas accessible to all people, free of charge.

The next  Author Talk is on Thursday, September 15, at 6 p.m. featuring Karin Tanabe, author of Gilded Years, and takes place in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square.