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Quincy Carroll, Author of “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside,” Brings a Captive Audience to Rural China.

Posted on April 8th, 2016 by kmiller@private.bpl.org in General
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On a rainy Thursday evening in Boston, Quincy Carroll took his audience’s imaginations to the countryside of China. The crowd in the Commonwealth Salon in the Central Library in Copley Square sat engaged as Carroll discussed the inspiration for the novel “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” as well as reading two carefully chosen passages from the book.

Carroll began the talk by discussing how his background and personal experiences influenced the novel. Born and raised in Natick, Massachusetts, Carroll attended Yale University. After graduating in 2007, Carroll headed to New York to enter the financial world in sales and trading. It didn’t take long for Carroll to realize that he wanted a different life, leading him to quit his job and move to China. Before departing he found a graphic novel, “East meets West,” by Yang Liu that informed his knowledge of the differences between the cultures. Upon arriving in China, however, he found quickly there was a gap in the literary world for an exploration of foreigners living and experiencing China and Chinese culture. After returning to America, Carroll enrolled in the Creative Writing MFA program at Emerson College and the journey of writing “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside,” began.

The first passage Carroll read was a particularly meaningful one, considering the location of the talk. Carroll revealed to the audience that this portion of the novel was written just a few yards away in Bates Hall at the Central Library in Copley Square. This passage is also significant as it’s the first time we meet two of the main characters, Thomas Guillard and Bella while they waited for a train to Ningyuan. The scene creates an image for the audience of Guillard’s nonchalant attitude towards the Chinese culture, through his smoking and staring at a nearby girl. The passage sets the audience up to learn more about these two characters and how their different backgrounds will influence their relationship.

The second passage Carroll read introduces the other main character, Daniel. Daniel is traveling by bus to visit friends and the contrast between him and Thomas is immediately felt. At one point Daniel automatically nods to a man he passes and is embarrassed because “Simply because they came from different countries did not mean they owe each other a hello.” This quote spoke to Daniel’s mindfulness of the culture and his role as an outsider.

Carroll ended the night thanking everyone who attended, as well as answering numerous questions from the audience. In response to the questions, Carroll discussed the artful act of infusing Chinese into a novel meant for English speakers, his plans for the next novel, and that the characters were hybrids of many different people he met in his travels.

This talk is part of the Boston Public Library’s Author Talk Series. The next talk in the series will take place on Monday, May 9, 2016, at 6 p.m. featuring Paul Lewis, editor of “The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820, and taking place in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square. Learn more via here.

Reading to Dogs at the Boston Public Library

Posted on April 6th, 2016 by BPL News in General

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Harvard Dangerfield at the Children’s Library. Photo courtesy of Dana Sullivan.

One Saturday a month, the Central Library’s Children’s Library hosts a very special visitor – an 11-year-old fluffy white Samoyed named Harvard Dangerfield. Harvard, accompanied by his owner Dana Sullivan, comes to help children practice reading as part of the Reading Pup program, open to children ages 3-12 and their caregivers. Though Harvard can’t help sound out or explain the meaning of words, he can provide something equally valuable: a patient, gentle demeanor that allows children to read aloud without fear of correction or judgement.

A Reading Pup program begins with a brief introduction by a Children’s Librarian to Harvard and his work (he also visits elementary schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, among others), followed by a dog-themed story time. Then, the children in attendance take turns reading to him. The youngest visitors with no reading skills often tell him stories, while the older children read from a selection of books about dogs provided by the library or ones that they have brought themselves. Harvard calmly and happily listens and greatly enjoys socializing with the kids; according to Sullivan, the Children’s Library is one of his favorite places to visit.

In addition to providing children with an encouraging and nonjudgmental audience, he also gives them the opportunity to grow comfortable interacting with dogs. Sullivan and the librarians help by showing the children how to best greet him.

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Gus and his owner Candice at the Charlestown Branch.

“His fluffy fur provides a sensory experience for young children, and older children enjoy giving him a hug or feeding him treats,” said Children’s Services Team Leader Laura Koenig. “Parents and caregivers especially like knowing that he is a certified therapy dog who will be patient and gentle with children who are still learning how to safely interact with dogs.”

Other Boston Public Library locations also host therapy dogs as part of their children’s programming. The Charlestown Branch, for instance, offers the Read to a Dog program with Gus, a one-and-a-half-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. On a cloudy afternoon in late March, Gus brightens up the branch with his cheerful and gentle demeanor. He perches on a cushion next to his owner Candice Deluty while Annabell, a six-year-old, reads him the book Biscuit Loves the Library. Then, he listens as ten-year-old Tess reads from the chapter book The Underneath. According to Eileen Whittle, the Charlestown’s Children’s Librarian who organized the event, therapy dogs are crucial to helping kids build fluency in oral reading in a positive, open environment.

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from Gus’s and Harvard’s library visits. As Deluty says, Gus cheers up everyone, including adults and the library staff. Sullivan adds that age has no effect on a person’s response to Harvard, as he is met with squeals of delight from the young and old wherever he goes. Visit our calendar at www.bpl.org/calendar to find an upcoming therapy dog program for your child, including visits from Maggie at the Mattapan Branch every other Tuesday.

“The Black Community in Colonial Dorchester and Boston” Lecture Turns into a Spirited Discussion Among Historians, Subject Experts, and the Curious.

Posted on March 31st, 2016 by kmiller@private.bpl.org in General
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Yesterday’s Boston Public Library Local and Family History Series lecture on The Black Community in Colonial Dorchester and Boston felt more like a lively discussion among a group of historians than a one-person presentation. Historian Alex Goldfeld opened the night with an acknowledgement of the expertise of the people in the room and invited many voices to chime in about the lives of African Americans in colonial New England.

Goldfeld used letters and documents to examine the dark circumstances that originally brought African Americans to New England. Goldfeld displayed and used a correspondence to John Winthrop to explain that early white colonialist traded captured Native Americans, cotton, and fish for African American slaves.  White colonists’ belief that African Americans would be more obedient than Native Americans due to their lack of familiarity with the land contributed to the rise of the African American population in Boston during mid to late 1600s. The letter also expressed the belief that without slave labor, New England could never grow and flourish to its full potential.

The subject of land ownership was a topic Goldfeld embarked on through documentation of a free African American Sebastian Kane’s purchase of a slave’s freedom. In the transaction paper, dated 1656, Kane put his property in Dorchester up as collateral for the payment, proving he was one of the first, if not the first, African American landowner in Boston. An audience member added that Zipporah Potter Atkins, an African American woman, is believed to have owned property in the North End around 1670. The rarity, if not the impossibility, of an African American woman owning and keeping property at that time was noted and discussed.

Another subject of debate was the discovery of the smallpox vaccine by Cotton Mather. Goldfeld discussed the smallpox epidemic of 1721, infecting roughly half of Boston’s population. At this time in history, China, India, and Africa had been practicing types of inoculation, but this type of preventative care was unknown to the people of New England. Goldfeld explained to the group that Mather got the idea from one of his slaves, and fought for the procedure to become widespread. An audience member piped in to provide the slave’s name, Onesimus, and to suggest he had a much bigger role in the development and implementation of the vaccine than Goldfeld originally suggested.

When Goldfeld concluded his lecture by mentioning that he was over the allotted time, the audience murmured in disbelief that the hour had flown by so quickly. Goldfeld thanked the group and the many voices who contributed to the discussion. Leaving the Commonwealth Salon, it was clear to the audience that The Black Community in the Colonial Dorchester and Boston is a topic that will continue to be studied, debated, and shared for a long time to come.

Author Colm Tóibín Visits the Boston Public Library for Saint Patrick’s Day

Posted on March 18th, 2016 by BPL News in General

ColmToibinThe Boston Public Library celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day with a visit from bestselling Irish author Colm Tóibín, a reading made possible through a partnership with the Consulate General of Ireland. The overflowing audience in the Central Library’s Abbey Room included Heather Humphreys, Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, and Consul General Fionnuala Quinlan.

BPL Trustee John Hailer introduced Minister Humphreys, who called Tóibín “one of the giants of Irish Literature.” The author then took to the podium to read from his novel Brooklyn. Recently adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Saoirse Ronan, the book follows Irish immigrant Eilis as she makes her way in 1950s Brooklyn. Tóibín read two passages, one which captures the immigrant experience of receiving letters from home, the other a scene on Christmas Day where Eilis volunteers at a church and is moved by an Irish singer. He mentioned that he recommended traditional Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird for the part in the movie’s Christmas scene.

He then took several questions from the audience. When asked what inspired him to write Brooklyn, he said the idea came from a visitor to his childhood home whose daughter lived in Brooklyn. Like Eilis in the novel, she had taken off her wedding ring on the boat ride home so her family wouldn’t know she was married and, therefore, would have to return to America. Following the Q & A, Tóibín signed copies of his novels. Attendees left calling the experience “wonderful” and a “great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.”

The Central Library’s Author Talk Series continues on Thursday, April 7, at 6 p.m. with Quincy Carroll, author of Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside.

Local and Family History Lecture Series Continue with Exploration of Shoe Industry in Massachusetts

Posted on March 17th, 2016 by BPL News in General

Inspired by her Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) exhibition, Anna Fahey-Flynn spoke to a crowded Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square last night, Wednesday, March 16, on the history of the shoe industry in Massachusetts. Fahey-Flynn took the audience through the beginning of shoe making in the colonial era to the decline of the industry in Massachusetts during the early 1900s, as part of the Boston Public Library’s Local Family and History Series.

Beginning in the Colonial era, Fahey-Flynn explained that shoe making was March 16 Shoe ad courtesy Digital Commonwealtha homemade type of business, and shoes were typically constructed with tools found in the kitchen. Inventors not only revolutionized the industry into one of mass production but made Massachusetts into a hotbed for making shoes. Elias Howe Jr., the inventor of the sewing machine that was tough enough to withstand heavier materials needed to make shoes, was born and resided in Massachusetts along with other shoe industry innovators, Gordon McKay, and Lyman Blake. These main players’ Massachusetts roots helped grow and keep the industry within the state. By 1869, about 60 percent of boots and shoes in the United States came from Massachusetts.

Fahey-Flynn provided an inside look into the industry by describing the factory workers’ lives. Factories employed both men and women (women making up about 30 percent of the workforce). Massachusetts’s shoe industry workers were at the forefront of establishing labor unions and fighting for laws such as prohibiting children under the age of fourteen from working in the factories.

A discussion of the decline in the shoe industry came at the tail-end of the lecture. Fahey-Flynn accounted for World War I’s demand for price-fixed military footwear (tempering factories’ revenue), and Europe reestablishing their footwear market as key factors to the closure of factories. Additionally, as women’s hemlines went up due to the availability of more attractive stockings, so did the need for, now visible, fashion forward footwear. Failure to adapt to this growing trend created a hardship for many local factories.

The lecture ended with questions and comments in which many audience members shared stories of how the shoe industry affected their family or town. Fahey-Flynn also provided great resources for future research on shoes or Massachusetts’ general history including the DPLA, Digital Commonwealth, Internet Archive, and Lynn Museum & Historical Society.

The Local and Family History Lecture Series runs through May and features lectures of interest to both amateur genealogists and local historians. See the full schedule via www.bpl.org/localhistory.