The Rise of Hamilton

If you haven’t heard about the little show about a Founding Father that started out as a hip-hop mixtape and became a Broadway sensation, then you’ve been holed up in the library for too long.

Hamilton: An American Musical first hit the stage at the Public Theatre in New York City in 2015, a dream made reality through a group of immensely talented and dedicated writers, actors, directors, musicians, and more, led by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book based on Ron Chernow’s doorstop of a biography about the ten dollar Founding Father most famously known for being killed in a duel by Aaron Burr.

Read the full post on the American Writers Museum blog.

At Home With Hemingway

In the middle of summer on the beautiful campus of Dominican University in Oak Park, Ill., there was a lot of talk of icebergs. But it wasn’t because people wanted to cool off – it was because more than 300 people from 18 countries had gathered for the 17th Biennial International Hemingway Society Conference (co-hosted by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, an American Writers Museum affiliate) to celebrate the work of one of America’s greatest authors known for the hidden depth of his works.

Read the full, original post on the American Writers Museum blog.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Pioneer Girl, Prolific Woman

My introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder was a used copy of The Long Winter when I was seven or eight years old. I immediately fell in love with the Ingalls family story of pioneer life in the late 1800s. More than 20 years later, that book is a bit more worn, and I proudly consider LIW one of my favorite authors. Like millions of fans around the world, I’ve repeatedly read all of Wilder’s Little House books and seen the TV series. So why does a story about a family traveling west in a covered wagon resonate so much nearly 60 years after Wilder’s death?

Read the full, original post on the American Writers Museum blog.

When in Boston: Exploring Literary Landmarks, Both Real and Imagined

In early October, I visited Boston for a few days to explore a city I have long admired but have only been to once before. This former Midwest and D.C. gal was all about diving headfirst into the history and arts and culture of one of our nation’s first cities, and I made the most of it.

Established in 1630, Boston is probably most well known for its role in the American Revolution, its 2.5-mile Freedom Trail hosting 16 historic sites such as the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, and the site of the Boston Massacre. Also included on the Trail is the Old Corner Bookstore, once an apothecary and home to the Puritan dissident Anne Hutchinson, and also the oldest commercial building in Boston, according to theFreedom Trail Foundation.

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Read the full, original story at SavingPlaces.org.

 

 

Home and Family in Literature and Life

Do we ever really think about what first piques our interest in a particular subject? Whether it’s history or science or literature or society or food, we tend to generalize our initial interest in a topic or hobby – “it was in my early 20s” or “sometime in my youth” or “when I heard about it from a friend.” But do we really think through the very thing that truly led us to want to learn more, do more, and find more out about something that intrigued us? And do we stop to wonder why?

So you like military history; okay, what was it that first attracted you to it? Why? Was it because you have a personal connection to it, through your own experiences or via a family member or friend, or is it because of a particular incident in history that calls out to more strongly than others? Or say that you really got into sculpting. Is there a specific work or artist that inspired you? A reason you wanted to sit down and build something with your hands?

As I’ve spent the last two and a half years exploring what I want to do with my life and reflecting on my various interests and hobbies, I’ve noticed a few recurring themes and connections. I’ve especially noticed this when I think about my favorite books, authors, and stories over the years.

Jane Austen. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Lucy Maud Montgomery. Louisa May Alcott. Ginny Dye. Jan Karon.

Okay, they are all women writers. And with the exception of Karon’s Mitford series, they all wrote in or write about times past; “period” literature, as some may call it. We’ve got the Edwardian era, Civil War and beyond, pioneer times, and turn of the century and WWI. But it’s more than that – a lot more than that, I’ve recently realized. In all of these authors works, there is one thing that stands out loud and clear, when I really think about it: the importance of home and family.

It’s kind of an aha moment; these are two of the most important things in my own life, and two of the things I most enjoy writing about myself. A coincidence? Likely not.

As Janeites know all too well, Austen’s novels aren’t exactly filled with adventure and crazy plot twists. She used everyday happenings and personal dramas from the family home and that of close neighbors and friends to create witty, romantic, and realistic stories of life in Regency England. Laura Ingalls Wilder shared the mundane and sometimes frightening details of prairie life, as her family moved from house to house to house, but always making it home. Montgomery’s series about a lovable red-headed, precocious orphan girl named Anne who was adopted by an elderly couple on Canada’s Prince Edward Island is all about family and home. Alcott’s Little Women is based on her own family and their struggles in the mid-1800s New England, and her other books all have a strong sense of family, centering on spirited, smart, and self-reliant young women. Karon’s series about a small-town pastor shows us the comical, joyful, and sometimes sad lives of Father Tim and his friends in the quaint town of Mitford. And Ginny Dye’s historical fiction series, The Bregdan Chronicles, features an entire cast of fiercely loyal, passionate, and ambitious family members and friends – black and white, former slaves and masters – that continue to call a Virginia plantation home base even after the Civil War has ended.

I’d be silly to not also notice that all of these authors’ works intrigue me because of their portrayals of resilient, independent, ambitious, and compassionate women, with a drive to do something more and be something more in their world (in the Mitford series, this comes through with Father Tim’s wife, Cynthia). While they are all extremely devoted to their families and to creating a sense of home, wherever they are, they also feel a calling to explore beyond their boundaries — both physical, and the ones placed on them by society because they are women.

In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet knows she must marry, but she is not about to settle for the first man that shows her attention or that her mother sends her way. It takes time of course, but ultimately she chooses a man that will make her happy as well as comfortable, and all the while, she’s pushing for her sisters and friends to make their own choices as well. In Little Women, Jo March leaves home and an opportunity to marry her best friend to become a writer, and ends up meeting an older man who challenges her mind as well as her heart. And in The Bregdan Chronicles, Carrie Cromwell fights convention and risks her life by first freeing her father’s slaves, then by attending a women’s medical college up north, leaving her husband, family, and friends behind (temporarily).

These themes, which often fight against one another as much as they work together, have come up often in my own life – especially so in the last couple of years. My intense desire to be independent, to explore the world around me, and to pursue my passions keeps my mind and my heart constantly churning, constantly looking for what’s next and how to get there. Yet at the same time, I’m pulled home, to my parents, to my family in Louisiana, to a stable and comforting environment that brings me joy and peace. I yearn for a companion and prefer structure and routine, yet feel I am meant to do more and be more – for myself, if not for anyone else. I don’t like feeling stuck, yet I stick to safe routines and lifestyles because it’s easier, or less intimidating. Finding the balance is what I keep coming back to – what IS the balance? What IS the combination of home and family and a life of adventure and exploration that I’m looking for, and how do I find it?

For now, I’ll keep reading and continue learning. Perhaps some of the answers will come from the authors and characters that I’ve loved for so many years.

Have you noticed any themes in your favorite books from over the years that go deeper than genre? Are they relevant to your own life?