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.

From Laura Ingalls and Alicia Florrick to Elizabeth II: literary and historical women as role models

The more time I spend reading, writing, volunteering at the library, and exploring what I want to do with my life, the more I’ve learned that what I read and who I read about has influenced who I am and who I want to be. While I love Dickens, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare, my heart is with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy M Montgomery, and Jane Austen. Half Pint (Laura), Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Elizabeth Bennett are some of the strongest, imaginative, passionate, and soulful characters in literature – determining their place and path in life while remaining devoted to family, friends, and love. In history, I nerd out over the family wars and power struggles during the times of Henry VIII and Richard III, but it’s the reformations and revolutions and sea changes that Anne Boleyn, Katherine Woodville, and Elizabeth II brought about despite the opposition that really resonate with me.

Even when I think about the TV shows and movies I enjoy, it comes back to the women. Sure, Mad Men’s Don Draper is a fascinating look at the flawed man, but Peggy, Joan, and young Sally Draper are prime examples of women finding their way in a world dominated by the opposite sex. And while the Earl of Grantham may hold the keys to Downton Abbey, Ladies Cora, Mary, Edith (yes, even Edith!), Sybil, and Rose, and servants Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Anna set the stage for the changing role of women in the first half of the 20th century. On The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick adapts to and then owns her circumstances, making us question what “good” really means. And in Game of Thrones, perhaps the most exciting character development lies with Daenyrus Targaryen, Sansa and Arya Stark, and (begrudgingly) Cersei Lannister.

When I was younger, I may have thought that I just liked that Laura Ingalls got to help her Pa make hay and then go buggy-riding with Almanzo. I may have been jealous of Anne Shirley’s red hair and her smart and witty friend and future husband, Gilbert. But what I think was really going on was that I admired their fiery spirit, their continued desire to learn and explore, and their fierce loyalty to home, family, and self. One of my favorite book series is one that centers on how a young white woman and her (later freed) slave and best friend get through the Civil War and years afterward, both dealing with their own set of obstacles, but both also remaining adamant about who they are and how to fulfill their dreams. Dare I say that these are the very reasons I have had a lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz? Beyond the singing and the rainbows and ruby slippers, these are also the stories of women and girls who overcome their fears – of the unknown, of the world beyond their doorstep, of those who challenge their beliefs – and take a journey to find their calling, or to find what matters most, even if it is right in their own backyard.

There are many out there that have applauded the arrival of newer young female “heroines” and role models in literature, such as The Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. While I support new stories and inspiring characters, we weren’t lacking in the first place. Stories of females fighting back against societal pressures and life’s ups and downs and tragedies is nothing new – all you have to do is pick up the Little House series, The Diary of Anne Frank, or Little Women. A 16-year-old pioneer girl braving her first teaching assignment in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty brave to me. So does the story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis in an attic, and another of a young woman cutting off her hair and secretly writing stories under a pen name to provide for her family.

This is no great epiphany of course. We read what we like, and we read (and watch) what connects to us, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. And as I continue to determine my next steps and explore who I am beneath the surface, I’ll keep in mind my heroines from the page, screen, and history, that I have loved from the first moment I met them.

Who are your heroines from books, tv or film, or history? Why?

Heirlooms: connecting the past to the present

As what’s old becomes new, and the nostalgic becomes hip, it seems like everyone is taking another look at cherished heirlooms and items passed down through the generations. Shows like American Pickers and American Restoration is today’s cooler version of Antiques Roadshow, and people are signing up to take calligraphy lessons and buy vintage typewriters just as more and more schools are taking cursive out of their curriculum.

Perhaps people aren’t rushing out in droves to antique stores, but sites like Etsy and Pinterest have given way to the shabby chic trend, and suddenly grandma’s old lace doilies and your great-uncle’s pocket watch are fair game for decorating your home, or your body.

The photos above are some “heirlooms” of our own: Mom has a wicker chest in my room filled with old tablecloths, carefully embroidered napkins, and fine lace handkerchiefs. Some belonged to her mother, and some belonged to her father’s mother, two women that I loved so much as a child, and left us before I had a chance to know them better. I handle these items with care, imagining my grandmother and great-grandmother’s hands caressing them, too, and wrapping them up so tenderly for the next woman in the family to enjoy. I immediately remember sitting in rocking chairs drinking Barq’s root beer with MawMaw Chicken, as we called my great-grandmother Denise Roussel, even though she had stopped raising chickens well before I came around. I think with longing of the days I would sit in the “blue” room at my MawMaw Vickie’s house, watching her and her sister sew quilt after quilt, or apply delicate beading to a wedding dress for one of my cousins. And later, when she showed me how to work her sewing machines, so that I could quilt, too, and make special crafts for my mom after a summer spent in Louisiana.

Just yesterday, I came across a website from a British photographer called The Heirloom Project, for which he takes pictures of people’s treasured items in his studio, and they share the story behind it. The pictures tell a story all by themselves, but when you read the words from the items’ owners, you get a sense of their emotions, who they are, and where they come from. Some descriptions are just a few sentences, some are longer, but all are authentic, simple, and raw.

When items from our parents and grandparents and other relatives are passed on to us, we may not often take the time to really see and absorb the stories behind it. Perhaps we are grieving, and it’s just a part of the ritual of cleaning out a home. Perhaps it was discovered years later in a pile of items to be tossed out or donated, and we have to do a little research. Or perhaps you had your eye on something since you were a child, not quite knowing the significance, but knowing that it stood for something you had yet to uncover.

Today, the former owner of my parents’ house came by to pick up a couple of pieces of mail, and we gave her a gift. Years ago, she had painted a scene on some tiles for the kitchen; a cute image of her and her husband, now passed, in front of a flower shop, in farmers’ outfits. When my parents redid the kitchen upon moving in, they saved the tiles as best as they could, and we pieced back together the broken ones with glue. Today, when we gave the tiles back to her, she cried — with memories, with happiness, with grief still there years later. But it made us emotional, too, to think that we could provide a little piece of history and love back to this woman who had spent so many years of joy here with the love of her life. Someday, she may pass those tiles on to her children, and them to her grandchildren. There’s a story behind it, and I was glad to be just a tiny piece of it.

What heirlooms do you have that tell a story?