Hi. Barb Ross reporting.
On the hottest June 21st ever recorded, thirteen intrepid members of Sisters in Crime New England took a private tour of the Boston Public Library. We started with the current Forgotten Chapters exhibit where our tour guide was Paul Lewis, who curated the exhibit along with his students at Boston College.
Paul pointed out that while Boston’s role in political history is much celebrated with the freedom trail, tours, statues and plaques, the city’s central role in American literary history is practically invisible on its streets. For example, the birthplaces of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe are unmarked, and The Old Corner Bookstore, home of Ticknor and Fields, a core publisher of the American Renaissance is now a Chipotle.
As Paul noted, The Forgotten Chapters exhibit was a particularly apt outing for a group dedicated to advancing the cause of women writers, since so many of the forgotten authors are women (and other people outside what was defined as the mainstream in their time).
Phillis Wheatley (1753–84), the first English-speaking black writer to publish a book had to prove that she was capable of writing her own poems by responding to questions from a group of prominent male Bostonians.
Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) was an early American advocate for women’s rights, an essayist, playwright, poet and letter writer. She was one of the first American proponents of the idea of the equality of the sexes—that women, like men, had the capability of intellectual accomplishment and should be able to achieve economic independence.
Lydia Maria Child (1802–80) published the first secular American monthly magazine for children, the Juvenile Miscellany. Though the magazine was only published for eight years, its view of the role of children’s literature as a way to amuse and delight children—and not just scare them into good behavior with grim, moralist tales—eventually became the dominant trend in children’s literature.
Also appropriate to our group, Lewis spoke about Edgar Allan Poe, his relationship to Boston and his scathing reviews of the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the other “Frogpondians.” Paul Lewis serves on the committee to erect a statue of Poe in Boston, which has just selected a design. To thank Paul for his tour, our SinCNE chapter donated $100 toward the statue.
After seeing the Forgotten Chapters, we had a private tour of the McKim Building, including the Sargent murals, the Chavannes Gallery, The Triumph of Time, the bronze doors created by Chester Daniel French (the “French Doors?”) and The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail by Edwin Austin Abbey. We also toured the courtyard and saw the statue of Bacchante and Infant Faun. Originally a gift to the library by McKim in 1894, it caused such a fuss by those who thought it was a glorification of drinking, it was removed for over 100 years. (Though as our tour guide pointed out, if you can balance on one foot, eat grapes and carry an infant, you can’t be all that drunk.)
After our tour, we adjourned to Stephanie’s on Newbury Street for dinner and lots of talk about writing and publishing.
As we took the tour, I kept thinking, “Why have a been on a formal tour of the New York Public Library, but never the BPL?” We’re often terrible tourists in our own towns and I was so glad to have this opportunity.
For more photos, click here.