As the age of Covid-19 finally wanes, Arts Fuse critics supply a guide to film, dance, visual art, theater, author readings, and music. Please check with venues when uncertain whether the event is available by streaming or is in person. More offerings will be added as they come in.
The Children’s Republic (2012)
March 20 at 7 p.m.
Harvard Film Archives, Cambridge
The Film Archives reopens its programming with this little-seen African film to which actor Danny Glover lent his talents. A group of young African men and women — their country ravaged by warfare and adults either dead or fleeing — attempt to survive by themselves in the forsaken village. The film “explores concepts of symbolism and magical realism to tell the tale of a utopian society and its young inhabitants.” Director Flora Gomes’s latest work is the first English-language film to come out of Guinea-Bissau.
The DocYard presents A Thousand Fires
Brattle Theatre, Cambridge
March 21 at 7 p.m.
Director Saeed Taji Farouky’s beautiful exploration of a complex culture: “A Burmese family’s hand-drilled oil operation relies on astrology and old beliefs, while their youngest son’s dreams rest on escaping the oil fields for a soccer academy.” The documentary offers a glimpse into an unusual way of life that combines grueling work with afternoon naps as well as visits to a fortune teller who offers predictions of the future — mysticism is never far away in Myanmar, even in this oil-soaked setting. World Premiere at 2021 Locarno Film Festival and winner of the Marco Zucchi Award. Official Selection of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Q&A with the director will follow.
Boston Underground Film Festival
Brattle Theatre, Cambridge
March 23 – 27
Now in its 23rd year, this is New England’s largest festival of fringe, horror, and lesser seen films. This year the entries range from the bizarre to some excellent international features, such as the haunting Macedonian folktale You Won’t Be Alone with Noomi Rapace. Saturday features Gasper Noe’s Vortex and Sunday’s lineup includes Hanna Bergholm’s creepy debut, Hatching. Link to Schedule of Films and Shorts programs
The 15th edition of SFF, New England’s largest all-documentary festival. In-person screenings will take place March 24 through 27, followed by virtual programming March 28 through April 3. Film Listings and Tickets
Boston Israeli Film Festival
Streaming and in-person screenings at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline
Throughout the year, Boston Jewish Film presents films that focus on Jewish values and culture. The organization is supporting the BIFF this year, scheduling hybrid viewing opportunities for a dozen films that celebrate the richness of Jewish life. Complete Schedule and ticketing
The BWF Spring Screenings will take place mostly on Sundays, with the discussions to take place on Mondays by Zoom. The festival works with local and international organizations to heighten awareness and encourage people of all ages to think about making a difference in the world. BWF has also provided a forum for organizations to raise money for and awareness of many causes.
A Change of Heart
Online March 25-27
March 27, at 7 p.m. at the Majestic 7 Cinema
81 Arsenal Yards Blvd., Watertown
Béatrice, a widow, lives with her family. She doesn’t like migrant and foreigners. But when she meets Mokhtar, an Iranian who has entered France illegally, her world crumbles. This is the beginning of a passionate love story that leads Beatrice to defy her racist entourage and the law so that he can cross the Channel. Tickets Online discussion on Monday, March 28, at 7 p.m. Registration required
March 29 – April 4
Online as part of Belmont World Film
Beginning Tuesday is this French feature about 53 year-old Michel coming out of 22 years of methadone dependence. Life is finally catching up with him. He has been clean for four months, but his wife just left him and they have a ten-month old baby for whom he must be responsible. He also has a teenage son . Written by and starring François Creton, the film based on Creton’s own story and he gives a chillingly real performance.
Zoom discussion on addiction in Monday April 4th Link for tickets
Washington, DC Environmental Film Festival (DCEFF)
Through March 27
The 30th Anniversary of this unique festival presents a wealth of virtual streaming possibilities: 100 films are scheduled as well as dozens of expert conversations about issues ranging from environmental justice and Indigenous rights to the climate crisis. Many of the movies in this year’s programs can be seen for free. Film Guide Complete Schedule
Pick of the Week
The Singing Revolution
Kanopy (free), Amazon and Apple TV
Estonia endured foreign occupation for centuries. Along with Latvia and Lithuania, the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. Estonians gathered in the thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands to celebrate their heritage in song, in what became known as “The Singing Revolution.” Raising the banned Estonian flag while gathering en masse and singing banned patriotic songs, the movement eventually gained the support of the Republic’s ruling Communist Party, which defied Moscow, faced down Soviet tanks, and successfully declared Estonian independence. Alas, Ukraine’s plight is far, far different, but this uplifting 2006 film offers a perspective on where recent events may be headed. Score by local composer John Kusiak.
— Tim Jackson
COVID PROTOCOLS: Check with specific theaters; requirements often include proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 rapid test. Also, companies are requiring masks at indoor performances.
Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson. Directed by Jude Sandy. Staged by Trinity Repertory at the Chase Theater, 201 Washington St., Providence, through March 27.
“Set in 1904 Pittsburgh where slavery was still living memory,” this installment in August Wilson’s epic cycle, “offers a searing and mystical exploration of freedom, justice, and reclamation. Racked with secret guilt, a desperate Citizen Barlow seeks refuge at the home of ancient Aunt Ester. Renowned for soul cleansing, Ester sends Citizen on an epic journey to the City of Bones, to find redemption and renewed purpose.” The cast includes Trinity Rep vets Ricardo Pitts-Wiley and Mauro Hantman.
Ocean Filibuster, created by PearlDamour. Text by Lisa D’Amour. Music by Sxip Shirey. Directed by Katie Pearl Featuring Jennifer Kidwell. Staged by the American Repertory Theater 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, February 24 through March 13. A digital version of Ocean Filibuster is available to preorder today. Stream anytime on demand beginning on or around March 9 through March 27.
The world premiere of a musical that “explores the climate crisis and our democratic process with wit and urgency.” The piece “was commissioned and developed through a collaboration with the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE). Inside the Senate chamber of a global governing body, Mr. Majority introduces an ‘End of Ocean Bill’ designed to shrink Earth’s oceans into a more manageable (and marketable) collection of inland seas. When the floor is opened for debate, the Ocean arrives to speak in its own defense… and so begins an epic Human-Ocean showdown.” We are told that this will be a “genre-crashing music theater experience … a fusion of myth, song, video, stand-up, and science to explore the vast depths crucial to our daily survival.” Arts Fuse review
AntigonX, a queer, Latinx interpretation of Sophocles’s classical Greek tragedy created by Shey Rivera Ríos. Directed by Jackie Davis. Staged by Wilbury Theatre Group at the WaterFire Arts Center, Providence, Rhode Island, March 31–April 10. After this run, the show will travel to the world renowned Magdalena Festival produced by Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, MA, for performances through April 24.
Set in Puerto Rico, this adaptation “blends ritual and myth in a poetic meditation on seeking out hope during dark times…. In this version of the classic story, Antígona is a non-binary person and Teresias, a guide throughout the show, is a trans, non-binary spiritual guide.”
Ironbound by Martyna Majok. Directed by Rachel Walshe. Staged by the Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI, through April 10.
“At a bus stop in a run-down New Jersey town, Darja, a Polish immigrant who gets by on a cleaning job, pragmatism, and sheer will, is done talking about feelings. It’s time to talk money. Over the course of 22 years and three relationships, Darja negotiates for her future with men who can offer her love or security, but never both. Award-winning playwright Martyna Majok’s play is a portrait of a tough woman for whom love is a luxury — and a liability — and survival is the only measure of success.”
The Bluest Eye, an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel for the stage by Lydia Diamond. Directed by Awoye Timpo. Staged by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, South End, Boston, through March 26. (Digital access to the filmed performance is available until April 9.)
The play, like the novel, tells the story of Pecola, a young Black girl who believes the world would be wonderful if she could have blue eyes. Arts Fuse review.
Chorus Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed by Christopher D. Betts. Staged by Yale Rep at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven, March 31 through April 23.
“For half a century, the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys has been dedicated to the education of strong, ethical Black men. One extraordinary student, a gifted singer, has been waiting to take his rightful place as the leader of the legendary school choir. But can he make his way through the hallowed halls of this institution and still sing in his own key?”
Everyday Life and Other Odds and Ends by Charlotte Meehan. Directed by Tara Brooke Watkins. Choreography by Peter DiMuro. Staged by Sleeping Weazel at the Emerson Paramount Center, Jackie Liebergott Black Box 559 Washington St, Boston, through March 27. Footage of a final version will be available for online viewing from 12 p.m., ET, on April 1 to 10 p.m., ET, on April 10.
The world premiere of a play that “introduces three very different couples, each of their relationships uniquely impacted by Parkinson’s disease, in a bold multi-media experience that delves into the intimate experiences that take place between heartbeats.
“Striving for unconditional love, each pair responds to the avalanche of advice heaped on them with a mix of hilarity, pain, and love. Meanwhile, every mundane daily pattern, interlude of absurd bickering, and moment of human connection takes on emotional urgency.” Arts Fuse review
Once On This Island, Book and lyrics Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephan Flaherty. Directed by Pascale Florestal. Staged by SpeakEasy Stage Company, at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, through April 16.
The award-winning musical “tells the epic story of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl who, guided by the mighty island gods, sets out on a remarkable journey to follow her heart and find her place in the world.” The musical is based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, and features a score by Tony Award-winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Seussical, A Man of No Importance, Anastasia). Arts Fuse review
Finished Waiting, written and performed by Bread & Puppet Theater. Directed by Peter Schumann at First Church, 11 Garden St. in Cambridge on March 22 at 7 p.m.
The venerable political theater presents a new work: “In the tradition of theater-as-public-address, the show speaks directly from the heart of this moment of political, social and ecological rupture and uncertainty — a moment in which many feel the seduction of a stance of waiting: waiting for the pandemic to be over, for better leaders to be elected, for actions to be taken by the powerful to respond to ecological catastrophe, for families to be reunited, wars to end and empires to fall.”
According to Bread & Puppet artistic director, Peter Schumann, the production stars “the clock and its customers, skies, cities, mountains, forward dancers, backward dancers, a stop officer, and an eye divinity who teaches seeing to non-suspecting eyes.” After the performance Bread & Puppet will serve its free sourdough rye bread with aioli, and Bread & Puppet’s “Cheap Art” – books, posters, postcards, pamphlets and banners from the Bread & Puppet Press – will be for sale.
— Bill Marx
The British artist J.M.W. Turner grew up and matured in an extraordinary period in his country’s history: the American Revolution, the Napoleonic War, the madness of King George III, the rise of steam power, the development of rail networks across the nation, a major industrial and commercial revolution, the expansion of the British Empire, political unrest, parliamentary reform, and a slew of vigorous reform movements, including the abolition of slavery.
Turner has long been a popular artist in Boston, in part because of the Museum of Fine Arts seascape long known as The Slave Ship (1840). Originally titled “Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying — Typhoon Coming On,” the painting, besides being a spectacular composition of color and atmosphere, was created to be a major antislavery statement. It once belonged to the great British critic John Ruskin, who wrote about it “[i]f I were reduced to rest Turner’s immortality upon any single work, I should choose this.”
The Slave Ship is the centerpiece of Turner’s Modern World, which opens at the MFA on March 27. The show includes more than 100 paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sketchbooks. Like The Slave Ship itself, many of these works were responses to major historic events of Turner’s time. But they have often been admired since for their aesthetics, beauty, and originality alone. This show aims to restore Turner’s work to its original social and political context.
In conjunction with an exhibition on climate change opening in April, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is hosting a special event with the legendary primate behaviorist, naturalist, and conservationist Jane Goodall, “Cultivating Hope, Healing and Courage with Jane Goodall.” Following her presentation, Dr. Goodall will be joined by landscape ecologist Bernie Krause, who collaborated on the exhibition The Great Animal Orchestra (on view at PEM through May 22) and educator Ruth Mendelssohn for a conversation about “healing our relationship with the planet.” The event, a reminder of the museum’s roots in natural history and anthropology, takes place as a virtual event on March 21 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Register at the museum’s website, PEM.org.
The key American critic Clement Greenberg thought the ultimate development of Western painting was abstraction, specifically the American Abstract Expressionist movement of the ’50s. Since then, though, figurative painting has been “revived” several times — by the Pop artists of the ’60s, photorealists of the ’70s, and others since.
A Place for Me: Figurative Painting Now, which opens at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art on March 31, aims to document yet another revival, by celebrating “a new generation of artists at the vanguard of contemporary painting.” Rather than painting history, abstraction, or other grand, figurative subjects, these artists “depict what they love” including friends, lovers, family, and scenes of their everyday lives. Artists on view include David Antonio Cruz, Louis Fratino, Doran Langberg, Aubrey Leventhal, and Gisela McDaniel, among others.
Also at the ICA starting March 31 is Barbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca: Swinguerra. The two artists have collaborated for more than a decade in creating multimedia works that explore hidden worlds of contemporary underground dance movements, especially those in south Atlantic regions of the Americas. Swinguerra (2019) is a recent ICA acquisition: a room-sized installation, exhibited here for the first time, that focuses on performances in disadvantaged queer communities of color in Recife, Brazil.
Figurative revival or not, California artist Sarah Cain works in a sunshine-drenched, aggressively abstract style. And she does it frequently, according to the Colby Museum of Art, on an architectural scale. For the Colby Museum, she will create a site-specific painting that covers an entire introductory floor of the museum. The ambitious and immersive work is intended to do nothing less than reorient the idea and purpose of painting. The exhibition, Sarah Cain: Hand in Hand, opens on March 31.
— Peter Walsh
Roots and World Music
Nic Gareiss & Allison De Groot
Club Passim, Cambridge
A dancer and a musician, both known for advancing traditional American styles along with their queer advocacy, come together for an unusual collaboration. The performance teams up genre-crossing step dancer Nic Gareiss and banjo player Allison De Groot. As they say, it’s the “interaction of feet and clawhammer banjo.”
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita
Berklee Performance Center, Boston
If a Cuban/West African collaboration sounds like a night of uptempo dance jams, think again. Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita are both deeply spiritual, introspective, and subtle improvisers. Together, they’re apt to make contemplative musical magic via this Global Arts Live presentation.
— Noah Schaffer
Matthew Whitaker Quintet
March 20 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Artists For Humanity EpiCenter, Boston
The young piano and organ phenom Matthew Whitaker (as seen on 60 Minutes!), makes his Boston debut in this Celebrity Series March jazz festival show with bandmates Marcos Robinson on guitar; Karim Hutton, electric bass; Ivan Llanes, percussion; and Isaiah Johnson, drums.
Pandelis Karayorgis Trio
March 24, 7-10 p.m.
The fine pianist and composer Pandelis Karayorgis presents the third episode in his “Hasaan, Monk & Hope” series — that would be composer-pianists Hasaan Ibn Ali, Thelonious Monk, and Elmo Hope — in preparation for a recording. He’s joined by trio-mates Nate McBride on bass and Luther Gray on drums.
Berklee Global Jazz Summit
March 24 at 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center, Boston
Berklee College of Music celebrates the 13th anniversary of its Global Jazz Institute, created by Danilo Pérez, with this jamboree concert featuring special honoree Gary Bartz, plus bassist John Patitucci, drummer, producer and Berklee prof Terri Lyne Carrington, and pianist/composer Pérez, and Pérez’s new band, the Global Messengers: singers Farayi Male and Erini Tornesaki, cellist Naseem Alatrash, percussionist Tareq Rantisi, laouto player Vasilis Kostas, and pianist Anastassiya Petrova. Expect appearances by other faculty and alumni.
March 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Artists For Humanity EpiCenter, Boston
Though he came to the fore in Christian McBride’s trio, Christian Sands has proved to be an inventive composer and bandleader in his own right, and an absolutely sparkling pianist. His band for this show includes guitarist Marvin Sewell, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Ryan Sands. And this is another Celebrity Series of Boston jazz festival show at the almost-brand-spanking-new Artists For Humanity EpiCenter in South Boston.
March 25 at 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston
Former Jazz Messenger saxophonist Javon Jackson got to the heart of the hard bop on which he cut his jazz teeth with his most recent disc, The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni, a collection of gospel hymns and spirituals chosen in collaboration the revered poet and activist — “Wade on the Water,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Sing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Giovanni provides spoken-word sequences on some songs and, by her request, sings one tune, Lee Adams and Charles Strouse’s “Night Song,” inspired by Nina Simone’s 1964 recording. Alas, no Nikki for this show, but the fine band includes pianist Jeremy Manasia, bassist David Williams, and drummer McClenty Hunter.
March 26 at 8 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston
The excellent post-bop pianist Alex Minasian (his teachers have included Hank Jones, Don Friedman, and James Williams) fronts a terrific quartet with saxophonist Bill Pierce, bassist Vince Dupont, and drummer Joe Farnsworth.
Regina Carter Quintet
March 27 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Artists For Humanity EpiCenter, Boston
The peerless jazz violinist and composer Regina Carter has explored many facets of Black American history and culture. This program (presented in matinee and evening performances), called “Gone in a Phrase of Air,” is “an exploration of the communities and neighborhoods — predominantly African American — lost in the name of ‘urban renewal.’” The performance, we’re told, “is not solely lamentation; this is equally and importantly a celebration of these places and their iconic musicians, including neighborhoods in Carter’s hometown of Detroit as well as in Boston, St. Louis, Durham, Chicago, Lubbock, and more.” The band includes pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Chris Lightcap, drummer Alvester Garnett, and, we assume, a fifth TBA. This is the last in the Celebrity Series of Boston’s March jazz series.
Luther Gray Quartet
March 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Drummer Luther Gray gathers some of the Boston area’s heaviest heavy hitters to play his compositions: alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, trombonist Bill Lowe, and bassist Timo Shanko.
— Jon Garelick
Vincent Peirani (accordion) and Emile Parisien (soprano sax) are astonishing musicians who, as a duo, create some of the finest music I’ve heard in a very long time. Each has played in a variety of musical settings, but this project is rooted in South American music, especially tango, with a bit of Jelly Roll Morton and Kate Bush mixed in. The chance to witness this level of virtuosity and communication is rare.
— Steve Provizer
St. John Passion
Presented by Emmanuel Music
March 26, 7 p.m.
Emmanuel Church, Boston
Emmanuel Music anticipates the start of Passion Week with a performance of J.S. Bach’s towering St. John Passion. Charles Blandy is the Evangelist and David Tinervia sings Jesus; Ryan Turner conducts.
Presented by Boston Symphony Orchestra
March 31-April 2, 8 p.m. (1:30 p.m. Friday)
Symphony Hall, Boston
Sir Antonio Pappano, the Boston Symphony, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus mark the 60th birthday of Benjamin Britten’s monumental War Requiem. Amanda Majeski, Ian Bostridge, and Matthias Goerne are the soloists.
— Jonathan Blumhofer
Ongoing, Online viewing
Engage in a cinematic opera experience with Svadba, the story of a bride-to-be on the eve of her wedding surrounded by friends and family helping her prepare for the big event. Sung completely a cappella, Svadba’s entrancing music by Serbian composer Ana Sokolović merges with dance-led visuals from film director Shura Baryshnikov and screenwriter Hannah Shepard. Slovenia-born Daniela Candillari conducts.
The Time Traveler’s Lens
Ongoing, online viewing
Hailed as “groundbreaking” (MidJersey News) and a “unique interdisciplinary work” (Town Topics), The Time Traveler’s Lens combines dance, film, technology, and history to engage viewers in a 360-degree virtual reality performance that is amazingly intimate — the viewer is placed in the center of the action. Experience five virtual reality works unfolding spherically around you on your own mobile device. You are the time traveler, you control the lens — Luminarium Dance Company provides five worlds of illusion.
— Merli V. Guerra
March 30 at 8 p.m.
At the Center for Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville
DrumatiX, a regional tap dance and percussion company, presents a show that “combines tap dance, body percussion, and drumming, using found items, invented instruments, drums, buckets, barrels, technology, and audience interaction” in what is billed as a “family-friendly, powerful, fun, and engaging performance.” DrumatiX has performed in Lincoln Center and Symphony Space (NYC), Mosesian Center for the Arts (MA), and the Clayton Opera House (NY), as well as a multitude of other festivals and venues in the Northeast.
— Bill Marx
Virtual Event: Pankaj Mishra – Harvard Book Store
Run and Hide: A Novel
March 22 at 7 p.m.
Free with $5 suggested donation
“Run and Hide is acclaimed essayist Pankaj Mishra’s powerful story of achieving material progress at great moral and emotional cost. It is also the story of a changing country and global order, and the inequities of class and gender that map onto our most intimate relationships.”
In-Person Event: Matt Bell – Porter Square Books
Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts
March 23 at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $15.95, with copy of book
“From lauded writer and teacher Matt Bell, Refuse to Be Done is encouraging and intensely practical, focusing always on specific rewriting tasks, techniques, and activities for every stage of the process. You won’t find bromides here about the ‘the writing Muse.’
“Instead, Bell breaks down the writing process in three sections. In the first, Bell shares a bounty of tactics, all meant to push you through the initial conception and get words on the page. The second focuses on reworking the narrative through outlining, modeling, and rewriting. The third and final section offers a layered approach to polishing through a checklist of operations, breaking the daunting project of final revisions into many small, achievable tasks.”
In Person: Ilan Stavans with Grace Talusan – brookline booksmith
What Is American Literature?
March 23 at 7 p.m.
“The distinguished cultural critic Ilan Stavans explores the nation’s identity through the prism of its books, from the indigenous past to the early settlers, the colonial period, the age of independence, its ascendance as a global power, and its shallow, fracturing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The central motives that make the United States a flawed experiment — its celebration of do-it-yourself individualism, its purported exceptionalism, and its constitutional government based on checks and balances — are explored through canonical works like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the work of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, and immigrant voices such as those of Américo Paredes, Henry Roth, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jhumpa Lahiri, and others. This is literary criticism at its best-informed: broad-ranged yet pungent and uncompromising.”
In Person Event: Tara Isabella Burton with George Scialabba — brookline booksmith
The World Cannot Give
March 24 at 6 p.m.
“The Girls meets Fight Club in this coming-of-age novel about queer desire, religious zealotry, and the hunger for transcendence among the devoted members of a cultic chapel choir in a prestigious Maine boarding school — and the obsessively ambitious, terrifyingly charismatic girl that rules over them.” Burton will be in discussion with critic George Scialabba.
Virtual Event: Monthly Story Time – Women’s History Month – Belmont Books
Featuring: Connie Schofield-Morrison (author) and Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator) of Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews Her Way to Freedom, Candace Fleming (author) of What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum, and Lori Mortensen (author) and Kristy Caldwell (illustrator) of Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird
March 26 at 4 p.m.
“In Stitch by Stitch, we have the story of an awe-inspiring African American woman! A talented seamstress, born a slave, bought freedom for herself and her son.
“Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in 1818, enslaved to a Virginia plantation owner. As a teenager, Lizzy was sent to work as the only slave on a small plantation, where the work was endless, and the masters treated her with unspeakable cruelty. A new master, learning Lizzy could sew, sent her to work for a tailor, who paid the master, not Lizzy, for Lizzy’s work.
“The beautiful gowns that Lizzy created were displayed in the tailor’s window and soon attracted the attention of the wealthiest women in Virginia. Among them was Mrs. Jefferson Davis who also introduced Lizzy to Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Lizzy first had to borrow money from her wealthy patrons to buy her freedom, once she was free, she was able to earn money of her own and pay them all back.
“For What Isabella Wanted, we hear the story of the indomitable Isabella Stewart Gardner searching the world for magnificent artwork and filling her home with a truly unique collection, with the aim of turning it into a museum, which she established in 1903.
“Isabella always did things her own way. One day she’d wear baseball gear to the symphony, the next, she’d be seen strolling down the street with zoo lions. It was not surprising that she was very particular about how she arranged her exhibits. They were not organized historically, stylistically, or by artists. Instead, they were arranged based on the connections Isabella felt toward the art, a connection she hoped to encourage in her visitors.”
“Away With Words is a picture book biography about the first female member of the Royal Geographic Society takes readers around the world with a daring nineteenth-century female explorer and author. Kristy Caldwell’s detailed, graphic novel-inspired illustrations illuminate Bird’s exciting global travels, and Lori Mortensen’s back matter, author’s note, and bibliography will satisfy the curiosity of readers who want to learn more.”
In-Person Event: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Andrew S. Curran at the Brattle Theatre – Harvard Book Store
Who’s Black and Why?: A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race
March 31 at 6 p.m. (Doors at 5:30)
Tickets are $32 with book, $5 without
“In 1739 Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences announced a contest for the best essay on the sources of ‘blackness.’ What is the physical cause of blackness and African hair, and what is the cause of Black degeneration, the contest announcement asked. Sixteen essays, written in French and Latin, were ultimately dispatched from all over Europe. The authors ranged from naturalists to physicians, theologians to amateur savants. Documented on each page are European ideas about who is Black and why.”
Virtual Event: Maud Newton with Casey Cep – Porter Square Books
Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation
April 4 at 6 p.m.
“On her eponymous blog, Maud Newton wrote brilliantly on a variety of literary topics. She also explored her unconventional Southern roots: grandfathers she never met, known for marrying 13 times and killing a man with a hay hook; her mother, who started a holy-roller church in their living room; and her father, who was proud that their forebears had enslaved people.
Because of family history, her grandmother warned her to be on the alert for signs of mental illness. Her ninth-great-grandmother was accused of being a witch in the seventeenth century. In her memoir Ancestor Trouble, Newton shares the story of her family and her newfound belief in ‘the transformational possibilities’ that come from reclaiming and reckoning with our ancestors. Don’t miss her insight and discussion with Casey Cep.”
— Matt Hanson