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Seedy Stories: Peter C. Vermilyea’s “Witches Of Litchfield County”

By Amy Krzanik

Horror movies and haunted houses are all well and good for a Halloween fright-night, but sometimes the scariest thing of all is the disclaimer “based on a true story.” Yikes.

In keeping with the spirit(s) of the season, local historian Peter C. Vermilyea will explore a spooky chapter from his most recent book, Wicked Litchfield County. In the illustrated lecture “Witches of Litchfield County,” he’ll discuss the real lives of four 18th century residents who were accused of witchcraft, their alleged activities, and the possible motivations behind the name-calling. He’ll appear at Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. and at The Litchfield Historical Society the following day at 3 p.m.

While researching Wicked, his second book, Vermilyea says he couldn’t believe what he was finding: counterfeiting, bank robberies and scams, capital punishment, slavery, speakeasies, ministers gone bad. And witches.

Litchfield was settled decades after the Salem witch trials, and by then Vermilyea says, “people realized they probably went a little too far,” so there wasn’t the hysteria often associated with witches. The women around these parts were thought to be not so much evil as simply nuisances. “They didn’t really harm anyone, they’d just cause little impediments in peoples’ lives – suddenly looms stop working, people can’t get their butter to churn,” he says.

Since witchcraft was considered a crime, old county histories from the 1830s to the 1880s include it in their official documents. Vermilyea found that Litchfield’s historical data fit perfectly with the national pattern of witch history, which is that it was a manifestation of gender in the mid-18th century. “They were calling them witches, but really they were just not acting the way that women were supposed to act,” he says. A telltale sign is that two of the four witches were named Molly – Moll Cramer of Woodbury and Molly Fisher from Kent – because Molly is the old English term for prostitute. “Some of the women were face healing – using alternative medicine and spirituality to heal – in a male-dominated church and medical world. Women were trying to help their neighbors and they got termed witches.”

This was definitely a class thing, too, Vermilyea says. Fisher was a transient – no one knew where she lived, or perhaps she was homeless. Cramer was the wife of a struggling blacksmith.

Bizarre stories abound, he says. “People put stock in stories that today we’d think were ludicrous.” He posits that the cause was a tremendous fear of isolation, as the early settlements had terrible roads and were cut off from each other by wilderness, and the population suffered from epidemics in which two-thirds of a town’s inhabitants would die. “There was fear,” he says, “and an inability to explain how these things were happening.”

To learn more about Litchfield’s witchy history, attend a lecture this weekend and pick up Vermilyea’s book, where witches are only one chapter in the seedier side of the northwest corner’s past.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/18/16 at 10:17 AM • Permalink

Ladies First: Grace Bonney Is In Great Company

Author photo by Christopher Sturman

By Amy Krzanik

Writer Grace Bonney, founder of the immensely popular long-running website Design*Sponge, gets right to the point in her new book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs. In the very first sentence of the book’s introduction she offers us activist Marian Wright Edelman’s famous quote “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The statement has possibly never rung more true than in this election year. No matter what their politics are, women of all ages can’t help but feel a tiny thrill when they hear a female voice say “I hope to be your next president.”

Bonney, along with five other New York-based businesswomen, will discuss this idea of visibility, along with other topics raised in the book, on Saturday, Oct. 22 at Morton Memorial Library in Rhinecliff. Joining her will be Sheila Bridges, who was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time Magazine; ceramicist Paula Grief who has had a successful career in graphic design, fashion art direction and music videos, and now has a shop on Hudson’s Warren Street; Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus, the co-owners of Take Root, a contemporary American restaurant in Brooklyn; and Tracy Kennard, the founder of Kennard & Daughters consultancy firm, and the co-owner and operator of Brunette wine bar in Kingston, NY. 

Ceramic artist Paula Greif

The impetus for her second book (Bonney’s first was 2011’s Design*Sponge at Home) was the disconnect between the successful female entrepreneurs Bonney knew in real life and the predominantly young, white, thin and straight women she (and therefore everyone else) was seeing represented in the mainstream media. “I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see,” she says. “There are so many woman that I look up to, and I wanted to give visibility to a wider range of ages, races and abilities.”

Bonney, who lives in Accord, NY with her wife, the prolific cookbook author Julia Turshen who is featured in the book, had two months to put the project together. Because of time constraints and other factors, there were some people who couldn’t be included, like Rachel Maddow, who Bonney says is a personal hero of hers. But she is incredibly happy with how many people she did get to interview, like musician Kathleen Hanna who she calls a personal idol and poet Nikki Giovanni who, like Bonney, grew up in Virginia. “I love how opinionated she is,” says Bonney. “She’s not afraid to speak up and be loud, to take up space.”

Another real standout is Laura Jane Grace, the transgender lead singer and songwriter of the band Against Me! “I was very excited to get to interview her about her life,” says Bonney. Other names you may recognize in the pages of the book are Tavi Gevinson, who founded what became Rookie Magazine at the age of 12; author and activist Janet Mock; writer Roxane Gay; model and activist Christy Turlington Burns; comedian Cameron Esposito; potter Rebecca Wood; Carla Hall, chef and co-host of The Chew; fashion designer Eileen Fisher; illustrator Maira Kalman; journalist Melissa Harris-Perry; Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney and the TV show Portlandia; and actor-comedian Abbi Jacobson of the Comedy Central show Broad City.

Along with a full-page photo of them in their creative spaces, all of the book’s participants have answered meaty questions such as “What does success mean to you?”, “What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career?”, and “In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?”

This is all material Bonney hopes to cover candidly with her participants during the book tour events. “We’ll have a panel discussion on transparency, vulnerability and what happens when things don’t work out, and not just about running a business,” Bonney says. “The guests are coming from very different perspectives, and I’m planning to delve into the nitty-gritty stuff.”

In The Company of Women Panel Discussion
Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.
Morton Memorial Library
82 Kelly Street, Rhinecliff, NY
Tickets: $35 - includes a copy of the book and an exclusive tote bag made for the tour

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/10/16 at 03:37 PM • Permalink

‘Come Hungry And Ready To Read’ At Basilica’s Read and Feed

By Jamie Larson

It’s practically a given that every event at Basilica Hudson, the adventurous art and culture venue in a former factory down by the river in Hudson, New York, will be unique, original, and feel like it could exist nowhere else. Read & Feed, on Saturday, July 30, is a perfect example.

The one-day “mini-festival” will bring together the best in contemporary literature and the best in modern eating and drinking. Hosted by the Basilica and the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP), Read & Feed will feature authors, chefs, poets and farmers who will discuss their work and passions. Both professions can, at times, be isolating and all consuming, and the organizers are curious to find out what their creative convergence might spark.

“We love celebrating all great things and this is such an interesting hybrid,” says Basilica co-founder Melissa Auf der Maur, who happily had the event pitched to her by CLMP Executive Director Jeffrey Lependorf. “It’s what we try to do here. It’s a subtle, slightly unpredictable but obvious overlap.”

Photo by Bill Stone

In further keeping with Basilica’s style, visitors will be able to curate their own experience as events pop up in different areas throughout the expansive industrial hall. There will be panel discussions and demonstrations including “Food, Farming and Spirituality,” where local celebrity chef Zak Pelaccio, author Marie Mutsuki Mockett, organic farmer Sarah Chase and renowned cookbook author Rozanne Gold discuss how spirituality manifests itself in the culinary arts.

At “Reading, Drinking, Eating, Writing,” New York Times “Drinking” columnist Rosie Schaap; president of the Poetry Society of America, Kimiko Hahn; and other authors will explore food as a language. There will also be a marathon (kind of Basilica’s thing) reading of John Cage and a room where you can have a poet read to you, one on one.

There’s even more on the schedule, including food demonstrations, and there will, of course, be plenty of local food and drink from Chaseholm Farms, Raven & Boar, Hudson Standard, Moto and others.

“Who doesn’t want to have a glass of wine and cheese and listen to smart people?” says Auf der Maur. “It’s a creative event that I think will really be a pleasant surprise.”

Read & Feed
Saturday, July 30 from 5—11 p.m.
Basilica Hudson
110 South Front St., Hudson, NY
(518) 822-1050
$20 in advance; $25 at the door, based on availability

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 07/24/16 at 09:10 PM • Permalink

Film, Television, Books, Dancing: David Black Does It All

By Amy Krzanik

Calling him prolific doesn’t do him justice; David Black is truly a man for all seasons. The Ghent, N.Y. resident (where he’s lived for the past 40 years with his wife, Barbara Weisberg, an author and the creator of the TV show Charles In Charge) began acting on stage at age six, and started writing and sending out manuscripts at the ripe old age of seven. He’s published nine critically acclaimed books and over 150 magazine articles in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Rolling Stone; is the producer and writer of award-winning episodes of the television shows CSI-Miami, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Monk, Law & Order and its spinoffs, and others; has penned plays, TV movies and feature films; has lectured and taught writing, and is a scholar-in-residence at Harvard.

Not content to conquer only the worlds of the page and screen, for his 60th birthday Black participated in the Columbia County Fair’s demolition derby and came in 7th against, he says, “forty-nine 19-year-olds.” When he turned 70, he bought himself tap-dancing lessons.

But lest you think the author has now set his sights solely on accumulating eclectic hobbies, he assures me that he continues to write five hours a day, has just finished the third draft of a 1200-page novel about the Baby Boomer generation, and is working on three new TV pilots. “Half the time I think there’s no way I can write today, I have no ideas,” he says. “But if you sit down, and write even one page a day, you’ll have 365 pages at the end of the year.”

His newest book, the mystery novel Fast Shuffle, was recently released in paperback, and Black will read from it, sign copies and participate in a Q&A at The Chatham Bookstore on Saturday, June 4 from 5-7 p.m. If you go, be sure to ask him about how he almost broke his back riding a bucking bronco, what it’s like to attend the Emmys, and about the time Rita Hayworth proposed marriage.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 05/31/16 at 11:15 AM • Permalink

Volume Reading Series Amps Up The Author Reading Experience

By Jamie Larson

Author readings give you a chance to get your nose out of your book, hear it read in the voice that wrote it, and then meet the mind behind it. The format for readings hasn’t changed much over the years, until now. But two Hudson writers seem to have found a new formula, turning the traditional reading into a party celebrating the best in new lit. 

The Volume Reading Series (which is holding its next event on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m.) has turned the dusty reading into a raucous happening that both enraptures its large audience and celebrates an impressive slate of authors. On the second Saturday of each month at Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson, New York, you’ll find a warm atmosphere that’s a product of its organizers’ dedication, a tight hour-long set, the Spotty Dog’s convivial setting, a DJ afterwards to lubricate conversation and, of course, access to beer and wine at the bookstore’s fabulous bar to help further the conversation.

Cara Benson and Andrea Kleine

“I think people feel that we’re passionate about it,” says co-organizer Hallie Goodman. “The vibe here is perfect. People say we’ve changed their mind about readings. We don’t want to make people feel like this is school.”

Volume gets the crowds because they get the authors people want to hear. And increasingly, although they only started in October of last year, Volume is booking more and more great authors because they get great crowds.

French and Goodman

This Saturday, Volume welcomes four notable authors, all with published work just out or coming out soon. The lineup includes Publisher’s Weekly “Writer to Watch” Andrea Kleine reading from her debut novel Calf, a fictionalized account about the murder of a young girl by her socialite mother. Also reading are writer, performer and poet Cara Benson; Portland, Oregon litigation attorney Jim McDermott reading from his debut novel Bitter is the Wind; and multi-disciplined, multi-talented Rebecca Keith. And the event will be followed with a set by DJ Julian Nagy (a.k.a. DJ Salinger), and the chance for audience members to work up the courage to schmooze with the presenters.

“We have a DJ because otherwise, when it’s over, we all awkwardly stand in silence and immediately leave,” Goodman says. “Because this is a serious nerd batch. And so the music elevates that, it warms it up. It’s been working so well.”

Jim McDermott and Rebecca Keith

Friends and writers Goodman and Dani Grammerstorf French had been mulling the idea of starting a series for years. When they finally pulled the trigger and got the enthusiastic okay from Spotty Dog, Volume took off immediately.

“We were just smart enough to say yes,” says the bookstore’s owner Kelly Drahushuk. “It’s great for everyone involved: the writers, the audience and us. Beer always helps, too.”

Goodman’s writing has appeared in Paper Magazine, Redbook, The Knot and Chronogram, on and in many other places. French has an MFA in Creative Fiction from The New School and has been published in Playgirl and Broken Pencil. She is the co-founder of the long-running Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in NYC. So these two know what they’re doing.

“We’re inviting people we really admire,” Goodman says. “If you really think about it, you’re drinking a beer and people are reading to you. How chill is that?”

Volume Reading Series
Second Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Spotty Dog Books & Ale
440 Warren St., Hudson, NY

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/08/16 at 10:05 AM • Permalink