BOOKED for the evening, The Westport Library’s signature fundraising event, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in high style in 2024, honoring one of the greatest figures in the history of sport and a revered trailblazer in the fight for equality.

Tennis legend and social justice pioneer Billie Jean King will be this year’s awardee, honored in the Library’s Trefz Forum on Thursday, September 12. Tickets for the event will go on sale to the general public in late July.

King comes to the Library fresh off the 2024 US Open, whose grounds were named in her honor in 2006. In that ceremony, she told the crowd of 20,000-plus, “Mi casa es su casa, my house is your house, this house is our house.” That demonstration of openness and emphasis on community has been an enduring hallmark of King’s unparalleled life and career — one which she’ll share on September 12, in conversation with Chris McKendry, a Westport resident and host for ESPN’s tennis coverage.

“We are delighted to welcome tennis great and sporting pioneer Billie Jean King as our 2024 BOOKED for the evening honoree,” said Bill Harmer, Westport Library executive director. “Having Billie Jean King as our guest of honor for this milestone 25th anniversary is especially significant. Her unparalleled achievements and unwavering dedication to equality and justice resonate deeply with the values our library and community.

“This silver anniversary is a time to reflect on our shared commitment to fostering knowledge, inclusivity, and progress, and there is no one more fitting to inspire us than Billie Jean King. Her enduring impact on sports and society makes her a beacon of hope and change, and we are thrilled to celebrate her remarkable legacy with our community.”

BOOKED for the evening annually honors an individual whose work reflects the purpose of the Library: to nurture a love of learning and to enhance our understanding of the world. There is perhaps no other figure in the history of sports who has done more to fulfill that mission than King.

The International Tennis Hall of Famer stands as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She was one of the game’s premier stars in the 1960s and 70s, and in her career won an astounding 39 Grand Slam titles, 12 in singles, and finished No. 1 in the world on five occasions.

For her all accomplishments on the court, she is best known today for championing equality and fairness — in sport and in society. Her victory over Bobby Riggs in the famed Battle of the Sexes match in 1973 was a seminal moment in professional sports, and in many ways the culmination of her work championing equality in the years preceding.

In 1970, she launched the Virginia Slims Tour — the first professional tennis tour for women, a groundbreaking move at the time — and in 1971 she became the first woman athlete to earn more than $100,000 in prize money. Yet, when she won the US Open in 1972, she received $15,000 less than the men’s champion Ilie Năstase.

The following year, resolute to create lasting change, King leveraged her position and her clout to spearhead the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association, becoming its first president. In that position, she lobbied for equal prize money at the US Open — and succeeded. The US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to both men and women, something none of the other three Grand Slams accomplished regularly until the Australian Open followed suit in 2001, nearly three decades later.

In the ensuing years, King continued to exercise her voice as a champion for equal rights and gay rights, emerging as one of the world’s most outspoken advocates against discrimination and for the fair treatment for all people, all the time, everywhere.

“One thing we stressed in the WTA, and the older players at the time when we started, was: This is a platform,” King told PBS NewsHour at the 2023 US Open. “We have an opportunity. We actually have an obligation to help make this world a better place.”

King’s accolades are many:

She was elected to the Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, and the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990.

In 2006, the renaming of the US Open grounds — now recognized as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center — made King the first woman to have a major sports venue dedicated in her honor. (King grew up learning to play tennis on the public courts of Long Beach, California, and the National Tennis Center is the one of the world’s largest public tennis facilities, making this another fitting tribute.)

In 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her advocacy work on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community, becoming the first woman athlete to receive the distinction.

In 2014, she founded the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the critical issues required to achieve diverse, inclusive leadership in the workforce.

In 2020, the International Tennis Federation renamed the Fed Cup, the world cup of women’s tennis and the largest annual global team competition in women’s sports, the Billie Jean King Cup.

In 2021, she was honored with the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, the legendary magazine’s highest honor.

And most fitting for this occasion, King also has a library named after her. In 2019, the Long Beach City Council honored her by naming its new library the Billie Jean King Main Library.

“I believe in the power of dreaming big and never giving up,” King said, adding separately, “The legacy I would like to leave is that it’s OK to be yourself, and it’s OK to be different.”

Previous BOOKED for the evening award recipients include 2023 guest of honor Laura Linney, the award-winning actress and acclaimed humanitarian, as well as luminaries such as Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Mitchell, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Oscar Hijuelos, Adam Gopnik, Will Shortz, Patti Smith, Barry Levinson, Jon Meacham, Nile Rodgers, Lynsey Addario, Ron Chernow, Alan Alda, Justin Paul, Frederic Chiu, Itzhak Perlman, and Shonda Rhimes.

StoryFest is back for its seventh edition in 2024, with an accomplished lineup that features a genre-spanning cohort of some of the leading lights in letters.

The Westport Library’s annual literary festival — the largest annual literary festival in Connecticut and one of the biggest in the Northeast — will be held Friday, September 20, through Sunday, September 22, featuring acclaimed author, essayist, and editor Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Difficult Women), best-selling writer Christopher Golden (Hellboy, The House of Last Resort), and award-winning author Claire Messud (The Emperor’s Children, This Strange Eventful History), plus many more.

The event will also feature a special Library tribute to the late Sybil Steinberg and a PitchFest workshop delivered by Bloom Writers’ Studio. Steinberg, the former Publisher’s Weekly editor who shared her much-anticipated Sybil’s List with the Westport community every spring and winter, passed away earlier this year.

Among the authors currently scheduled to appear at StoryFest 2024 are Kerstin Bakis, Julia Bartz, Clay Chapman, May Cobb, Rachel Harrison, Isi Hendrix, Don P. Hooper, Gabino Iglesias, Hal Johnson, Chris Knapp, Ryan La Sala, Josh Malerman, GennaRose Nethercott, Anna Noyes, Courtney Preiss, Oliver Radclyffe, Ainissa Ramirez, Shannon C.F. Rogers, Hugh Ryan, Peng Shepherd, and Diana Sussman. In addition, Jennifer Baker will conduct a live recording of her podcast, Minorities in Publishing, and storied editor Ellen Datlow returns to the Library’s Trefz Forum for a panel discussion with authors from her latest anthology.

Additional attendees will be announced in the coming weeks and throughout the summer.

“Our little literary festival that could is turning 7 this fall, and it’s not so little anymore,” said StoryFest organizer and co-founder Alex Giannini, who serves as the Library’s associate director of programs and events. “StoryFest is always my favorite event of the year, and we can't wait to see friends old and new, and to talk about our favorite thing: books!”

L to R: Claire Messud, Roxane Gay, and Christopher Golden

StoryFest drew nearly 1,000 participants and more than 40 authors in 2023 — an amazing coterie of writers that included iconic author Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline, The Sandman Series), Pinkalicious author/illustrator Victoria Kann, and New York Times best-selling writers Angie Kim (Happiness Falls), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians), and Caroline Kepnes (You).

Other past participants include National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds; Goosebumps author R.L. Stine; New York Times best-selling authors Michael Lewis and Mitch Albom; young adult superstars Nic Stone, Tiffany Jackson, and L.L. McKinney; Emmy Award winner Sheila Nevins; best-selling memoirist Isaac Fitzgerald; Kirkus Prize recipient Saeed Jones; and famed fantasy writer Naomi Novik.

“StoryFest has always been and will forever be the bar which other author conventions are judged by,” said Chapman, who will be attending StoryFest for a third consecutive year. “The awe-inspiring roster of authors, the intimacy between writers and the audience, and the level of passion both onstage and off truly sets this festival aside from all the others.”

The multi-talented Gay will kick off the festival Friday evening, in discussion with author and memoirist Radclyffe. Gay’s writing has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others.

In addition, Gay is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, The New York Times best-seller Bad Feminist, the nationally best-selling Difficult Women, and The New York Times best-selling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel.

Gay has several books forthcoming and is at work on television and film projects. She also has a newsletter, The Audacity, and previously hosted the podcast, The Roxane Gay Agenda.

Radclyffe is the author of Adult Human Male. His essays have appeared in The New York Times and Electric Lit, and his newest memoir, Frighten the Horses, is debuting in September through Roxane Gay Books.

Related: StoryFest 2023 at The Westport Library Celebrates the Power of Writers, Readers, and Community

The Saturday event honoring Steinberg will be the Westport book community’s opportunity to say goodbye to one of its most beloved members. Steinberg served as an influential and storied editor at Publisher’s Weekly for 25 years, a span that included stints as the fiction reviews editor and author interviews editor and included conversations with Annie Proulx, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, and Fay Weldon, among others.

Steinberg was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2015, served on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, and made numerous television appearances on PBS, CBS, C-SPAN, and NBC.

“Sybil was not just an icon in the public library world and industry, but also an innovator and a powerhouse who revolutionized how librarians manage book collections with her star system, which everyone else quickly emulated,” Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said. “She also was an indelible part of the Westport literary community and a true friend to the Library. Her influence extended far beyond her 25 years as an influential editor at Publisher’s Weekly. She was a trusted source for some of the best books you could possibly read each year. We miss her terribly but look forward to honoring her, her memory, and her legacy at this year’s StoryFest.”

In addition, Saturday will feature panel discussions and conversations with the assembled writers, in addition to the live podcast taping with Baker.

Sunday’s PitchFest workshop will close out StoryFest with an opportunity for aspiring — and established — writers to learn tips and tricks on pitching their manuscripts to literary agents and publishers. Other elements covered will include writing a query letter, the best way to present material, and more.

Winter 2023 Book Sale

Now is the chance to stock up for your summer reading!

The Westport Library Big Spring Book Sale is Friday, May 17, through Monday, May 20, on the Library’s main level, with something for every reader.

The Book Sale features thousands of gently used books for children and adults in more than 50 categories of nonfiction and fiction, as well as noteworthy, vintage children’s and antiquarian books, vintage vinyl records, music CDs, and movie and television series DVDs, as well as a limited selection of ephemera and artwork.

The book sale hours, with free admission, are as follows:

Friday, May 17: 12-6 pm

Saturday, May 18: 9 am - 5 pm

Sunday, May 19: 11 am - 4 pm (half-price day; note: $1 fiction books and $1 children’s books remain at $1)

Monday, May 20: 9 am - 5 pm (fill our logo bag for $10 per bag, or fill your own equivalent-sized bag for $8 per bag, or purchase individual items at half-price — your choice)

On Friday morning, May 17, from 8:45 am to 12 pm, the Book Sale will be open only to patrons who purchase an early access ticket. Early access tickets must be purchased in advance and are available online. (Click here to purchase early access tickets.)

Of special interest for this sale:

  • A large collection of philosophy books, donated from the library of a retired professor of philosophy, plus a concentration of books on spirituality, including Eastern and Native American spirituality.
  • An extensive collection of history books, especially military history, with many very scarce titles focusing on World War II. These include fully illustrated studies of period aircraft, weaponry, ships, and combat vehicles, many of which are prized by modeling enthusiasts. And plenty of American History and politics and world history books as well.
  • A large assortment of framed art, from small desktop pieces to large wall pieces.
  • A vast assortment of jigsaw puzzles, at bargain prices.
  • A small number of laser videodiscs, priced between $3 and $5, and including classics such as The Bad and the Beautiful with Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas, the original Cape Fear with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, and Sex and the Single Girl with Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.
  • Fiction for $1: A conference room filled with hardcover fiction, mystery, science fiction and fantasy books, and young adult fiction, plus paperback novels, all offered at just $1 each. (Note: books in this room will remain priced at $1 each on Sunday’s half-price day.)
  • Our featured specials list, can be found here.

To volunteer at this sale, please send an email to Judi Lake at [email protected].

If you can’t make the sale, you can still visit the Westport Book Shop at 23 Jesup Road, across Jesup Green from the Library, or shop any time 24/7 on the Book Sale’s online store or its eBay store.

The Westport Library Book Sale is operated by Westport Book Sale Ventures, a nonprofit enterprise with a dual social mission: raise funds to support The Westport Library while providing meaningful employment for adults with disabilities.

L to R: ESPN sports personality Mike Greenberg and ESPN CEO Jimmy Pitaro

L to R: Mike Greenberg and Jimmy Pitaro

ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has always been at the cutting edge of his field, recognized globally as a leader in sports media.

On Tuesday, April 30, he will be honored for his vision and contributions to sport and society with the inaugural Innovator of the Year Award, presented by StartUp Westport.

The event will be held at 6:30 pm in the Trefz Forum at The Westport Library. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door, with the net proceeds going to benefit the Library.

The StartUp Westport Innovator of the Year Award is an annual honor given to a member of the greater Westport community whose work exemplifies the ability to embrace opportunities, forward-looking ideas, or technologies that shape the future for the betterment of the lives of others. For its first edition, this “Big Show” for StartUp Westport will focus on Pitaro, a business leader responsible for the continued success of ESPN, an iconic brand that is always part of the national conversation.

ESPN sports personality and Westport resident Mike Greenberg will interview Pitaro about his accomplishments during the awards ceremony.

“We could not be more excited to present this award to Jimmy for his outstanding contributions to the greater Westport community and beyond,” said Cliff Sirlin, president of StartUp Westport. “ESPN brings joy and excitement into the homes of hundreds of millions of people around the globe every day. Jimmy’s dynamic leadership and groundbreaking initiatives make him a worthy recipient of this honor.”

Said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer: “Jimmy Pitaro stands at the very pinnacle of his profession — someone who has indelibly changed how we consume sports as a society and who has shaped our culture in countless ways. We are thrilled to welcome him, and of course also the multi-talented Mike Greenberg, and to continue our collaboration with Startup Westport. Their partnership is invaluable, enhancing the fabric of Westport and its surrounding communities.”

Pitaro serves as the chairman of ESPN, a core business segment of The Walt Disney Company. His tenure at the worldwide leader in sports has been characterized by strategic advancements, innovative agreements, notable growth in ESPN’s digital and social presence, and a focus on audience expansion, solidifying his position as a visionary leader in the sports media landscape.

Pitaro, who has a BS in economics from Cornell University and a JD from St. John's University School of Law, has piloted ESPN to creative rights agreements with major entities like the NFL and UFC, expanded Disney's sports assets, achieved ratings success with shows like SportsCenter and ESPN's signature programs, and spearheaded the launch and growth of ESPN+, a multi-sport direct-to-consumer video service. He also is credited with identifying key business priorities — including innovation, storytelling, audience expansion, and direct-to-consumer strategies — and implementing a collaborative leadership style that resulted in impressive employee engagement and performance during challenging times.

In addition, Pitaro actively serves on various industry and charitable boards, showcasing his commitment to community engagement and industry development.

For his efforts, Pitaro was recognized by Sports Business Journal with inclusion in its prestigious “Forty Under 40” list for his dynamic leadership in sports and as its Sports Executive of the Year for 2019-20. He was also honored as the Multichannel News Sports Executive of the Year in 2018.

Greenberg is the host of the daily morning show Get Up, the NFL Draft, NBA Countdown, and his own ESPN radio program. He joined ESPN in 1996 as an anchor and subsequently served as one half of ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike, one of the most successful sports radio programs in broadcast history. In 2016, Greenberg and his radio partner Mike Golic were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and Greenberg has also been inducted into Northwestern University’s Medill Hall of Achievement.

In addition, Greenberg is a New York Times best-selling author who has written two nonfiction books — Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot (2007) and Mike & Mike’s Rules for Sports and Life — as well as two fiction volumes — All You Could Ask For (2013) and My Father’s Wives (2015).

The money raised at the April 30 event will go to support the Library’s annual programming initiatives. Over the past year, the Library has hosted more than 1,000 free programs, bringing together 85,000-plus individuals — three times Westport’s population. Overall, donations and fundraising account for more than 21% of the Library’s operating costs and go to support, programming, events, and other initiatives.

“Aren’t you supposed to be quiet in a library?” Spin Doctors lead singer Chris Barron asked the assembled crowd of nearly 600 during the band’s Friday night concert at VersoFest 2024. “This is, like, the loudest thing that’s ever happened at a library!”

For five rollicking days, Barron was on the money. From April 3 to April 7, The Westport Library played host to its third annual VersoFest — a music and media festival like no other, featuring concerts, panel discussions, workshops, and so much more — and while it was rarely quiet, it was quite a show.

This year’s festival had something for everyone, including concerts with The Lemon Twigs and Spin Doctors, and Verso Visionary conversations with the legendary Chuck D (Public Enemy), renowned producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), and influential drummer and musician John Densmore (The Doors).

In addition, there was a celebration of of Wild Style, the first hip hop motion picture; a fashion roundtable with Cindy Dunaway, Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Group), and Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic, hosted by SNL Beehive Queen and rock 'n' roll treasure Christine Ohlman; a panel discussion on Connecticut, WPLR, and the birth of Buckingham/Nicks era Fleetwood Mac; and a Verso Book Club featuring Audrey Golden, author of I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records.

All told, more than 4,000 attended VersoFest 2024, with an additional 3,000 tuning in online, and capacity crowds filling the Trefz Forum each day.

“This is not your regular library,” Cindy Dunaway said in a radio interview prior to VersoFest. “This is what every library in every major city should be like because it is such a resource for the community and for all the towns around and so on. They do just a magnificent job of integrating music and the arts, books as well.”

To that end, VersoFest 2024 carved out space amid its stacks Saturday and Sunday for a record fair featuring vendors from across the tri-state area, a “Diamond Dogs” exhibit of David Bowie memorabilia curated by Paul Brenton and featuring pioneering stage designer Mark Ravitz, and a dedicated art exhibit (Thinking Inside the Box) built into the Trefz Forum’s grandstand. The festival also featured intimate workshops with resident experts covering podcasting, musician career coaching, video game music composing, the secrets of radio airplay, and the legal side of the music business.

The integration of concerts and conversations, panels and workshops, exhibits and more resonated with the assembled guests, speakers, and presenters, who marveled at the Library’s state-of-the-art facilities (TV studio, SSL recording studio, 18-foot HD videowall, post-production suite) and its ability to merge music, media, and creativity in celebration of the arts.

“We’re all students trying to figure out how to become human beings in this communication of life,” Chuck D said during the VersoFest opening night conversation. “I believe culture is a thing that equalizes us as human beings and knocks the differences to the side. It connects our similarities. It’s what makes music and art so strong.”

And it all came together at The Westport Library, all furthering the Library’s mission of being open to all and serving as a gather spot for the community to share ideas, learn, and grow — and sometimes, just to get loud and have fun.

As Densmore said after his talk, succinctly: “This the coolest damn library, ever!”

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Photos by Brendan Toller, Verso Studios, Westport Library, and Dave Dellinger, Dave Dellinger Photography

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Verso Visionary Conversation: Chuck D with Johnny Temple
Spin Doctors in Concert
Pitch Your Podcast Workshop
Verso Visionary Conversation: Tony Visconti with Paul Cavalconte
VersoFest Book Club: I Thought I Heard You Speak with Audrey Golden
Verso Visionary Conversation: John Densmore with Alisyn Camerota
VersoFest Music Oral History Podcast: Glam to Punk, a Fashion Roundtable
Hip Hop Panel: Celebrating 41 Years of Wild Style
Fleetwood Mac Panel Discussion

VersoFest 2024 kicks off Wednesday, April 3, the first of five days celebrating music, media, and creativity with an array of amazing artists; panels where experts share their perspectives and vision; intimate workshops that provide creators the opportunity to deconstruct, improve, and hone their craft; and performances that entertain and inspire.

Now in its third year, VersoFest is The Westport Library’s annual music and media conference and festival where knowledge is shared and inspiration is discovered — a forum for media creators, artists, and fans to converge.

VersoFest drew more than 1,500 people in its inaugural year of 2022 and approximately 4,000 a year ago, with between 5,000 and 6,000 expected this year.

Headliners for the 2024 festival include Chuck D (Public Enemy), renowned producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), and influential drummer and musician John Densmore (The Doors), in addition to Cindy and Dennis Dunaway, Tish & Snooky of Manic Panic fame, the Cold Crush Brothers, Tony Tone, Grand Wizzard Theodore, the author Audrey Golden, and so much more.

This year’s shows include the Thursday night kickoff concert with rising electric pop rockers The Lemon Twigs, with DJ HYSTERICA starting the evening, and the Friday headlining concert with the hit band the Spin Doctors, with Nick Depuy opening.

Visit our VersoFest webpage for more, and read below for the full 2024 lineup:

Wednesday, April 3

4-5:30 pm – Workshop: Hands on Hip Hop History Presented by TeachRock (register here)

7-8:30 pm – Chuck D in Conversation with Johnny Temple (tickets here; $50 presold, $60 at door)

Thursday, April 4

6:30-10 pm – The Lemon Twigs in Concert, with DJ HYSTERICA; Doors and DJ: 6:30 pm, The Lemon Twigs: 8 pm (tickets here; $20 presold, $30 at door)

Friday, April 5

6:30-10 pm – Spin Doctors in Concert, with Nick Depuy; Doors: 6:30 pm, Nick Depuy: 7 pm, Spin Doctors: 8 pm (tickets here; $50 presold, $60 at door)

Saturday, April 6

11 am-5 pm – VersoFest Record Fair presented by Record Riots

11 am-5 pm – “Diamond Dogs” at 50: David Bowie Exhibit by Paul Brenton with Set Designer Mark Ravitz (free)

11 am-12 pm – Workshop: Pitch Your Podcast with Connecticut Public’s Meg Dalton and Jack Hitt (register here; free)

1-2:30 pm – Tony Visconti in Conversation with Paul Cavalconte (register here; free)

3-4:30 pm – Verso Book Club: Audrey Golden, I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women at Factory Records; Moderated by Karen Ponzio (register here; free)

3-4 pm (Brooks Place) – Workshop: Musician Career Coaching: Know Your Worth, Set Your Rate, and Get Paid, with Matt Starr (register here; free) 

4:30-6 pm – John Densmore in Conversation with Alisyn Camerota (register here; free)

Sunday, April 7

11 am-5 pm – VersoFest Record Fair presented by Record Riots

11 am-5 pm – “Diamond Dogs” at 50: David Bowie Exhibit by Paul Brenton with Set Designer Mark Ravitz (free)

11 am-12 pm (Brooks Place) – Workshop: Mind Your Business: Legal Workshop for Musicians, with Marcus Thomas (register here; free)

11 am-12:30 pm – Connecticut, WPLR, and the Birth of Buckingham/Nicks Era Fleetwood Mac, with Dick Kalt; Moderated by Dr. Jennifer Dauphinais (register here; free)

12:30-1:30 pm (Brooks Place) – Workshop: Video Game Music Composing with Tom Salta (register here; free)

1-2 pm: Glam to Punk, a Fashion Roundtable: Alice Cooper, Bowie, Blondie, and Beyond, with Cindy Dunaway, Dennis Dunaway, Tish & Snooky (Manic Panic); Moderated by Christine Ohlman (register here; free)

2-3 pm (Brooks Place) – Workshop: Unlock the Secrets of Radio Airplay, with Peter Gray (register here; free)

3-5 pm: Hip Hop Panel and Performances: Celebrating 51 Years of Wild Style; Hosted by Tony Crush and Rodney C. and featuring Grand Wizzard Theodore, Prince Whipper Whip (both Fantastic 5), Rodney C (Funky 4+1 and Double Trouble), The Cold Crush Brothers (Tony Crush, DJ Ultamite, Grand Master Caz), JDL, Easy AD, and Almighty Kay Gee (no registration required; free)

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In addition, there will be an art installation, Thinking Inside the Box, running all five days of the festival.

And EP Local will have a food truck on hand in the Levitt (back) parking lot from 12 to 4 pm both Saturday and Sunday serving a variety of sandwiches and craft tacos. Click here to see the menu.

Acclaimed actor Matthew Modine (Oppenheimer, Full Metal Jacket, Stranger Things) is coming to The Westport Library on Thursday, April 11, for a screening of his new documentary, Downwind, followed by a conversation and Q&A with Modine and his longtime producing partner Adam Rackoff.

The event starts at 6:30 pm in the Trefz Forum. The film and talkback are free of charge; registration is strongly encouraged.

“Even in the face of outrageous book banning at our public schools and public libraries, we are simultaneously witnessing a renaissance of attendance and curiosity about these vital communal institutions,” Modine said. “Perhaps people are coming back to libraries because we were kept apart and quarantined during the pandemic? Maybe it’s because of the detrimental effects and isolation associated with social media? Who knows?!

“For so many of us, going to the library has never been more wonderful and cool! That’s why, on Thursday, April 11, my producing partner Adam Rackoff and I are thrilled to be sharing our new documentary film Downwind at The Westport Library. This is our first public library screening for local residents. After the screening there will be a hearty question-and-answer discussion. I’m sure many people will be asking ‘Is Papa (from Stranger Things) really dead?’ Haha. Well, I won’t be at the Library to answer that, but I appreciate the question!”

Downwind tells the story of what happened after the events depicted in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, with a focus on Mercury, Nevada, which served as the testing site for 928 large-scale nuclear weapons from 1951 to 1992. Featuring members of the Shoshone Nation and the many people affected by the radioactive fallout from those tests, Downwind is, as the film’s trailer notes, “a harrowing documentary film … which uncovers the U.S. Government's disregard for everyone and everything living ‘Downwind.’”

Directed by Douglas Brian Miller and Mark Shapiro, Downwind is narrated by Martin Sheen and stars Michael Douglas, Mary Dickson, Patrick Wayne (son of legendary John Wayne), and comedian Lewis Black. Modine and Rackoff are the film’s executive producers.

Downwind premiered last year at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, to high acclaim. It currently holds a perfect 100% score on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes.

“Documentaries like Downwind have an opportunity to educate people on our country’s mistakes and, hopefully, prevent them from making them again in the future,” said Rackoff. “The Westport Library is a great venue for local residents to see a free film and participate in an educational discussion afterwards.”

Throughout their careers, Modine and Rackoff have teamed up to develop narrative films, short films, documentaries, animation projects, apps, and environmental initiatives. In addition to Downwind, their many projects include The Flying House, Merry Xmas, The Brainwashing of My Dad, Heaven on Earth, Trump Bites, Matthew Modine’s Ripple Effect, My Love Affair with Marriage, Accidental Truth: UFO Revelations, and The Fuse.

Modine recently appeared in the critically acclaimed Oppenheimer, portraying American electrical engineer and administrator Vanneyar Bush. The film received 13 Academy Award nominations and took home seven awards, including for best picture and best director. In addition to his roles in Stranger Things and Full Metal Jacket, Modine has appeared in an array of movies including Vision Quest, Gross Anatomy, Memphis Belle, And the Band Played On, Short Cuts, Cutthroat Island, Bye Bye Love, Any Given Sunday, and The Dark Knight Rises. He has also directed multiple projects and served as an executive director on scores more.

Rackoff has produced upwards of 40 projects in his burgeoning career, including Jesus Was a Commie, Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’, Ralph Bakshi’s Last Days of Coney Island, Cool for You, I Am What You Imagine, and the upcoming documentary short, Sludge: A PFAS Uprising.

Clockwise from top left: Marlene Siff's Fanfare (2018), Thinking Inside the Box, Camille Eskell's Useless Females: Don't Stand There Like a Bloody Momo (2019), from And All That Jazz.

Music and Women’s History Month are the themes running through four new art exhibits at The Westport Library, with three exhibitions inspired by VersoFest, all currently on display along with a collection of mixed media works by Camille Eskell.

Thinking Inside the Box is being hosted in the central grandstand on the Library’s main level. An idea put forward by artist and author Melissa Newman, Thinking Inside the Box isa unique installation that brings together 21 artists from around the area to create original multi-dimensional works. Participating artists include Tina Puckett, Chris Perry, Marc Zaref, Elizabeth Petrie DeVoll, Rebecca Ross, Janine Brown, Darcy Hicks, Nina Bentley, Miggs Burroughs, Sooo-z Mastropietro, Tom Bernsten, kHyal, Melissa Newman, Mary Ellen Hendricks, Katherine Ross, Five Fingaz, Tammy Winser, S’aint Phifer, Linda Colletta, Mollie Keller, and Norm Siegel.

Running simultaneously in the Sheffer Gallery is Marlene Siff’s Finely Tuned, which features five large dimensional paintings named for, and linked to, a specific expression found in music, along with several maquettes she created prior to construction of the final pieces. Visitors to the gallery can scan a QR code next to each piece and listen to the musical selections that the artist used as inspiration. Finely Tuned runs through June 10, with a reception and artist talk moderated by Miggs Burroughs on Sunday May 5, from 2 to 4 pm.

Also running through June 10 is Eskell’s exhibit, Scheherazade: Storyteller, displayed in the South Gallery. Eskell’s reception and talk will be held Wednesday, May 1, from 6 to 8 pm, also moderated by Burroughs. Part of her series, The Fez as Storyteller, Eskell’s digital photo-based collages incorporate textiles such as saris, hand-made paper, cast sculpture, trims, jewels, and more, to explore self-perception, societal attitudes, and psychological states related to gender bias.

Rounding out the new exhibits is Art of the Album: And All That Jazz, album covers from the collection of Ellen and Mark Naftalin, displayed in the Jesup Gallery. And All That Jazz features album covers of some of the pioneering jazz musicians who changed the face and sound of American music forever.

“Coinciding with Versofest, as well as Women’s History Month, we hope our current exhibits add an engaging and diverse visual arts component that can be enjoyed by the public at large, as well as the extended community that attends this year’s VersoFest,” said Carole Erger-Fass, the Library’s exhibit curator.

L to R: Camille Eskell, Marlene Siff

Siff describes herself as being born with a paintbrush in hand. The Bronx native attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City and earned a BA in Fine Arts from Hunter College, where she studied with Richard Lippold, William Baziotes, Raymond Parker, and William Rubin. After graduation, she began her professional career as a teacher and went on to create bed linen and kitchen collections for J.P. Stevens. After finding commercial success, she designed kitchen and dining room collections for JCPenney before devoting herself full time to her art.

Siff’s work has been juried into 153 competitions across the United States and has won 45 awards. She has exhibited in museums, galleries, and universities throughout the U.S. and abroad, including the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, the Katonah Museum of Art, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Mattatuck Museum, the Attleboro Arts Museum, Columbia/Barnard University, the University of Texas, the Walsh Art Gallery at Fairfield University, Eastern Kentucky University, and The Capitol building in Washington D.C.

“As a child, I studied classical music for over 10 years and have always listened to music while studying at school and working in my studio,” said Siff, who is now based in Westport. “My love of music inspired a desire to develop a new interpretation of music in art. These ideas were influenced by the rhythm, structure, and sounds of the musical compositions and songs I chose for each one of the interactive, multi-dimensional paintings.

“Working on 7 Finely Tuned + 1 became a creative, emotional, and spiritual adventure. My hope is to inspire strength, power, courage, and happiness at this particular time of great stress in our country.”

As a first-generation American and the youngest of three daughters from a Middle Eastern Iraqi-Jewish family from Mumbai, Eskell’s purpose has been to examine her cultural history and familial heritage through a feminist lens in her work. For Eskell, the converging of these three ancient societies compounded the underlying disparagement of women they shared, which deeply impacted her as it played out in the family dynamic.

Through her art, Eskell aims to unearth the influences of embedded patriarchal systems and inequitable gendered traditions that persist across generations. In The Fez as Storyteller, she tackles the power of these beliefs and perceptions and their broader social and psychological legacy.

Eskell exhibits her work in solo and group shows throughout the U.S. and internationally, including Mexico and South America. Her work is in numerous public and private collections, such as the Hudson River Museum, Chrysler Museum of Art, the Housatonic Museum of Art, and the Islip Art Museum. She received Artist Fellowship grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts in drawing, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts in painting, and the CT Office of the Arts in mixed media. She has also received reviews and features in numerous publications including The New York Times, CT Post, The Hartford Courant, Art New England, the Huffington Post, and online journals Art Spiel, Posit 19, and Ante Mag, among others.

Art of the Album: And All That Jazz, is the fifth in a series of exhibits exploring the history of album art and design, and was curated by Ellen Naftalin from their extensive album collection. Mark Naftalin is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee who rose to fame as the keyboardist with the influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Naftalin produced more than 1,300 blues radio broadcasts on three FM stations, in addition and more than 30 blues festivals. Since moving to Ellen’s native Westport in 2002, he has also hosted a monthly broadcast, The Mark Naftalin Show, which is now in its eighth year on Bridgeport's WPKN 89.5 FM.

For more information on these exhibits, and more, visit the Art at the Library page.

CNN anchor and author Alisyn Camerota will be at The Westport Library on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm to launch her new memoir, Combat Love.

This free event will be held in the Library’s Trefz Forum and feature Camerota in conversation with fellow memoirist and Westporter Gabi Coatsworth. Registration is strongly encouraged.

Wednesday evening is the first of two upcoming appearances for Camerota at the Library. The two-time Emmy Award winner will return on Saturday, April 6, for VersoFest 2024, in conversation with The Doors drummer John Densmore about his book, The Doors Unhinged: Jim Morrison's Legacy Goes on Trial.

“We’re remarkably fortunate to have Alisyn Camerota in the Library, and to have her twice in the span of 10 days is incredible for us and a real treat for everyone who loves great music and first-rate storytelling,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer.

Combat Love is Camerota’s story of growing up longing for stability and attachment as the foundation of her family crumbled. Set on the Jersey Shore in the 1980s, Combat Love centers around Camerota’s relationship with a local punk rock band named Shrapnel — the book title derives from one of their songs — and the band’s diehard fans. Camerota's memoir chronicles her near-misses and misadventures at clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, coupled with the sex, drugs, and punk rock of 1980s New Jersey.

“The story is about my long search for belonging — and home,” Camerota said in a social media post announcing the book's release.

The early reviews of the book are dazzling.

“Combat Love is far more than an audacious coming-of-age story; it’s a reminder that beneath a successful adult’s polished exterior is the wildness of youth, vulnerability, and loss,” wrote Adrienne Brodeur, the best-selling author of Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me. “Camerota shows us the hard-earned work of finding your voice. So, while you might pick up Combat Love because of the author’s familiar face, you won’t be able to put it down for her candor, wit, and storytelling. In an embarrassment of riches, Alisyn Camerota is as singular a writer as she is a broadcast journalist.”

Kirkus Reviews, meantime, called Combat Love “a candid chronicle of hard-won survival.”

Related: Where Westport Meets the World Podcast Conversation: Alisyn Camerota

Camerota is a journalist, author, anchor, and correspondent for CNN. In her three decades in journalism, she has covered stories nationally and internationally, earning two Emmy Awards and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award. Her debut novel, Amanda Wakes Up, was selected by National Public Radio as one of the best books of 2017 and deemed a “must-read” by Oprah Magazine.

Coatsworth is the author of the memoir, Love's Journey Home, and a novel, A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over, as well as a contributor to several anthologies. She runs monthly meetings for writers at The Westport Library.

Jackson Pollock (foreground) and Lee Krasner

Westport photographer and artist Stacy Bass is bringing a new series to The Westport Library: SmART, a regular program featuring in-depth conversations about art and artists, hosted in the Library’s Trefz Forum.

The first of these, to be held Thursday, March 14, will focus on the relationship between acclaimed artists and married couple Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. It will feature Bass in conversation with art historian, educator, curator, and Pollock/Krasner expert Bobbi Coller, tracing the arc of Pollock’s and Krasner’s brilliant careers, with examples of their artwork broadcast to the 18-foot videowall in the Trefz Forum.

The series was inspired by Bass’ conversation with fellow photographer Stephen Wilkes on the Library stage in November 2022.

The kickoff event starts at 7 pm. Attendance is free; registration is strongly encouraged.

“Westport has always been and continues to be an art-forward and art-centric community,” said Bass. “It’s one of the things I love most about living here. It feels like a natural fit for The Westport Library to offer its patrons access to insightful and educational programs with and about art and artists, and it’s my great pleasure to participate in bringing these conversations to life.”

Before people used the term “power couple,” Pollock and Krasner were two of the most groundbreaking artists of the Abstract Expressionist Movement. While Pollock’s distinctively energetic method of pouring paint directly onto the canvas was at first controversial, he gained a mythic notoriety and is now considered one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century.

It took much longer for Krasner’s art to be appreciated and valued. The recent drive to reassess the overlooked accomplishments of women artists has led to a realization of the strength of Krasner’s work, as well as her essential participation in the creation of mid-20th century abstraction. Her paintings and collages have now been displayed all over the world, sold for record-breaking prices at arthouse auctions, and prized in the collections of major museums.

“When Jackson Pollock first exhibited his powerful abstract compositions in the late 1940s, he shattered existing conventions of painting, causing an explosion in the art world that reverberated into contemporary public life,” Coller said. “Working parallel to him, his wife, the artist Lee Krasner, was an integral part of the experimental art movement known as Abstract Expressionism, which is credited with shifting the center of avant-garde artmaking from Paris to New York in the middle of the 20th century.

“In our informal art conversation, Stacy Bass and I will discuss the lives and careers of both Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, view examples of their work, and consider the complex relationship between two strong and influential artists.”

Coller received a BS in education from New York University and a PhD in art history from The Graduate Center of CUNY. She has taught modern and contemporary art at Long Island University and has curated more than 30 exhibitions, including The Artist’s Mother: Portraits and Homages, which was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. In addition, several of her exhibitions were circulated throughout the U.S. by the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibitions Service.

In addition, Coller currently is the chair of the advisory board of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs, New York, the landmarked home and studio of both artists. She curated two exhibitions for that site: The Persistence of Pollock in 2012, which marked the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, and Pollock’s Champions in 2014, the first exhibition to focus on Pollock’s relationships with his three lifetime dealers.

A political science/photojournalism major from Barnard College, Columbia University, Bass began to focus on fine art and commercial photography in college and studied at the Maine Photographic Workshops with masters Jay Maisel, Joe Baraban, and William Albert Allard. From her first solo exhibition in 1988, her fine artwork has become part of numerous private, corporate, and hotel collections, and her images and unique perspective continue to tap into the emotion and sensibility of a wide spectrum of viewers. Select pieces of her work are currently represented by Sue Appleton-Webster at Swoon Gallery in Westport.

Bass also is a graduate of NYU School of Law, where she concentrated on copyright, art, and entertainment law. She later used her expertise to become vice president of a publicly traded motion picture and television company, Savoy Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

Bass’ signature images of architecture, interiors, and gardens have resulted in three solo exhibitions and numerous awards. Her photography has been featured extensively in books and magazines including at home (where she was lead photographer for more than 10 years), Garden DesignLuxe Interiors + Design, House BeautifulElle Décor, Veranda, AD, HorticultureLiving Etc., British Homes & Gardens, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. She is the author of two best-selling and critically acclaimed monographs/books celebrating the American landscape: In the Garden (Melcher Media/Perseus Books, 2012) and Gardens at First Light (Moffly Media, 2015).

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Pictured: L to R, Stacy Bass and Bobbi Coller. Stacy Bass Photo Credit: Pamela Einarsen; Bobbi Coller Photo Credit: Pauline Shapiro.

Registration is now open for The Westport Library’s summer learning camps: Camp Explore and Summer Learning Clubs.

Camp Explore returns for its fifth year of free STEAM exploration, with workshops kicking off June 25 and running through late July. Among the courses offered this year are Coding LightLego with Josh Burker for kids entering grades 7-9 (June 25-27), Sculpture with Iyaba Ibo Mandingo for grades 6-8 (July 9-11), and Bats Langley's Impressionist Picnic also for grades 6-8 (July 23-25).

Summer Learning Clubs integrate math, literacy, and STEAM activities into a thematic approach, with each class blending inquiry, design, research, writing, and the arts. Taught by certified teachers, this program melds traditional academic activities into a Project Based Learning experience and student-driven study. The Library offers three sessions for kids entering first through eighth grades, with the majority of classes held Tuesday and Wednesday of each week: Three-hour classes for grades 1-2 and also for grades 3-5, and two-hour classes for middle schoolers.

Starting June 25 and running until August 14, the weekly sessions for 2024 include: plant science (June 25-26), collage and mosaic (July 1-2), poetry (July 9-10), environmental sciences (July 16-17), paper and print making (July 23-24), music (July 30-31), and edible science (August 6-7). For the week of August 13-14, grades 1-2 will focus on the Olympics, with grades 3-5 and middle schoolers covering story telling. There will also be a standalone class held August 19 on middle school organizational skills.

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“Camp Explore and the Summer Learning Clubs are two of our most popular offerings,” said Youth Services Director Mary Parmelee. “They’re a great way to get kids active in the summer, keep their minds working and growing, and apply many of the concepts they’ve learned in school in a way that is both social and fun.”

In addition to Camp Explore and the Summer Learning Clubs, the Children’s Library’s early literacy programming will continue to be offered throughout the summer. For details, visit the Children’s Library events page.

Camp Explore and the Summer Learning Clubs are brought to the Library by the continuing generosity of Roz and Bud Siegel.

Giannis Antetokounmpo went from the streets of Athens, Greece, to a brilliant basketball career, growing into a league MVP and NBA champion.

Now his story is coming to The Westport Library.

On Wednesday, February 28, the Library will be screening the brand new, feature-length documentary from Improbable Media and Words + Pictures: Giannis: The Marvelous Journey. The event will run from 6:30 pm to 9 pm. Tickets are free; registration is strongly encouraged.

The film screening will be followed by an in-person talkback in the Library’s Trefz Forum with Director Kristen Lappas and Improbable Media co-founder, former basketball star, and current ESPN analyst Jay Williams.

Giannis: The Marvelous Journey is the portrait of a global superstar and one of the NBA’s most dominating performers, a two-time league MVP who led the Milwaukee Bucks to a championship in 2021. His path began a world away, on the streets of Athens, where he was raised on the margins of society, alongside three brothers, by parents who had immigrated from Nigeria in search of a better life.

The film features interviews with Antetokounmpo and his entire family, including his mother Veronica; his brothers Thanasis, Kostas, and Alex; and his fiancée Mariah Riddlesprigger, as well as basketball luminaries Jason Kidd, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Kenny Smith, Vin Baker, Ernie Johnson, and more.

It marks the first time the family has given first-person accounts on their collective journey.

“There's been a lot of people that have shared their version of our story, but we felt like this was our time to open up about our dad, our foundation, our journey and do it in our way,” Antetokounmpo told People. “It was time for us to go out there and share this, like I said, our way. That's one thing that I'm very, very happy about — it’s our way.”

In the same interview, Antetokounmpo credited Lappas for making his family feel comfortable and bringing their story to life.

"She did a very good job of making everybody open up, because we don't really do that, especially to a stranger," he said.

Said Lappas: “The family has been apprehensive to tell their story in a documentary; they're very private. But we were able to really go there on their complicated relationship with Greece, with their dad's passing, which he had never opened up about, and I feel like this just shows a different side of him.”

Presented by Prime Video, Giannis: The Marvelous Journey is produced by Lappas, Connor Schell, and Hannah Beir, and executive produced by Aaron Cohen, Libby Geist, Nick Monroe, and Giorgos Panou.

L to R: Kristen Lappas and Jay Williams (Photos: Courtesy Amazon Prime Video)

About the Speakers

Lappas is a two-time Emmy Award winner for her short sports documentaries (Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible and A Mountain to Climb). She has had her work featured at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been honored by AFI Docs, the NAMIC Vision Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards. Lappas began her career at ESPN and worked with ESPN Films, producing eight installments of the Peabody Award-winning series 30 for 30.

Most recently, Lappas, the daughter of former Villanova basketball coach Steve Lappas, directed the 30 for 30 multi-part documentary Dream On, which was nominated for an IDA award. Lappas won in the “Best Non-Fiction Show Director” category at the Women's Image Awards for the series.

Williams is a media personality, entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, and former basketball sensation. He was a McDonald’s All-American as a high school player and went on to enjoy a remarkable career at Duke, earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman, leading the Blue Devils to a national title as a sophomore, and earning NCAA National Player of the Year honors as a junior. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, selected by the Chicago Bulls.

Williams is now the lead commentator for ESPN’s College GameDay and serves as one of the faces of college basketball. Along with Antetokounmpo, he launched Improbable Media in January 2024, serving as chairman of the next-generation production and brand consulting company.

***

Prime Video Presents Giannis: The Marvelous Journey Film Screening and Talkback
Wednesday, February 28
6:30-9 pm
The Westport Library, Trefz Forum

***

Pictured above: Giannis Antetokounmpo (via Improbable Media) and Jay Williams (via ESPN Images: Phil Ellsworth)

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