Continuing Verso Studios’ education initiative, the Fairfield County-based organization LiveGirl will co-host a nine-week Leadership Lab for high school girls, grades 9-12, at The Westport Library. Sessions start on October 3 and run each Monday through December 14. The program is free, with pre-registration required.

Founded in 2014, LiveGirl is a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization that strives to build confident, inclusive leaders. Its mission is “to prepare the next generation of diverse, brave female leaders with the skills, community, and connections so that all girls may thrive and make a positive impact on the world. LiveGirl’s vision is to contribute to a world free from both gender and racial inequality.”

Utilizing the state-of-the-art Verso Studios media facilities at the Library, the LiveGirl Leadership Lab will focus on creative arts empowerment, multimedia expression, and training. Participants will foster their storytelling skills and be exposed to multiple creative channels such as video, music, and podcast production.

“Our girls have stories to tell that are worth hearing about,” said LiveGirl Program Director Shamare Holmes. “Partnering with Verso introduces LiveGirl’s Leadership Lab participants to practical media channels they can navigate to share their narratives in ways that are relative to the culture. This opportunity will also provide transferable skills that can help further their cause throughout high school, college, and/or the workplace. Our girls are truly looking forward to finding their ‘Lab Language.’”

“As an organization committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion, as well as engaging the next generation, I’m beyond excited that Verso Studios is partnering with LiveGirl,” Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said. “We envisioned that Verso Studios user base would be limitless in multimedia training and learning. This Leadership Lab represents Verso and the Westport Library team executing on that vision to deliver a program we think will be of great value to the community.”

This Leadership Lab will feature frequent Verso Studios collaborator and patron Sheneta Walker, who will serve in a mentor capacity to the group.

Register for the LiveGirl collaboration with The Westport Library by clicking here. While the program is free, spots are limited.

Bob Stefanowski and Ned Lamont
L to R: Bob Stefanowski and Ned Lamont

The 2022 Connecticut gubernatorial candidates are coming to The Westport Library.

Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski and incumbent Governor Ned Lamont will be visiting the Library’s Trefz Forum for a pair of candidate forums, presented by the Library and the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston.

Stefanowski’s forum will take place on Thursday, September 15, at 10 am, with Lamont arriving on Monday, September 19, at 1 pm. The candidates will speak and take questions from attendees, with each event running approximately 45 minutes.

The Trefz Forum has a capacity of roughly 400, and the talks also will be live streamed, offering unlimited virtual viewers. Registration is requested for both events — and for both the in-person talk and the livestream.

Details and registration are available on The Westport Library website.

“We are delighted to have both Mr. Stefanowski and Governor Lamont at the Library to address our patrons and area residents,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “We believe strongly in our role as a hub for the community and as a place where everyone can learn, grow, and engage in lively and respectful debate. And afterward, we hope you stick around to take advantage of all the resources our Library has to offer.”  

“This is another example of the quality talks the Y’s Men bring to its membership and now, with The Westport Library, to the community as well,” Y’s Men President Baxter Urist said.

Attendees must arrive 15 minutes prior to each session and are invited to submit brief written questions for the candidates to address.

The 2022 gubernatorial election and statewide and local elections will be held Tuesday, November 8.

Clockwise from top left: Paul Tremblay, Mallory O'Meara, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Libby Waterford, and Alma Katsu

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 starts today! To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the final installment of this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the role of storytelling and why stories matter.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Role of Libraries]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Power of Books]

Here is what they had to say:

With so much happening in the world right now, what role can (and should) storytelling play in our lives? Why do stories matter?

Paul Tremblay: Stories hold a mirror to society and civilization and history. The best stories trade in truth, showing us at our best and at our worst and everywhere between. Stories help us to know and to remember and to reckon. 

Stephen Graham Jones: First, stories provide escape, if escape is what we need for this next hour or two, or week or two, or however long — a series like Wheel of Time or The Dark Tower will give you a lot more than that. Second, stories are where we encode culture, to be passed down and down through the generations. Third, stories teach us empathy, which we all need to learn, and relearn, and then learn again. Fourth, stories passively instruct us how to manage narratives, which is something we can take into the narrative of our lives, foregrounding this, skipping over that, and thus reshape ourselves into something different over and over. It's kind of the only way to keep up with the changing world, yes? Fifth, a well-told story can leave us feeling less alone: Someone else has had this feeling, someone else has been in this situation. And not being alone, having someone there with you, even if they're 500 gone, and never spoke your language — is there anything better than that?

Mallory O’Meara: Stories help us figure ourselves out. In this age of fear and confusion and upheaval, having the ability to learn and discover more about yourself through storytelling and story reading is more important than ever.

Kate Racculia: Stories help us understand — who we are, really, and who we might still become, where we might go, and what kind of world we want to live in and build. They comfort; they challenge; they reveal. They let us speak and give us the chance to be heard. And they remind us that we're not alone.

Clay McLeod Chapman: The electricity is going to go out. ... The batteries will all eventually die. ... All we're going to be left with is a campfire and each other. What better way to connect than spinning a yarn? It was there at the very beginning of man, and it'll be there when circumstances return full circle. Gulp.

Libby Waterford: Stories have always been a way to change hearts and minds and share different ways of life. Their ability to bring different types of people closer to each other is tremendously valuable. Escaping into a book isn't burying your head in the sand, it's opening your mind to a different world. We should celebrate the freedom that stories give us to spend time in other, sometimes better, worlds.

Alma Katsu: The last few years have been particularly difficult ones. Thanks to COVID, it often hasn't been possible to escape from our daily stresses. We turn to stories — in their many formats and media — to quickly, easily, and often inexpensively escape from the pressures bearing down on us. You can pick up a book when you're ready, put it aside at your own pace. It's low tech and undemanding. Stories provide the escape valve so many of us need right now.

Gus Moreno: I think we navigate reality through stories, the stories we tell ourselves as well as the stories we experience. A story can provide someone respite from the world at large, or it can inform something that they're going through, or it can reveal to them something they've never considered before. Stories have an amazing way of taking something considered to be "known" and make it novel once again, reminding us that we don't have everything figured out and must proceed through life with a willingness to be open.

Clockwise from top left: Libby Waterford, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Paul Tremblay, and Mallory O'Meara

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the third installment of this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the power of books.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: The Role of Libraries]

Here is what they had to say:

StoryFest celebrates the power of books to transform people and communities. What book was a touchstone in your life? What books inspired your pursuit of writing?

Libby Waterford: Reading An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn (Bridgerton Book 3) as a teenager introduced me to the "modern" romance novel — a book set in the past in which the heroine was every bit as feisty and feminist as I considered myself to be. I realized that romance as a genre was changing, and I couldn't get enough of it from that point on.

Kate Racculia: Hoo boy, too many to list. Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week. Anything and everything by Stephen King and Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. And most recently, for the very first time, I read D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love — checked out from my local public library.

Clay McLeod Chapman: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn has always been pretty fundamental. The poetry of Ai, particularly her collections Cruelty and Killing Floor. I cannot overstate how important Ai is to my personal literary upbringing. I don't know where I would be without her work.

Gus Moreno: A book that's a touchstone to my life is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It's the novel that made me want to become a writer. Another book that inspired me to become a writer was Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Other books have helped inspire the shape of my writing or the lane that I'd find myself in, like The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the collected short stories of Amy Hempel, and Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.

Mallory O’Meara: Bonk by Mary Roach was a game-changer for me. I never realized how exciting and fun nonfiction could be until I read her work. She's still one of my favorite authors. Reading her books still creatively energizes me and inspires me to this day.

Paul Tremblay: The story that shook me awake to the power of fiction of Joyce Carol Oates's Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? I read it as a second semester mathematics major in college. I didn't know people wrote stories like that! That story and shortly thereafter being gifted a copy of Stephen King's The Stand turned me into a reader for life. The books I return to and re-read the most as a writer though are Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Stephen Graham Jones: The first novel I ever read was Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. And it's still the kernel of my writer DNA. Because of the adventure, sure, and because opening that book is peeling back a hatch into another era, but mostly because of the magical-perfect ending of that novel. Without having read that ending, I seriously doubt I ever pick up the pen myself. In fourth grade, I remember closing that book and thinking I could do this, I can stick an axe in a tree and let a lantern hang on it for a decade or two. Every ending I stage, the bar for me, it's still Where the Red Fern Grows.

Clockwise from top left: Paul Tremblay, Mallory O'Meara, Gus Moreno, Stephen Graham Jones, Kate Racculia, Clay McLeod Chapman, Libby Waterford, and Alma Katsu

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the second in this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Gus Moreno (This Thing Between Us), Mallory O’Meara (The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), Paul Tremblay (The Cabin at the End of the World, The Pallbearers Club), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about the role of libraries.

[Related: StoryFest 2022 Author Q&A: Writing During the Pandemic]

Here is what they had to say:

We have been thinking about the role libraries play in the health of communities and the world as a whole. What role have libraries played in your writing life, or life in general? Why do you think libraries matter now?

Mallory O’Meara: I'm not exaggerating when I say I couldn't write without libraries! As a nonfiction author, it would be impossible to do the research for my books without public libraries. There isn't enough pie or whiskey in the world to adequately thank the librarians and libraries that have helped me write my books. The pandemic made it very clear that libraries are not simply book dispensaries; they are vital community centers. Whether you're looking for a new job, wanting to learn a new language, finding books for your children, needing help with a project at home, or just looking to connect with your community and meet people, nothing beats the library.

Gus Moreno: Libraries have played an incredible resource in my writing career. When I couldn't afford to buy books, I could always check it out at the library. No matter the building, there's always this subtle reverence to the atmosphere. There is no dividing line or exclusivity in a library. The place feels committed to knowledge and growth, and I think that's a space that will always matter.

Stephen Graham Jones: Two of the best places in the world are libraries and bookstores. So, related, two of the best people in the world are booksellers and librarians. They have recommendations, they can connect you to resources. And talking resources already on the shelf, that are probably pretty pricey to buy for this or that project, libraries are so vital. I've used them to research a lot of books, and when my kids were young and all my dollars had to go to diapers and apple juice, they provided me with most of my reading, too. And I'm still there probably every other week. Every walk down an aisle, there's another treasure waiting, another book that I can live with for the check-out period. Nothing better.

Paul Tremblay: When my children were younger, we would go to our town's library weekly during the summers. Hunting and then finding books and the excitement of checking them out and bringing them home are cherished memories. More recently, libraries and librarians increasingly have had the burden of being the heroes/sentinels of free speech, free expression, and education thrust upon them under the assault of the right's renewed book banning fervor. In the spring of 2022, a Milbury librarian discovered a patron was checking out and destroying books celebrating LBGQT+ themes. Upon this discovery, the amazing library and its community rallied and quickly raised funds not only to replace the stolen books, but to purchase more and multiple copies to share with other libraries. Libraries like Milbury matter because they house and celebrate all voices.

Libby Waterford: Libraries are where I discovered most of my favorite books and authors, where I can escape to find a moment of quiet and where I now come with my children to share my own childhood favorites and help them discover theirs. As a writer, libraries offer a safe haven for work and research as well as inestimable distractions should those be required!

Alma Katsu: I've always loved being in libraries, being surrounded by so much diversity, knowing you have access to nearly any book you could ever need. I've been lucky to have served as author representative on an ALA (American Library Association) subcommittee the past two years and have been saddened to hear of the challenges libraries face with the surge in challenges, book banning, and intolerance in general. It's undeserved stress on a valuable resource: librarians who just want to serve their communities.

Clay McLeod Chapman: I've been taking my kids to the library about once a week or every other week. It's blown their mind the have this exchange of books, where they check out and read, then return and check out more books. It's funny how the pandemic almost robbed them of the notion of what a library does. That said, when I was a kid, I have vivid memories of my grandmother taking me to the library and telling me I could check out any two books I wanted. She wouldn't curtail my choices. It could be whatever I wanted, which meant a lot of Stephen King and Gary Larson. One I had to read to myself and the other she'd read to me. To this day, I still have the most vivid memory of one particular book: North America's Greatest Monsters. I first learned about the Wendigo from that book, and it's haunted me ever since.

Kate Racculia: Libraries are one of the last great democratic institutions, a place where knowledge and information and literature and history are free and accessible. Like, think about that. They are free. Now, because of the collapse of various other parts of the social safety net, libraries are under pressure to be a social stopgap in many ways, but still: Libraries are the punk rock bastions of civic life, designed to support public welfare, public awareness, and to combat disinformation and ignorance. Epic.

I've loved them since I was a kid growing up in Syracuse — my local library hosted a stuffed animal sleepover — and let me tell you: I was beyond enchanted that my stuffies got to spend the night. I adored my elementary school librarian (hi Mrs. Griffin!). To be honest, I probably should have become a librarian myself, though I did work part-time for my beloved Bethlehem Area Public Library here in Pennsylvania (during the pandemic even), raising money and advertising programs and services. As a reader, libraries are where I've made some of my greatest book discoveries (Diana Wynne Jones!). As a writer, libraries are places to work, to research, to feel grateful to be a small part of a long tradition of thought and care, memory and truth and imagination. I freaking love libraries.

L to R: Clay McLeod Chapman, Kate Racculia, Alma Katsu, Stephen Graham Jones, and Libby Waterford

The fifth edition of StoryFest 2022 is just days away. To kick things off, we corresponded with a few of the 40-plus authors who will be in attendance to get their take on writing through the pandemic, the role of libraries in modern society, the power of books to transform lives, and why stories matter.

In the first in this four-part series, we asked Clay McLeod Chapman (Whisper Down the Lane, Ghost Eaters), Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians, Don’t Fear the Reaper), Alma Katsu (The Hunger, The Fervor), Kate Racculia (This Must Be the Place, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts), and Libby Waterford (Can’t Help Falling in Love, Take Two) about writing during the pandemic. Here is what they had to say:

Westport Library: This is our first in-person festival in three years, and we're thinking a lot about how the pandemic has changed our way of life. How has the pandemic changed the way you think about or approach telling stories? How has it changed your process as a writer?

Clay McLeod Chapman: It's funny, but pandemic office hours were nearly the same as pre-pandemic office hours, only with more breaks in between childcare corralling. In the thick of the pandemic itself, my writing became increasingly interior, for better or worse. I was really scraping the headcheese from within my skull for a year or two. First drafts were far more introspective. Perhaps less plot driven. Definitely more focused on the mental and emotional states of my characters, which was really just a flimsy disguise for myself.

Kate Racculia: Weirdly — or perhaps not so weirdly — it has slowed me down. As in, I feel less urgency to write The Next Great Book and am more interested in taking my time and figuring out what it is I really want to say in [my] next book. I'm sure this is partially because of how the pandemic has changed my relationship to work and ambition, period. I went back to work full time — from home, at a very manageable day job — and now my writing doesn't have to be anything other than my own creative practice, how I notice and process the world. I'd like to share it, of course, but I'm less focused on producing for the sake of producing.

Alma Katsu: Especially early in the pandemic, people were thirsting for stories for a distraction, whether by binge-watching streaming television, or thankfully, turning to novels. I've [seen] a slight uptick in preferences for faster-paced stories, but there are still plenty of readers who want something slow and immersive. Trying to find the sweet spot between the two has been a bit of a challenge.

Stephen Graham Jones: Living in Colorado, there's trails and trails and trails. During the pandemic — not saying it's over, either — when it was all "isolate or pay the consequences," the trails were my refuge. On my mountain bike. Which I wore out and then wore out some more. But doing that, going back and forth from writing, writing, writing to riding, riding, riding, I think it kind of conditioned me to associate the two some. Meaning, now, I find myself writing a couple hours, then going out to slam up or down this trail for three or four hours. Rinse wash repeat. Not a bad cycle I’ve fallen into, really.

Libby Waterford: The pandemic enabled me to make new, stronger connections with writers via video sprints and virtual conferences, but I still miss meeting in person with my regional writing friends. I'm more disciplined as writer now, having had to juggle kids and partner at home and not being able to escape to a coffee shop for a relatively distraction-free writing session. I'm not sure the pandemic has changed my approach to storytelling, except to focus on the parts of storytelling that bring me and my readers joy.

Famed keyboardist and noted producer and radio host Mark Naftalin is bringing his talents to The Westport Library as part of a new series of blues concerts to be held monthly, starting in September.

Mark Naftalin's Blue Sunday kicks off on Sunday, September 18, from 3 to 5 pm, presented by The Westport Library and Verso Studios. It will be hosted by Naftalin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who rose to fame as the keyboardist with the influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The Blue Sunday kickoff will feature singing guitarists Chance Browne (The Twinkies, Hi and Lois artist), Chris “Otis” Cross (Otis and the Hurricanes) and Paul Gabriel (Blue In The Face, Paul Gabriel Blues Band, Connecticut Blues Society Lifetime Achievement Award); singing harmonicists Manny Foglio (Manny and the Mojomatics) and Mark Zaretsky (Cobalt Rhythm Kings); bassist David Anastasia (Mojomatics, Walter Lewis Blues Trio, The Zero Boys); percussionists Matt Moadel (Mystic Bowie, Fuzz On It, The David Morgan Trio, Portal) and Barry Urich (Blue In The Face, Jose Feliciano); accordionist-pianist-vocalist Smokin’ Joe Najmy (Otis and the Hurricanes, Mill River Band); sax master Crispin Cioe (Albert Collins, James Cotton, Uptown Horns, Cracked Ice); washboard wizard Washboard Slim (Washboard Slim & The Blue Lights); and Naftalin on piano.  

Pathbreakers in the 1960s blues boom, the inter-racial Butterfield Band opened doors for blues masters like B.B. King and Muddy Waters, and Naftalin went on to record and/or perform with a host of blues stars, including Michael Bloomfield, James Cotton, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Percy Mayfield, Carla Thomas, Irma Thomas, Otis Rush, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner, and many others. In 2015 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. 

Living and working 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. His Blue Sunday at The Westport Library is a nod to his Blue Monday Party, a weekly blues show and dance in the Bay Area (1979-83) that featured more than 60 blues artists and groups and was the scene of 86 live radio broadcasts and three TV specials. 

In 2002, Mark and his wife, Ellen, moved to Westport, which is Ellen's hometown. His monthly broadcast, The Mark Naftalin Show, is now in its seventh year on Bridgeport's WPKN (89.5 FM, streaming world-wide at wpkn.org). 

Mark says he is “pleased as punch” to be collaborating with The Westport Library and Verso Studios on a blues series.

Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said, “Blue Sunday capitalizes on the success of Verso Studios music and media festival VersoFest and the adventurous Chris Frantz Presents Emerging Musicians series. The Westport Library is honored to be working with yet another storied Westport creative resident as we build upon our mutual legacies.”

The events are free, but registration is required via this link.

Stephen Wilkes (Photo credit: Chris Janjic)

With his work over the past 40 years, Stephen Wilkes has established himself as one of our most iconic photographers, his pieces displayed throughout the United States and around the world.

Now, he is coming to The Westport Library.

Wilkes, who lives and maintains a studio in Westport, will unveil his new exhibit, “Stephen Wilkes: Visualizing Time,” at The Library with a special event held Thursday, September 8, in conversation with fine art and editorial photographer Stacy Bass, a fellow Westporter and former president of the Library’s board of trustees. The event arrives on the eve of StoryFest, leading into Connecticut’s largest literary festival with a celebration of art and the indelible artist who created it.

“Stephen is a Westport treasure, an artist of great renown and incomparable talent,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “We are honored to host him and Stacy for an event celebrating his life and work and to have his exhibit displayed in our galleries. And for this to debut right before StoryFest is most fitting — reaffirming our commitment to celebrating community and the arts in all their forms.”

This exhibit, which will be featured in all three of the Library’s galleries, explores how Wilkes’ visualization of the concept of time has evolved from the earlier days of his career through his latest, celebrated series, “Day to Night” and “Tapestries.”

The September 8 program will be preceded by a reception with the photographer at 6:15 pm, followed by a Q&A in the Trefz Forum. The exhibit will run in the Library from September 8 through November 29.

“Visualizing Time is a personal journey through my five decades as a photographer,” Wilkes said. “There is a single thread that connects all of my work throughout these periods, a fascination with depicting time and memory in all its forms. From my early work documenting Ellis Island, capturing the spirit and energy in its abandoned ruins, to ‘Day to Night,’ where I seamlessly compress the best moments of a single day into one photograph, and ‘Tapestries,’ where I explore fractions of time, capturing the way we perceive a specific place.

“Each of these bodies of work tell personal stories, witness history, and capture the emotion I feel in what I am bearing witness to.”

For more on Wilkes and his career, please visit stephenwilkes.com. For more on Bass and her work shooting architecture, interiors, landscapes, and gardens, visit stacybassphotography.com.

And for more on art at The Westport Library, please visit our gallery webpage.

Yosemite, by Stephen Wilkes
Stephen Wilkes feature on Good Morning America

L to R: Frank Critelli, The Sawtelles

The Westport Farmers’ Market and Verso Studios are teaming up to bring some of the best original Connecticut talent to the 10 am to 2 pm music performance slot. 

With Verso Studios curating, Local Bands Show host and singer/songwriter/troubadour Frank Critelli (New Haven) and Friends will be playing Thursday, September 1. The Sawtelles follow October 13 with their sparse and intricately arranged pop.

“It is super exciting to host our neighbors from The Westport Library’s Verso Studios at the market,” Westport Farmers’ Market Director Lori Cochran-Dougall said. “We are mutually such big fans of one another that this seems like a natural fit.”

“Going to the he Westport Farmers’ Market is such a quintessential part of the Westport experience,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “That the Library and Verso Studios can be part of that is really cool for us, and we hope fun for everyone who visits.”

Clockwise from left: Stepping Out on Faith by Charles Joyner; Muhammad Ali, Jake’s Diner, Athens, Ohio by Richard Frank; Tipetano by Fred Otnes; The Chambers Encyclopaedia by Fred Otnes; October by Fred Otnes

Those strolling The Westport Library this month will notice a new collection of artwork gracing the walls, with five remarkable new pieces gifted to the Library’s collection.

The latest acquisitions include two collage paintings and one collage illustration by the revered Fred Otnes, donated by the Robert K. Otnes Trust; a piece donated by renowned artist Charles Joyner; and an iconic image of the famed boxer Muhammad Ali donated by photographer Richard Frank.

The two paintings by Fred Otnes and the Joyner piece are all hanging in the Library’s mezzanine, with the Otnes illustration appearing in one of the conference rooms. The Ali image is located prominently in the first-floor stairwell.

“Westport has a long and rich tradition of fostering artists and honoring their work,” said Westport Library Exhibit Curator Carole Erger-Fass. “We are very proud to be part of that tradition and incredibly fortunate to receive so many amazing pieces to add to our collection. We thank all our generous donors, and we invite all our patrons to visit and see them in person.”

All three artists have connections to Westport, many dating back years.

Otnes was born and lived in the Midwest before moving to Westport in 1953 while working with the prestigious Rahl Studios in New York. Here, he found community with area’s many illustrators and remained in the area for most of his life, passing away in Westport in 2015 at the age of 89.

A native North Carolinian, Joyner came to Westport in 1964 at 16 years old as part of the American Friends Service Committee’s “Southern Negro Student Program,” a Quaker initiative that placed southern Black students in the north to complete high school and live with host families. Joyner graduated from Staples High in 1966. From March through June of this year, the exhibit, “Charles Joyner: Stepping Out on Faith,” funded in part by CT Humanities and the Drew Friedman Foundation, was housed in the Library’s Sheffer Gallery. The artist donated the title artwork from that event. 

Frank, meantime, has lived in Westport for more than 30 years with his wife Leona, a painter and art teacher. In addition to his many notable works, he documented the Library’s transformation project, which was completed in 2019 and culminated in an exhibit when the Library reopened called “Transformation: The Workers.” His Ali image is one of his most famous works, taken at Jake’s Diner in Athens, Ohio, in 1969.

“I was having a cup of coffee at 11 pm, and to my surprise Muhammad Ali walked in, surrounded by an entourage of students,” Frank recalled. “Although I was awed by his presence, I summoned up the nerve and asked him if he would mind taking his picture. I quickly decided that the best vantage point would be from behind the counter and managed to keep the camera steady enough to capture this moment.”

For more on the Library’s art collection and upcoming events, visit our Art at the Library webpage.

Thomas Henske stands at the Verso Studios mixing board with Westport Library Sound Studios Manager Travis Bell. (Photo credit: Jerri Graham)
Tom Henske (right) in Verso Studios with Westport Library Sound Studios Manager Travis Bell. (Photo credit: Jerri Graham)

A financial advisor for 27 years and Westport resident for 20 years, Tom Henske knows his way around his field and his town. It was thinking about the two in tandem that brought him to a realization that has set him on a new path — and launched his latest endeavor.

“Westport is an affluent community,” said Henske, “and my concern was that the shoemakers’ kids were not going to have the right shoes! I needed to teach my kids about money, or at least get them thinking about it. I went looking for material to teach my son and there was nothing out there. It only took me years and years later, but finally, with the help of The Westport Library, we were able to create this amazing project together.”

That project is Total Cents, a 12-part Verso Studios Community Partnership Podcast that delivers advice and discussion points on financial literacy for teens. Each episode tackles key concepts in digestible 6- to 12-minute segments. Season One topics include insurance, money safety, legal documents, investing, saving, spending, the value of a dollar, and charitable giving.

[Related: Total Cents Podcast, Season One]

“It’s really a health and wellness podcast when you think about it,” Henske said. “One of the most important things for your kids to learn before they go to college is learning the basic jargon around money terms. If they don’t, they will be forever behind. They’ll start their first job out of college and won’t enroll in a retirement plan or get the right type of health insurance. All these are habits that need to be learned and practiced.

“The people who are financially successful have good habits, just like anything in life — it could be good eating habits, good exercising habits — it’s just having good money habits.”

Each podcast is reinforced by funny and topical TikTok videos appealing to teens, conversation guides for parents, and anecdotes from Henske’s forthcoming book (It Makes Total Cents: 12 Conversations to Change Your Child’s Future).

Henske acknowledges that the series has some stealth teaching components that may end up helping parents realize their own financial futures while they educate the next generation. He hopes grown-up conversations around money can help galvanize and advance other generational discussion on other potentially difficult topics.

As for Henske’s experience at Verso Studios, the longtime financial advisor and first-time podcaster said that “it was daunting for me at first to walk into the recording studio, which looks like NASA mission control. But the beauty of working with The Westport Library on this project is that Verso Studios made it really easy for me. They coached me along the way. What makes this project so special is that it’s not just one person; it’s collaborative. The experience could not have been better.”

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For more information on the Verso Studios Community Partnership Podcast initiative, contact verso@westportlibrary.org.

L to R: StoryFest 2022 headliners Isaac Fitzgerald and Saeed Jones

StoryFest is returning to The Westport Library, live and in person, September 9-10, featuring a dazzling array of authors of all genres and for all ages.

Headlining this year’s festival are Isaac Fitzgerald, the IACP winner and How to Be a Pirate author whose debut memoir, Dirtbag, Massachusetts, is currently #2 on The New York Times best-seller list; and Saeed Jones, who was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in 2014 and won the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction in 2019 for his memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives. A conversation between the two will be the featured Friday evening session.

A celebration of reading, writing, ideas, and community, StoryFest was organized in 2018 to draw together many of the region’s most accomplished, exciting, and up-and-coming authors in Westport for a two-day celebration of all things literary. It has since grown into a national event, attracting authors from across the U.S.

This year will make the first fully in-person festival since 2019, with StoryFest having gone virtual in 2020 and staged as a hybrid event a year ago.

“What a joy to be attending the largest literary festival in Connecticut,” said Fitzgerald. “[Saeed and I] both love libraries so, so much — which means the two of us reconnecting onstage at The Westport Library is going to be all the more special. Come party with us, Connecticut!”

StoryFest will wrap up Saturday evening with a special appearance by James Beard Book Award-winning author Mallory O’Meara and filmmaker/actress Brea Grant, the duo behind the popular Reading Glasses podcast, who will host a special live event that will double as an episode of their show. The Westport Library’s own Verso Studios will support the effort, which will feature StoryFest participants Sarah Gailey, Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, Alexis Henderson, and Clay McLeod Chapman.

Other notable authors scheduled to appear at this year’s two-day event include May Cobb, Rachel Harrison, Gabino Iglesias, Alma Katsu, Eric LaRocca, Ellen Datlow, John Langan, Bracken MacLeod, Seanan McGuire, Gwendolyn Kiste, Hugh Ryan, Mondiant Dogon, Gus Moreno, Lorien Lawrence, Alexis Henderson, Isabel Canas, LaQuette, Julia Phillips, Greg Galloway, Coco Ma, Amanda Parrish Morgan, and Kate Racculia.

“StoryFest is unquestionably one of the highlights of our year and one of the crown jewels of the New England literary experience,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “It is an opportunity for us to welcome back old friends and fan favorites, all while showcasing some of the country’s brightest rising talents. We couldn’t be more excited to celebrate five years of this remarkable event with readers from across New England and the tri-state area and to welcome everyone to explore all our space has to offer.”

Past StoryFest participants include New York Times best-selling authors Mitch Albom and Michael Lewis; National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds; Pinkalicious author/illustrator Victoria Kann; Goosebumps author R.L. Stine; young adult superstars Nic Stone, Tiffany Jackson, and L.L. McKinney; and Emmy Award winner Sheila Nevins.

For a complete list of the events, panels, and authors participating in this year’s StoryFest, please visit the StoryFest 2022 homepage. And for a history of the event, check out our StoryFest landing page.

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For more information on StoryFest 2022, contact Westport Library Marketing and Communications Director E.J. Crawford at ecrawford@westportlibrary.org.

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