The stage is set, with the Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. One of them will be the NFL’s 2023 champion. But neither will match the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

On Thursday, February 9, at 7 pm, longtime ESPN reporter and E60 host Jeremy Schaap will return to The Westport Library to screen his new filmThe Perfect Machine, a look back at the ’72 Dolphins, who a half-century ago won Super Bowl VII to complete the only undefeated season in NFL history.

Schaap, an 11-time Emmy Award winner for his work as a sports reporter and investigative journalist, will also host a talk after the screening, to be held in the Library’s Trefz Forum.

Those interested in attending can reserve their seats here. The event is free of charge to all patrons.

“We're thrilled to present this special screening of The Perfect Machine, about the only undefeated team ever in the NFL,” Schaap said. “More than a great team, the 1972 Dolphins were also a collection of great personalities — and director Dan Lindberg captured the essence of it all.”

The Perfect Machine is an E60 production featuring live footage of the 1972 season mixed with live interviews. In all, Schaap spoke with 16 living members of the team as well as a number of NFL luminaries, a group that included Pro Football Hall of Famers Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, Larry Little, Bob Griese, and Joe Namath.

“To this day, the 1972 Dolphins remain one of the most famous teams in sports history,” said Bill Harmer, Westport Library executive director. “To have Jeremy back at the Library to share their story with our patrons, and just days before Super Bowl LVII, is an awesome experience for anyone who follows football and everyone who loves sports and great storytelling.”

Those looking to learn more about the Super Bowl can check out the Library’s newest reference guide covering the game and its history.

Blue Coupe (credit: Rock Revele)

The Westport Library is gearing up for VersoFest 2023 with a trio of legendary musicians.

Blue Coupe, the supergroup formed of Alice Cooper group bassist Dennis Dunaway and Blue Öyster Cult founders Joe and Albert Bouchard will take over the Library’s Trefz Forum on Friday, March 10, at 7 pm.

Proceeds from the show will go to benefit this year’s VersoFest, which runs March 30 to April 2 and features live performances by Sunflower Bean, Amilia K Spicer, and the Smithereens, as well as a full set of programs and workshops featuring music luminaries and those behind the scenes who will come to the Library to inform, inspire, and entertain. Renowned producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads) will provide the keynote address on Saturday, April 1.

Sisters Tish and Snooky Bellomo of Manic Panic will be joining Blue Coupe for the show. DJ B The T Sr. starts the night on Verso Studios vinyl DJ decks, spinning the formative rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and blues music that influenced and informed bands like Alice Cooper and Blue Öyster Cult.

“There aren’t many bands like Blue Coupe making music today,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, “and we’re thrilled to have them perform in the Trefz Forum. This is a good old fashioned rock band that delivers hits you know and hits you’ll come to love. It’s a really cool experience for our visitors and the perfect show to get us ready for VersoFest.”

Said Dunaway, “We're thrilled to be performing at The Westport Library because they excel in enriching the community in knowledge and all varieties of the arts.”

Blue Coupe’s live concerts are a mix of the best-known songs from their respective groups as well as new music from their studio albums. The band’s website describes the amalgam as “a powerful legacy of music that makes for a dynamic and exciting show.” 

L to R: Albert Bouchard, Tish Bellomo, Dennis Dunaway, Snooky Bellomo, Joe Bouchard (credit: Jim Marchese)

Dunaway is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who co-wrote Alice Cooper band hits including “I’m 18,” “School's Out,” and “Under My Wheels.” Multi-instrumentalist Joe Bouchard — a VersoFest 2022 alum — and drummer Albert Bouchard founded Blue Öyster Cult and served as co-writers and arrangers of many of the band’s biggest songs, including “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” “Hot Rails to Hell,” and “Astronomy.”

All told, Dunaway and the Bouchard brothers have sold 15 million-plus albums and have been awarded more than 30 gold and platinum records worldwide.

Blue Coupe has made three albums since its inception, including its most recent offering, ELEVEN EVEN, released in 2019 and recorded to have the feeling of a live show. “The stage is our second home,” said Dunaway, “so we all write songs with an arena feel.”

Also in 2019, Blue Coupe performed at the Sweden Rock Festival to rave reviews. The band followed that with the Great South Bay Music Festival in Long Island, New York, and a tour of the Midwest that culminated with a live-streamed interview from the main stage in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

DJ B The T Sr. was station manager and program director of WNHU from 1977 to 1981, where he helped break new bands like X, Blondie, U2, and the Motels, and fostered a burgeoning community of independent and original New Haven bands. After many years hunkered over his basement mixtape laboratory, he has reemerged with lively DJ appearances at Berlinetta Brewing in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Tickets to see Blue Coupe live in the Trez Forum are available on Eventbrite. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Sunflower Bean

From the stages of Glastonbury, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Reading, and Leeds, as well as a recent sell-out at New York City’s Terminal 5, Sunflower Bean will open VersoFest 2023 at The Westport Library.

The Brooklyn-based band will take the stage for an intimate kickoff concert at the state-of-the-art Verso Studios Trefz Forum venue on Thursday, March 30, at 7 pm. DJ HYSTERICA will serve as the in-house DJ for the evening.

The festival will continue on Friday evening featuring headlining act The Smithereens featuring Marshall Crenshaw, with Amilia K Spicer kicking off the evening and the legendary Miriam Linna serving as DJ. A full slate of programs and workshops round out VersoFest 2023 on Saturday and Sunday, with famed producer Steve Lillywhite delivering the keynote Saturday afternoon.

VersoFest is a multi-day music and media festival/conference born out of Verso Studios at The Westport Library. Verso Studios is a library branch of the 21st century focusing on multimedia programming and commercial services as well as educational and content creation opportunities.

“Sunflower Bean is a prime example of a young band making their name through accessible media, blurring and fusing artforms and worlds, striving to make the world a better place through their art and activism,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “In 2023, Sunflower Bean exemplifies the virtues and aspirations of Verso Studios and The Westport Library. This is a magical pairing tying the local to the global, micro to macro.”

Sunflower Bean frontperson, New York City-raised singer-songwriter Julia Cumming, arrives at her dad's adopted home base of Fairfield County hot off the band’s headlining presence at South by Southwest 2023. Recently, Sunflower Bean’s Headful of Sugar was named #41 of Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Albums of 2022, and Consequence of Sound proudly referred to the band as “one of the most consistent and beloved staples of the scene.”

Cumming (bass, lead vocals), Nick Kivlen (guitars, backing vocals), and Olive Faber (drums) formed Sunflower Bean in early 2013, “made up of young people staring down a terrifying future and finding camaraderie in the eclectic rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics.”

Their 2014 College Music Journal Music Marathon performance received press from (among others) Jon Pareles of The New York Times, who described their sound as “… what might have happened if psychedelia had emerged after punk and the Police rather than before."

The band has toured extensively with artists as disparate as Beck, Cage the Elephant, Interpol, Courtney Barnett, The Pixies, The Kills, DIIV, Courtney Barnett, and Wolf Alice.

Outside music, Cumming programs events through her project Anger Can Be Power, inspiring young people, particularly women, into concrete political action.

She is also active in fashion, with Yves Saint Laurent Creative Director Hedi Slimane having signed Cumming to an exclusive modeling contract. Cumming has been frequently cited as “Hedi’s muse.” Her career has expanded to modeling for top, au courant designers like Anna SuiElsa SchiaparelliMax MaraRochas and Fausto Puglisi, as well as global campaigns for H&M and Diesel.

Cumming is an active member in the Model Alliance, a group that advocates for the enforcement of existing child labor and contract laws, promotes equal opportunity, and fosters a culture of accountability in the fashion industry.

Cumming is the daughter of Cynthia Harden and Alec Cumming, the latter a familiar Fairfield County presence at 89.5 WPKN FM with his Snap Crackle POP! radio shows and frequent vinyl DJ sets at Berlinetta Brewing.

Joining Sunflower Bean for the evening is DJ HYSTERICA, who has been igniting DJ decks throughout the tri-state area with her selections of 60s psych, garage, glam, power pop, ye-ye, greasy R&B, new wave, dark wave, and punk. This extends to HYSTERICA's weekly Monday 3 pm Some Weird Sin show on WFMU's Sheena's Jungle Room and monthly Rock 'n' Roll Radio show on WHUS.

Tickets for Thursday night’s show are $25 in advance and available via Eventbrite. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw

The Smithereens, the famed American rock band with a string of hits running from the 1980s into the 2000s, will headline Friday night’s VersoFest concert slot at The Westport Library on March 31 at 7 pm. Singer/songwriter and new wave pioneer Marshall Crenshaw takes the role of Smithereen lead vocals for the night.

Americana musician Amilia K Spicer opens the evening fresh off rave reviews from NPR, Popdose, and No Depression, and the legendary Miriam Linna DJs the night with 45s from one of the most-revered record collections in the world.

VersoFest is a multi-day music and media festival/conference born out of Verso Studios at The Westport Library. Verso Studios is a library branch of the 21st century focusing on multimedia programming and commercial services as well as educational and content creation opportunities. The festival opens Thursday, March 30, and will continue with a full slate of programs and workshops Saturday and Sunday, April 1-2, with famed producer Steve Lillywhite delivering the keynote Saturday afternoon.

“This is a remarkable collection of talented artists to be joining us in one evening,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “The Smithereens are an institution, Amilia is a rising star, and Miriam is one of music’s leading lights. That they’re all coming to the Library to perform is a testament to the enduring power of music in our community and the continued growth of VersoFest in its second year.”

Founded in New Jersey in 1980, The Smithereens have been creating electrifying, original rock ‘n’ roll for 42 years. Jim Babjak (guitar), Dennis Diken (drums), and Mike Mesaros (bass) grew up together in Carteret, and lead singer, the late Pat DiNizio, hailed from Scotch Plains. The Smithereens formed their take-no-prisoners, East Coast roots-rock sound inspired by a well of rock ‘n’ roll predecessors including Buddy Holly, The Who, Nick Lowe, and The Move.

The Smithereens’ fame escalated in the late 1980s and 1990s with hits like “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “A Girl Like You,” and “Only a Memory,” and the band was in heavy rotation on MTV and appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and Saturday Night Live. Over the course of 17 albums and 2,500+ live shows, The Smithereens have performed on stages coast to coast from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, and internationally from Europe to Australia. Tourmates have included Tom Petty, Squeeze, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, and Ramones, among others.

After the 2017 passing of DiNizio, the surviving members decided to persevere and carry on their shared musical legacy, showcasing guest vocalists Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms and singer/songwriter Crenshaw. 

Miriam Linna (L) and Amilia K Spicer (photo credit: Virginia Conesa)

Spicer, who hails from Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, describes her Americana/folk rock style as “red-dirt noir, evoking majestic vistas — and shadowy mysteries.” Her 2017 album Wow and Flutter featured contributions from bassist Daryl Johnson (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan), keyboardists Rami Jaffee (Wallflowers/Foo Fighters) and Mike Finnigan (Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal), pedal steel player Eric Heywood (Son Volt), and guitarists Tony Gilkyson (X, Lone Justice) and Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams). PopDose said of Spicer’s offering, “Wow and Flutter certainly makes it worth the wait for longtime admirers; it’s also a compelling entry point for new fans and one of the best albums, any genre, of the past decade.”

Linna is a founding member of the Cramps, co-founder with her late husband Billy Miller of leading primitive/garage/punk/R&B label Norton Records and hip pocket paperback publisher Kicks Books, as well as the mastermind of Kicksville Radio. On Sunday, April 2, Linna will be the subject of VersoFest’s Music Oral History program, moderated by Beehive Queen and SNL singer Christine Ohlman.

Tickets for Friday night’s show are $40 in advance and available via Eventbrite. All VersoFest 2023 concerts are co-produced with the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Before he was musician, and long before he was a rock star, Richard Butler was a painter. He studied at Epsom Art School outside London and brought that work to bear in the artwork and designs for his band, the Psychedelic Furs, with whom he has gained international acclaim.

An artist in the truest sense — both as a painter and a musician — Butler will serve as the guest of honor at the February 2023 Malloy Lecture in the Arts, to be held in The Westport Library’s Trefz Forum on Tuesday, February 28, at 7 pm.

Butler’s appearance is the first of two Malloy lectures planned for 2023, following a brief hiatus; the normally annual series was last held in November 2021, featuring Broadway star Kelli O’Hara in conversation with renowned American theater director Bartlett Sher. The second 2023 lecture will be held in the late fall or early winter.

The Malloy Lecture in the Arts is made possible by a generous contribution from Westport artist Susan Malloy. The Westport Library created the lecture series in 2002 as a free, public discussion by an individual who has had a significant cultural influence and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.

“It is an honor beyond measure to welcome Richard to our forum and our stage,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “He is, without question, the ideal guest for our reprisal of the Malloy Lecture in the Arts — perhaps best known for his time with the Psychedelic Furs but also an artist of great acclaim and immeasurable talent. I can’t wait for our community to get to hear from him.”

Butler will be joined at the Library by famed American musician, record producer, and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chris Frantz, the drummer for both Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, which he co-founded with wife and Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth.

“I have known Richard since 1980, when the Psychedelic Furs toured with Talking Heads,” said Frantz. “They were a darn good band then and still are. Having seen Richard’s paintings in his New York gallery and in his studio, he brings something great and unique unto himself to the work. I look forward to our conversation and learning more about what inspires him and how making music and painting continue to turn him on.”

Butler rose to international fame with the Psychedelic Furs starting in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, with the Furs emerging as one of London’s leading post-punk bands. Their self-titled debut, produced by VersoFest headliner Steve Lillywhite, was Top 20 on the UK Albums Chart, and their run of success continued with six subsequent albums released between 1981 and 1991, including Talk Talk Talk and Forever Now.

Butler put his painting on the backburner to accommodate the Furs’ record promotion and worldwide touring, returning to his first love when the band took an extended hiatus in the early 90s. Since then, he’s kept at it and found a balance between the two endeavors.

With his daughter as his muse, Butler produces expressionistic portraits of female subjects who he said serve as ciphers for himself, smudging, distorting, and overlaying patterns onto his models’ faces to create what has been described as “dynamic compositions that are at once naturalistic and hallucinatory.”

“In a way," said Butler, “I think all of my paintings are self-portraits in that, though the face I am painting may not be my own, the feeling I get back from the painting is certainly an important element of my own psyche.”

Butler’s work has been featured worldwide, with the artist having launched exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Berlin, and at other prestigious galleries across the globe.

Despite the shift in artistic expression, Butler has continued to create music with several side projects. He also released a solo album in 2006, and in 2020 he put out the first new Psychedelic Furs album in nearly 30 years, which was met with international chart success and rave reviews from both fans and critics alike.

In addition to O’Hara and Sher, past Malloy Lecture programs have included Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; distinguished playwright Arthur Miller; artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude; musicians Joshua Bell and Frederic Chiu; U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation; author Joyce Carol Oates; cartoonist Roz Chast; actor Christopher Plummer; stage, film, and theater star John Lithgow; preeminent classical dancer Jacques d'Amboise; music legend Clive Davis; author Salman Rushdie; Falsettos: In Conversation; Bernstein on Broadway; and playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith.

All seats have already been reserved for the in-person component of the February 2023 Malloy Lecture in the Arts. There will be a livestream of the conversation, however, and a recording will be featured afterward on The Westport Library YouTube channel.

The Westport Library has been honored with a 5-star rating from Public Library Service’s 2022 Library Journal Index — the highest score available — distinguishing it as one of the top libraries in the United States.

The Westport Library is the only 5-star library in the state of Connecticut, per the Library Journal Index. Overall, 5,359 public libraries were assessed for 2022, 85 of which received 5-star status, placing The Westport Library in the top 1.6% of public libraries in the U.S.

“We are overjoyed to receive this distinction,” said Bill Harmer, executive director of The Westport Library. “This recognition validates and celebrates the engagement of and high value that our community places on the services that this Library provides and the hard work and dedication of our staff, board of trustees, and our donors and volunteers — those who enable us to imagine and execute our programs and realize our vision to make The Westport Library a community gathering space and a hub for innovation.”

“And of course, a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who come to the library every day and provide the input we rely on to make sure we’re meeting the needs of Westporters and all visitors throughout Fairfield County and beyond.”

Said Library board president Jeremy Price: “On behalf of The Westport Library's Board of Trustees, I congratulate all who worked so hard to make The Westport Library one of the very best in the country. The 5-star recognition is as impressive and commendable as it is well-deserved.”

In determining the ratings, the Library Journal, the nation’s oldest and most respected library service publication, compared The Westport Library to other libraries with similar annual expenditures. Scores and star ratings were based on circulation of physical materials, circulation of electronic materials, library visits, library program attendance, public internet users, Wi-Fi sessions, library website visits, and e-retrievals (usage of online content such as databases).

The Westport Library received the top honor due to the extent that patrons use the Library and its resources, performing exceptionally well in several of the evaluated categories including library visits, program attendance, and website visits.

“As contributors to the Library, and in particular The Children’s Library, my wife and I are extremely proud that our support, and the continuing support of all the other donors, has proved beneficial to all those involved within the Library community in earning this 5-star rating,” said longtime Library supporter Bud Siegel.

“In so many ways, this confirms what we’ve long known: that The Westport Library is not only an invaluable community resource, but also one of the finest libraries in the nation,” said Westport First Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “It is clearly one of the primary reasons Westport is the best place to live, work, and play in the region.”

The Westport Library was started in 1886 as a reading room in downtown Westport. The Library moved to its own dedicated building on Post Road East in 1908 before relocating to its current location overlooking Jesup Green in 1986. In 2019, the Library underwent a wholesale transformation that reimagined the space to provide more accessibility, adaptability, and flexibility.

After an expected drop in attendance during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Library has returned to full programming and is back to normal daily attendance, with more than 400,000 visitors expected to pass through its doors during the current fiscal year.

Nancy and Gene Beard

Nancy Beard is one of the Library’s most generous supporters. She contributed to the 2017-19 transformation project and recently pledged a landmark donation through the Nancy J. Beard Foundation to create the Nancy J. Beard Lifelong Learning and Education Fund, a sustaining endowment that will support educational courses, lectures, special workshops, and hands-on training activities at the Library.

Nancy, a longtime Westport resident with her husband, Gene, recently sat down with us to discuss her philanthropy, why libraries matter, the importance of community, and more. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Westport Library: Why did you decide to support the Library?

Nancy Beard: The Library has become a real part of the community and it has something for everybody, which I like. Everybody can come, from a 2-year-old to a 92-year-old, and there is something there for them. It’s a real community center.

[Related: Landmark Pledge to Endow Nancy J. Beard Lifelong Learning and Education Fund, Support Westport Library Programs]

Why do you think libraries matter still today?

Because it’s a source of information and I think it’s a source of true information. It’s not the television telling you how it is or how it should be. At the Library, you can find out for yourself.

What have been the personal rewards of you donating to the Library?

I’m very happy with it. This library is one of the best in the United States and certainly one of the best in the Northeast, and I’m very proud to have been a part of that.

What would you tell others who are considering donating to the Library?

It’s a great cause. If they ask me, I’d say that if you believe in libraries and you want a place to go and take your children, the Library is a great place.

L to R: Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, Nancy Beard, and Westport Book Sale Ventures President Jocelyn Barandiaran during the build-up to the Library's transformation project

The Westport Library has long endeavored to be a place of discovery and education, where patrons of all ages can explore what interests them and grow as leaders and thinkers.

Now, the Library will have the opportunity to do so like never before.

The Nancy J. Beard Foundation has bestowed a landmark pledge to The Westport Library to create the Nancy J. Beard Lifelong Learning and Education Fund. The fund will support educational courses, lectures, special workshops, and hands-on training activities, leveraging the Library’s classroom and laboratory spaces to sustain, educate, and engage the local community.

The gift is the largest in the Library’s history to support operations.

“The Westport Library has a strong historical identity as a center for knowledge and learning, a resource for personal development, and a place to gather for cultural and community engagement,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “This generous gift will allow us to build on the work we’ve done and expand the reach and the scope of our programming. We are incredibly grateful to Nancy and the entire Beard family for their generosity, support, and belief in us and our mission.”

[Related: Westport Library Q&A: Nancy Beard]

A particular focus of the fund will be on expanding Library programing and supporting Library assets. That includes mobile technology and the Verso Studios’ video and TV media suite, as well as the Library’s recording studio and post-production suite.

“The Westport Library is a hub for the community, a gathering place, and a place of learning and conversation,” said Nancy Beard. “We love that the Library is active in the community and that is open and accessible to everyone. We hope this gift allows it to stay that way and to expand its great work so it can be a beacon for the community in the years to come.”

Nancy and her husband, Gene, moved to Westport in 1969 and have been active members of the community. (The couple currently reside in Florida but return to Westport often.) The Beards made their first donation to the Library 26 years ago and have given regularly since that time, notably in supporting the Library’s 2019 transformation project. Prior to that, Nancy was involved with the Cub Scouts — she started her volunteer work in Westport as a den mother — served as a teacher’s aide in the elementary and middle schools, and volunteered with both the Red Cross and Norwalk Hospital.

In addition to its support of the Library, the Nancy J. Beard Foundation has given to the Church of the Assumption, Yale University, Save the Children, the Mercy Learning Center, Norwalk Hospital, and various food pantries. Gene Beard also established the Beard Center for Leadership in Ethics at Duquesne University and was a significant contributor to the Eugene P. Beard Faculty Fellowship in Ethics at the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center.

“Giving back to the community has always been important to us, which is why we wanted to create this endowment fund for the Library,” Nancy Beard said. “Westport is a special place, as is The Westport Library. We want to do everything we can to grow that sense of community, and we’ve always viewed the Library as central to that role. We’re excited to see this fund make a difference, and we’re thrilled to play even a small role in supporting the Library’s future.”

Author, creative artist, filmmaker, playwright, and multi-dimensional performance artist Junauda Petrus will be the special guest at Westport’s 17th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, to be held Friday, January 13, through Sunday, January 15, 2023.

Petrus’ work centers around Black wildness, laughter, futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, spectacle, and shimmer. Her debut novel, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, received the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, and she is currently writing a screenplay adaptation of the book.

“I am overjoyed to be reflecting on the legacies of justice, tenderness, and peace that honoring MLK Jr. situates us in,” Petrus said.

Petrus’ visit to Westport will focus on reimagining community diversity, engagement, and civility. She will be in town starting Friday, January 13, presenting for local schools. She will visit The Westport Library on Saturday for an experiential workshop with local artists, followed by a 3 pm panel discussion with the artists.

The three-day celebration culminates on Sunday at 3 pm with a keynote address delivered by Petrus at the Westport Country Playhouse. Copies of her book will be available for purchase on-site, with Petrus signing copies after her address. The program will also include a dance performed by the Regional Center for the Arts.

“While at The Westport Library, I will be grounding all of my offerings in the sacred force of sweetness, imagination, and creativity as foundational to our work in actualizing justice and healing in our world,” said Petrus. “This engagement will be filled with joy, playfulness, and connection, and will be an opportunity to replenish and warm our souls in the depths of winter.”

The Westport Martin Luther King Jr. celebration began in 2006 as an interfaith gathering coordinated by the Westport/Weston Interfaith Council and Westport/Weston Interfaith Clergy. Since 2016, it has been hosted by those two organizations as well as The Westport Library, Westport Country Playhouse, and TEAM Westport.

“We are honored to once again be part of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and cannot wait to welcome Junauda to the Library,” said Bill Harmer, Westport Library executive director. “Her talents know no bounds, and her message is as powerful as it is resonant. We look forward to our Westport community having a chance to hear from her.”

With her coming appearance, Petrus joins an esteemed list of past keynote speakers, including National Book Award winner and MacArthur Fellow Ibram X. Kendi, Pulitzer Prize winner James Forman Jr., New York Times best-selling authors Heather McGhee and Layla Saad, Guggenheim Scholar Carol Anderson, American Book Award winner Tricia Rose, and Quinnipiac Law School founder Marilyn Ford.

“Over much of the past decade, the MLK keynote has featured world-class speakers with profoundly timely updates and insights to facilitate racial understanding,” said Harold Bailey Jr., chair of TEAM Westport. “This year, throughout MLK weekend, we are delighted to have Junauda Petrus in Westport to extend that track record, with the added dimensions of her talent as an award-winning writer, poet, and performance artist. Furthermore, her strength as a young adult author should broaden our engagement of young people throughout the area.”

Among her many accomplishments, Petrus wrote and directed There Are Other Worlds, an ancestral-circus-poem-play with a cast of Black women to tell the story of an activist who has spent the majority of her two teenage daughter’s lives incarcerated, and wrote, directed, and produced Sweetness of Wild, an episodic-poetic-film-series about  life after Prince, first queer love, police violence, and bike culture against the backdrop of Minneapolis.

She also performed in and co-wrote (with Erik Ehn) the puppet-gospel-musical Queen starring Laurie Carlos, served as the lead artist with the Heart of the Beast Theatre’s May Day Parade, and created and performed in her own experimental short film work, including Love Tones, Out My Mind, and Erotics of Abolition.

As an aerial acrobat of the corde lisse (a hanging smooth rope), Petrus intertwined her background in West African and Afro-Caribbean dance and explored themes of Blackness, queerness, and wildness reclaimed and re-imagined in the vertical space.

Among her many honors, she received a Jerome Foundation grant to research queerness and African-inspired spiritualities in Trinidad and Tobago for her fiction and was named a 2016 City Pages Twin Cities artist of the year. Her stories and essays have been featured in anthologies including Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, Body Talk, How I Resist, and the speculative fiction collection Tasting Light.

Her forthcoming children’s book, Could We Please Give The Police Department to the Grandmothers?, is based on her viral poem that imagines a radically positive future where love and healing are at the center of public safety and community well-being.

In addition, Petrus is the co-founder (with Erin Sharkey) of Free Black Dirt, an experimental artist collective based in Minneapolis that creates original performances and supports the emerging literary artists’ community.


Past Keynote Speakers

  • 2016: Quinnipiac Law School founder and Professor Marilyn Ford outlined the legal basis for Civil Rights legislation and progress over the past two centuries.
  • 2017: American Book Award winner and Brown Professor Tricia Rose detailed the stark reality of systemic racism’s impact in the U.S. through history to the present day. 
  • 2018: Boston University professor, National Book Award winner, MacArthur Fellow, and Guggenheim Scholar Ibram X. Kendi introduced the concepts of anti-racism and being racist as a moment-to-moment dynamic versus a permanent condition.
  • 2019: Guggenheim Scholar and Emory University Professor Carol Anderson turned the myths of Black voter apathy and Black rage on their heads with her exposition of Black voter suppression and white rage from the nation’s beginning.
  • 2020: National Book Award winner and Yale Professor James Forman Jr. outlined the role of Black political leaders in the explosion of Black incarceration in the latter part of the 20th century.
  • 2021: New York Times best-selling author and social media sensation Layla Saad provided a powerful vehicle for looking internally to address the personal demons surrounding attitudes of white supremacy.
  • 2022: Color of Change Board Chair and New York Times best-selling author Heather McGheedetailed the self-defeating history of the national attitude that opposes the inclusion of benefits for people of color at all costs.

A good book is an immersive experience, an opportunity for the reader to get lost in imagination and explore a new world. A great book does that and more — it brings a community together to discuss, debate, and share in its wonder.

That is the goal of WestportREADS, which was created in 2002 as a way for Westporters to bond over a book and deepen the community’s engagement in literature.

The 2023 WestportREADS selection is Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, the celebrated young adult novel centered on 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine, a Native teen who must navigate family tragedy, new relationships, and an FBI investigation to root out the corruption in her community.

Copies of the book are available for borrowing now at The Westport Library. Firekeeper’s Daughter is also available as a digital copy (e-book) and as an audiobook.

In addition, throughout the months of January and February, there will be events and programs centered on Firekeeper’s Daughter, including book discussions, celebrations, learning opportunities, and more. The capstone event will be held Thursday, February 16, when Boulley appears in-person at the Library to deliver the WestportREADS keynote address.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate Firekeeper’s Daughter as the 2023 WestportREADS selection and ecstatic to have her in the Library to deliver this year’s keynote,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “Angeline is a master storyteller with a tale that will resonate throughout the Westport community and spark discussion and conversation in the way only a great book can.”

Boulley is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and hails from Sugar Island, Michigan, located between the state’s Upper Peninsula and Canada. She served as her tribe’s education director and assistant executive director and on the board of regents at Bay Mills Community College before becoming director for the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education, and most recently, a first-time published novelist at age 54.

Boulley told The New York Times that she first had the idea for Firekeeper’s Daughter in high school but didn’t start writing it until she was 44. “The story started out as a whisper and then it got louder and louder,” she told the Times.

The book is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club YA Pick. It is being adapted at Netflix for TV with former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama's production company, Higher Ground.

Among its many honors, Firekeeper’s Daughter was named a Printz Medal Winner, Morris Award Winner, American Indian Youth Literature Award YA Honor Book, TIME Magazine Best YA Book of All Time Selection, 2021 Kids’ Indie Next List Selection, Entertainment Weekly Most Anticipated Books of 2021 Selection, and PopSugar Best March 2021 YA Book Selection.

“Hitting hard when it comes to issues such as citizenship, language revitalization, and the corrosive presence of drugs on Native communities, this novel will long stand in the hearts of both Native and non-Native audiences,” raved Publishers Weekly.

Said NPR: “A contemplative exploration of existing between two cultural identities meets fake relationship romance meets backwoods thriller in this absolute powerhouse of a debut.”

Boulley’s father is a traditional firekeeper, which she described as one “who strikes ceremonial fires at spiritual activities in the tribal community and ensures protocols are followed.” She currently lives in Southwest Michigan but said that “my home will always be Bahweting (the place of the rapids) in Sault Ste. Marie.”

Past WestportREADS selections include The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism by Layla Saad, and Exit West by Moshin Hamid, among others. For more past WestportREADS selections, and to learn more about the annual event, visit the WestportREADS homepage on The Westport Library website.


Firekeeper’s Daughter Companion Books

Preschool and K-2

Fry Bread by Kevin Maillard

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

Grades 2-5

Jo Jo Makoons series by Dawn Quigley

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell (nonfiction)

Middle School

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (short stories)

She Holds Up the Stars by Sandra Laronde

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection

After thoughtful consideration, detailed analysis, and consultation with multiple parties, the Library’s Board of Trustees no longer intends to reinstall the River of Names Tile Wall.

The Board of Trustees unanimously supports this move. The decision was reached after the Library consulted with the Westport Arts Advisory Committee and the Westport Museum for History and Culture, which reviewed the content of the Tile Wall to determine if it depicted the town’s history in an accurate and inclusive way. Both organizations independently expressed concerns about historical inaccuracies and the lack of representation of diverse people who played a significant role in Westport’s history.

We recognize the original intent of the Tile Wall was to celebrate Westport and its history, while raising funds for an expansion of the Library in 1997-98, and we are grateful for the generosity of all those who contributed to that effort. To continue recognition of their support, the Library has included these donors on the donor appreciation wall on the Library’s main floor.

In addition, prior to removal of the Tile Wall in connection with the Library’s 2017-19 Transformation Project, the Wall and each of its tiles was professionally and meticulously captured digitally and may be viewed online together with an extensive narrative.

The Tile Wall was professionally removed and preserved in a climate-controlled warehouse. The Library has offered to transfer ownership to any responsible party who demonstrates a reasonable interest in the Wall. To date, no one has come forward.

Westport has a long and proud history, and we are humbled to play a small yet vital place in it. As we look toward the future, we will continue to work with all Westporters to celebrate our community and maintain the Library as a center of knowledge, learning, creativity, and growth for everyone.

- Jeremy Price, President, Westport Library Board of Trustees

Longtime ESPN reporter and E60 host Jeremy Schaap will be at The Westport Library on Monday, December 12, from 7 to 9 pm, to screen his new film, The Survivor, an ESPN-produced documentary that looks back at the 1972 Munich Massacre, when terrorists murdered 11 Israeli sportsmen at the Summer Olympics.

Schaap, an 11-time Emmy Award winner for his work as a sports reporter and investigative journalist, also will host a talk after the screening, to be held in the Library’s Trefz Forum.

“We are delighted to have Jeremy at the Library to show and discuss this important film,” said Bill Harmer, executive director at The Westport Library. “Jeremy is one of the finest reporters of his generation. He has covered some of the most pressing issues in sport and society with incredible depth and nuance. I’m so looking forward to his presentation, as I’m sure so many in our community are.”

Schaap traveled to Israel and Germany to tell the story through the eyes of 86-year-old Israeli race walker Shaul Ladany, who survived the massacre, as he had World War II and the Holocaust when he was a child.

“In his long life, Shaul Ladany has seen up close the worst of humanity,” said Schaap. “Not only has he survived, he has pressed forward, constantly, to lead a life of achievement. The lessons of his life are valuable to us all. I was honored to be part of the team that told the story of what he endured and what he witnessed. Ladany’s story is not so well-known here in the United States — but it should be.”

The Munich Massacre was the first terrorist attack broadcast live on television around the world. The Survivor breaks down the tragedy through archival video and news reports, along with new interviews and reporting. In addition to Ladany, others interviewed for The Survivor include Zelig Shtroch, Ladany’s roommate and a shooter on the Israeli Olympic team; Shlomo Levy, an Israeli photojournalist who was embedded with the team in Munich; and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

The Survivor was produced and directed by Frank Saraceno, with Schaap serving as the lead reporter and narrator.

Click here to register for the December 12 event.

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