Louise Wolff Kahn 1931 Professor of Theatre
In 2006-2007, Bill Peterson and Andrea Hairston organized a Kahn Institute project titled Narrative: Identity. During the project, Hairston wrote a screenplay based on a story from a novel that just wasn’t working. That screenplay turned into the outline for Redwood and Wildfire, a novel published by Aqueduct Press in February 2011.
Redwood and Wildfire is a novel of what might have been. At the turn of the 20th century, minstrel shows transform into vaudeville, which slides into moving pictures. Hunkering together in dark theatres, diverse audiences marvel at flickering images. This “dreaming in public” becomes common culture and part of what transforms immigrants and “native” born into Americans. Redwood, an African American woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, journey from Georgia to Chicago, from haunted swampland to a “city of the future.” They are gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors, struggling to call up the wondrous world they imagine, not just on stage and screen, but on city streets, in front parlors, in wounded hearts. The power of hoodoo is the power of the community that believes in its capacities to heal and determine the course of today and tomorrow. Living in a system stacked against them, Redwood and Aidan’s power and talent are torment and joy. Their search for a place to be who they want to be is an exhilarating, painful, magical adventure. Blues singers, filmmakers, haints, healers, and actors work their mojo for adventure, romance, and magic from Georgia to Chicago!
Hairston will do a reading/performance from Redwood and Wildfire on April 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm in the Neilson Browsing Room accompanied by singer/composer Pan Morigan.
Charles N. Clark Professor Emeritus of Government
At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln described government by the people a "the great task remaining before us." Many citizens of modern America, frustrated and disheartened, are tempted to despair of realizing that ideal. Yet, it is a project still alive in parts of New England.
In his book, Town Meeting: Practicing Democracy in Rural America, Donald Robinson traces the origins of town-meeting democracy in Ashfield, a community of just under 2,000 people in western Massachusetts. He tracks its course from the 18th-century crises that helped to shape its character through the present, examining how democratic self-government functions in the modern context.
As Robinson notes, the picture is not always pretty. Self-government carries no guarantees, and Ashfield is no utopia. Human failings are abundantly on display. Leaders mislead. Citizens don’t pay attention and they forget hard-earned lessons. But in this candid account of the operation of democracy in one New England town, Robinson demonstrates that for better and for worse, Ashfield governs itself democratically. Citizens control the actions of their government. Not everyone participates, but all may, and everyone who lives in the town must accept and obey what town meeting decides.
Donald Robinson is the Charles N. Clark Professor Emeritus of Goverment and American Studies at Smith College. During the 2003-2004 academic year, he was one of the Organizing Fellows for the Kahn Institute project Problems of Democracy. He served on the select board in Ashfield during the 1990s.
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