Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chautauqua, the Opposite of Burning Man

The Chautauqua readers Janet and Dave Northrup brought various surprises with their program last night (September 20) at Café Muse.

Dave Northrup gave a reading of his short story inspired by the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” His story, while minimalist like Williams’ 16-word eight-line poem arranged in couplets, was full of farming details. A former English teacher, Dave Northrup, who is also wood sculpture artist, continues to teach the perplexing.

As promised, Janet Northrup read from Founding Women: Inspiration and Impact on Chautauqua and the Nation, a history of the Chautauqua movement in the United States. Of particular interest was hearing how the Temperance and Suffrage movements  found voice along with well-known male politicians like William Jennings Bryan. Such women as Susan B. Anthony (leader of the Suffragettes and the protagonist of Gertrude Stein’s and Virgil Thomson’s opera The Mother of Us All) spoke to the public at a time when American women were prohibited from such activity.

In Chautauqua, New York, where the Chautauqua movement began and spread throughout the United States including Glen Echo Park, Maryland, (only ten minutes from the Café Muse location in Chevy Chase, Maryland), people have been gathering each summer for weeks of entertainment and intellectual lectures since 1874. You might say that when Chautauqua began, it was every bit as controversial as Burning Man, a temporary community that comes together each summer since 1986 for radical self-expression. However, the legally voiceless women of the Temperance movement, who came together at Chautauqua to address the problems of families starving because the male heads of households rarely made it home from the saloons with their paychecks, chose a radical and bold path of action for social good.

Janet Northrup said she had not ever expected to write the history of any organization but she got into the project and her readings continue to unearth new historic data from audience members. She suggested that now is the time to step up to write histories for organizations that are 50 to 100 years old before the historical details are lost. As for Ms. Northrup, her next project is a children’s book.

Northrup has donated a copy of her book which will be presented to the library of the Friendship Heights Village Center.

Be sure to mark your calendar for November 4 when poets Idra Novey and Luis Alberto Ambroggio will read at Café Muse.

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