Summary by Bill Thedford with Responses Collected by Lydia Bogar
This week, the Social Change Working Group presented a well-attended 2-day program on the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This amendment, dated 1865, abolished slavery for all but criminals. Avi Bernstein opened the session on Wednesday 7/12 with Ava Duvernay’s acclaimed film “13th” from Netflix. The film exposed the expansion of criminal prosecution as a means to disproportionately subjugate the black population to coal mining, field labor, “chain gangs” and other low cost labor. After the film, Professor Smith collected questions from the attendees as a basis for Thursday’s talk.
On Thursday, Avi introduced Professor Doug Smith who presented examples of State and Federal criminal laws as well as court rulings leading to the incarceration of poor and predominately African American people. These laws effectively utilized this criminal exception in Amendment 13 to provide cheap labor and business opportunities (e.g., to independent prison operators and even corporations). The discussion on the second day expanded the scope of the talk to include the role of police in this process. The process was widened by Nixon’s war on crime and drugs and has expanded or continued through all succeeding administrations. It was observed that the number of African Americans in Federal and State prisons today exceeds the number of slaves in the U.S. before the Amendment was added to the Constitution.
No solutions were proposed, but the potential value of home release programs and volunteer youth mentoring were discussed. In addition, Michael Burns, a member of the Social Change Working Group, has created a bibliography of materials on the issue which can be accessed by clicking here: BIBLIOGRAPHY. The group has also compiled a list of action opportunities which BOLLI members might choose to explore. Click here: ACTION.
What BOLLI members say about 13th…
BETSEY ANSIN: “A Riveting, pounding film that forcefully presents the generations long dehumanization and punishment of black men, and their families. Carried some scenes with me all day and will convincingly talk it up! Would show this to my grandchildren over the age of 10.
CRIS ARONSON: My eldest son is an educator teaching in an ethnically diverse primary school. HIs students include those of Asian, African American, Latino and European backgrounds as well as those born and raised in the US. When Mal first joined the school district, he was looked upon with trepidation to say the least. Why? Because he is racially mixed (most people saw Black), sports an earring and is extremely fit. Parents weren’t certain they wanted this man teaching their children or being an integral part of the school. That was 19 years ago. For the past 10 years, he has been the most requested teacher in the school, receiving numerous district and State awards and is given more gifts at the end of each academic year than most children get for Chanukah or Christmas!
My point: once people have the opportunity to get to know someone on a personal level (especially true of “the Other”), prejudices based on superficial ifrst impressions and stereotypes can give way to honest knowledge and appreciation of that individual.
AVI BERNSTEIN: This is the first time that I have seen this inspirational, beautifully constructed film. The big question is what we do next and how.
ABBY PINARD: Nothing in it came as a surprise, but the film connects the dots to powerful and painful effect. Should be required viewing … I’m not an educator, so I wouldn’t presume to recommend for younger kids but at least high school.
SUE WURSTER: So powerful…and so disheartening. Our general lack of knowledge about so much of this makes me feel even more determined to push for significant change in our teaching of our own history in our schools.
LYDIA BOGAR:Touring restored plantations in the South Carolina, I presumed that slavery was a closed book. Reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and watching this film has awakened me to the nightmare and reality of Black Lives Matter. I am horrified and need to know more.
The remaining events in this series, New American Political Realities, are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20, from 10:30-12, when the focus will be on “The Politics of Supreme Court Nominations.”
Please be sure to leave additional comments and/or questions below–whether you were in attendance or not!
The Lunch and Learn Committee is responsible for bringing approximately 30 speakers to BOLLI each semester. We try to create a program which meets the requests and interests of the membership. Our committee meets 3-4 times per semester and works from a suggestion list for which dozens of folks provide input. We then contact those that we think are most applicable, and our track record is about 60% acceptance, despite the fact that recompense consists only of our gratitude and lunch. We are looking for a few more members who would like to take an active role in developing the program for all BOLLI participants. Please contact one of the co-chairs if you are interested. The next meeting is in early September as we start work on the Spring 2018 program.
During the final week of our Fall Term, BOLLI’s “Book Group” engaged lunchtime attendees in a BOLLI-wide discussion of Philip Roth’s novel, Indignation.
Roth’s book is set in the 1950s and features a butcher’s son from Newark who escapes the family ties that bind by enrolling at a small, traditional college far from home in the rural Midwest.
The BOLLI Book Group’s co-organizers, Abby Pinard and Charlie Marz, moderated the event. “I think the One Bolli, One Book conversation went extremely well,” Charlie says. “I’m not very good at estimating the number of people in a crowd, but I would say there were at least 3 or 400 people in the room.” Abby suggests that 30-40 were actively engaged in the conversation circle, and mentions that another 10-20 observed from the tables.
Charlie points to the conversation as having been lively and substantive. “Rosalie Fink told me that, although she hadn’t read the novel, she found the discussion so interesting that she went out and bought it and read it, and, since that time, she’s become a bit obsessed by Roth, recommending that we do another one of his novels–American Pastoral or Nemesis. Another ‘silent’ participant, Marty Kafka from The New Yorker Fiction Salon, told me that, although he hadn’t read the book, he found the discussion so interesting that he stayed just to observe/listen.”
Both Charlie and Abby believe that the event may become an annual one, but, whether that happens or not, the BOLLI Book Group offers excellent reading and discussion opportunities on a regular basis.
Watch The Bulletin for specifics about the group’s upcoming reading and discussion plans.
After the successful launch of our term’s end “Radio Free BOLLI” show last spring, the cast and crew returned for an even more spectacular lunchtime presentation on Tuesday, December 6. For the uninitiated, “Radio Free BOLLI” features the dulcet tones of members Judith Stone and Nancy Connery who provide a weekly “Home Cooking Jazz” show on Monday afternoons from 1-3 on the Brandeis station WBRS 100.1 FM.
This time around, Judith and Nancy–teamed, once again, with Sue as trivia maven, Emily Ostrower as show manager, and Megan Curtis as technician–provided a stroll down “The Great White Way” with Broadway numbers from shows spanning the decades. All along the way, BOLLI members won amazing prizes in the form of stunning, top-quality plastic refrigerator magnets–but the event ended with a grand prize drawing in which members won places in our winter seminars and even a spring term membership!
As the show got going, the audience did too–eventually just breaking out into a Broadway sing-along thoroughly enjoyed by one and all! It was an afternoon of hooting, humming, and simple hilarity–so watch for the springtime version of “Radio Free BOLLI!”
Be sure to join us for our spring edition of “Radio Free BOLLI” when we return to Broadway’s Golden Age for another rousing sing-along and trivia fest!
From left, our crew consists of Megan Curtis, Technical Director; Sue Wurster, Trivia Maven and “Gypsy” Dancer; Nancy Connery, Co-Creator and DJ Deluxe; Emily Ostrower, Production Manager and Prize Guru; and Judith Stone, the Other Co-Creator and DJ Extraordinaire.
During the last week of the fall term, the BOLLI Membership Committee sponsored lunchtime presentations celebrating ourselves and our activities, providing our fellow BOLLI members with entertainment, discussion, and more! First up, that week was our intrepid group of actors providing a program called “Going Solo.”
CAST (Creative Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre)On Monday, our CAST Our CAST members performed monologues drawn from plays (many of them one-character shows) featuring characters from real life. The performers provided the following glimpses of fascinating people–
Sue Wurster started off the program with a piece drawn from the play Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein by Marty Martin. The play, a single-character work, featured Pat Carroll in its off-Broadway run in New York in the ’70s and takes place on the eve of Stein’s eviction from her Paris apartment. In this portion of the work, she talks about the inner self as well as what she was trying to accomplish in her work.
We then moved back in time (and place) from the Paris of 1933 to the Amherst, Massachusetts of the mid-19th Century. In this scene from William Luce’s one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, the reclusive poet talks about her father, her sister, and, of course, her poems.
In 1932, the National Geographic Society awarded its Gold Medal to Amelia Earhart for becoming the first woman (and the only person since Charles Lindbergh) to achieve a solo transatlantic flight. In this passage from Laura Annawyn Shamas’ one-woman play, Amelia Lives, the aviatrix reflects with some amazement upon the extraordinary public response to her flight as she accepts the medal for her achievement.
In Marcy Lafferty’s one-woman show, Vivien Leigh: The Last Press Conference, drawn from the Leigh’s own words, we are given a portrait of the troubled and gifted actress not long before the end of her life. Here, she talks about her most determined campaigns in life: marrying Laurence Olivier and landing the role of Scarlett O’Hara.
In a very unusual piece, First Lady, playwright Erica Christ has provided a unique look at the woman who used her position as Argentina’s first lady to fight for women’s rights and care of the poor. Here, Peron (after her death) reflects upon what it means to be a woman in Argentina…and more.
Twin sisters Margaret and Allison Engel have provided a vivid image of brassy Texas newspaper columnist Molly Ivins in their one-woman play, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins. In this portion of the play, Ivins turns her humor on Texas politics as she tries to write about her father.
A scientist herself, Bette Winer was drawn to this particularly powerful monologue from Carson Kreitzer’s compelling play, The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer. In this passage, the scientist reflects upon the volatile age that he and his Los Alamos crew ushered in when they invented the modern devil, the atomic bomb.
So, is CAST a closed group? NO. Does one have to audition in order to be involved? NO. What if you’ve never been on stage in your life but are kind of interested in maybe trying some acting–is this something you could join? YES! And so, how would you go about doing that?
Just watch the Bulletin for announcements of our upcoming meeting times (next at BOLLI on Thursday, January 5 from 12:00 – 1:30) when we engage in lots of fun activity–we do some warm-ups, play some theatre games, engage in some improvisation, read scenes and/or plays, and so on. No experience necessary–just a desire to have some creative fun!
The BOLLI Journal committee hosted its first lunchtime program on Monday. November 14th—a literary and artistic “salon” in the spirit of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. We drank alcohol-free bubbly and indulged in cheese and crackers, brownies and grapes as we explored the creative process and its place in the BOLLI Program. Steve Goldfinger’s poetry (below left), Barbara Jordan’s photos and paintings (middle with Marjorie Roemer), and Jane Kay’s (right with Margie Arons-Barron) tale of a lovingly remembered childhood icon, a blue glass slipper, delighted the audience. Listening to each of these creative BOLLI members answer questions from Marjorie Roemer, Sue Wurster, and Margie Arons-Barron brought into focus the way in which BOLLI members change and grow as they explore and develop new talents within the BOLLI environment.
Thanks to all who came and participated. We look forward to many more such programs and invite all of our BOLLI members to become involved with the next Journal issue. Please submit your poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photos, and art to the Journal – submissions open from now until June of 2017. In the spirit of sharing, we include the brownie recipe–not from the Toklas’ cookbook and with no hidden ingredients. In fact, the recipe includes no leavening agents at all!
Grease and flour a 9 x 12” pan preheat oven to 350 in saucepan, melt two sticks of butter and one 4 oz package unsweetened chocolate remove from heat beat in two cups of sugar and one teaspoon vanilla beat in four eggs mix in one cup of all-purpose flour fold in one package semi-sweet chocolate bits pour into prepared pan bake until done (about 25 minutes, depending upon your oven) cool on rack and try not to eat them all at one sitting.
Possible variations on this recipe are endless. Any kind of chocolate chips will do. Try adding a fruit cup mix at holiday time. Nuts. Almond flavoring.
Maxine Weintraub, who heads the 2018 BOLLI Journal committee as editor, is no stranger to arts and letters magazines. She is a regular contributor to The Goose River Anthology and has produced two volumes of her short stories.
“I woke up one morning with the phrase ‘the shortcomings hotel’ in my head,” poet Jan Schreiber told the audience at Brookline Public Library. He went on to introduce his wry “story poem” about a man with his own inadequacies in a hotel where “the drinks are cheap and plentiful, though watered down and weak.” Jan, a popular BOLLI Study Group Leader, says that he draws inspiration for his poetry from a wide variety of sources—sometimes just a concept or image like that now unforgettable hotel.
At Brookline Public Library’s June 24 “Changing of the Bard” event, the city’s outgoing Poet Laureate Judith Steinbergh was joined by her successor Jan Schreiber and past National Poetry Slam winner Regi Gibson of Lexington for an evening of reading in rhythm, rhyme, and even a little “rap-sody.”
Schreiber’s career has been a long, varied, and distinguished one. As a respected social scientist, his book on terrorism, The Ultimate Weapon, is still cited by scholars, but in recent years, Jan has devoted the bulk of his energy to poetry and criticism. He is the author of four collections of poems, two books of verse translation, and one volume of literary criticism. He serves as co-host of the Symposium of Poetry Criticism at Western State Colorado University; co-founded the journal, Canto: Review of the Arts; and, as literary editor, launched the poetry chapbook series at Godine Press. He has also been honored with the Carey Thomas Award for creative publishing.
Works he shared with the audience on June 24th ranged from his piece about that limited man in a limited inn to his “Inventory” of love in dotage to his fictional Wisconsin “Reverend Charles Colby” and even a translation of ancient Chinese. All demonstrated his acute eye, exacting wit, and deep sensitivity—qualities long heralded in poet laureates.
Brookline established its poet laureate program in 2012 as another way to promote the city’s arts. By reaching out to community centers, libraries and schools, the hope is that authors honored with this distinction will engage the public in poetry. “I think any time you can get young people interested in the tradition of poetry, it’s a good thing,” Schreiber said after his appointment in March.
Schreiber began writing when he was “a kid in Wisconsin.” He says that, at that point, his work was “verse (not really poetry)” and that “it wasn’t till I was about 19 that I started putting down ideas—still in prose—that might somehow turn into poems. When you’re that age, you’re overwhelmed with feelings and perceptions about the world, and, for a while, each observation you make seems unlike anything that’s been seen or thought before. Once you start seriously reading earlier poets, you discover otherwise.”
While working to spark interest in poetry among young people, Schreiber has also provided BOLLI students with opportunities to dig deeply into the tradition. Having earned his Ph.D. at Brandeis, he says, “I’m not rich enough to add a farthing to the University’s endowment, but I can perhaps contribute to the intellectual tradition through teaching.” Jan points to his encounters with class members who are “eager to delve into the complexities of poetry” as being especially rewarding although “doing justice to dense material with limited time” is always challenging. Participants in his courses have not only praised his work as a study group leader but also formed an affinity group, BOLLI’s Poetry Circle devoted to digging into the work of both established and lesser known poets.
Jan describes himself as a “formalist” poet. “I write mainly in meter and often with some sort of rhyme.” He places more emphasis on challenging ideas or observations, he adds, than on “raw feeling or self-involvement.” During his recent spring term BOLLI course on 20th Century women poets, Jan talked about the clash, over the last few decades, between poetry rooted in traditional forms and free verse. He notes, though, that “a particular juxtaposition of ideas can be very moving in itself, if offered in spare and precise language. I think you see that if you look over the most distinguished poems written in the twentieth century.”
In his BOLLI courses, Jan has focused on a host of well-known poets who have made outstanding contributions to the literary tradition. But he has provided class participants with the work of contemporary poets who are doing so in the twenty-first century as well. This spring, for example, those enrolled in his seminar, Imaginary Gardens: Women Poets of the 20th Century, were introduced not only to the work of award-winning bilingual poet Rhina Espaillat but to the poet herself when she actually joined the group for one session. Not only a stirring poet but an inspirational teacher, Schreiber’s long time colleague and friend told the group that “Everyone has a poet inside. That’s where the poem comes from, the inside. Once it appears, the editor takes over and finds the form the poem needs in order to be heard.”
Schreiber joins Massachusetts poets from a wide range of communities—from Northampton, North Andover, New Bedford, West Tisbury, Cambridge, and Somerville to Boston—as a city-wide poet laureate. Joe McGonegal, chairman of Brookline’s selection committee, said Schreiber was chosen for his “commitment to the community and his poetic strengths. His devotion to the town, his enthusiasm for embracing the role, and his career in verse made him an ideal choice.”
The poet laureate tradition, traced to ancient Greece where a laurel wreath was used to crown poets and heroes, was revived in 1341 with the crowning of Petrarch on the Campidoglio. In England, Geoffrey Chaucer was called Poet Laureate in 1389 and given an annual allowance of wine as his award.
When the new Brookline poet laureate was asked if there was anything else he would like to share with BOLLI Matters readers, Jan said, “I could write a book… In fact, I have. You can engage with a lot of ideas about contemporary poetry by reading it, Sparring with the Sun, which focuses on six twentieth-century poets but also discusses several others and questions the ways we determine what poems are worth keeping and teaching to the next generation.”
We point with great pride to our “BOLLI Bard” and, in true Chaucerian tradition, raise a glass of wine to celebrate Jan Schreiber’s appointment to his two-year tenure as a poet laureate.