Heads-up all book lovers and porch sitters: “Porch Reads 2019” is the topic for this week’s Chautauqua Speaks program sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club.
At 9:15 a.m. Thursday, July 11 at the CWC House, Scott Ekstrom, Earl Rothfus and Atom Atkinson will share insights and recommendations based on their unique perspectives as year-round Chautauqua Institution staff.
Ekstrom is director of Smith Memorial Library; Rothfus is Chautauqua Bookstore manager; Atkinson is director of literary arts.
“I hope to talk a little bit about what forces influence my collection development, what people are reading at the library and how my own reading tastes have changed through the years,” Ekstrom said. “I’ll be bringing a random stack of books to mention.”
Ekstrom grew up in Chautauqua County and earned his Bachelor of Arts in English and secondary teaching certification in English at Houghton College. He taught Advanced Placement English at Christian Central Academy in Williamsville, New York, for two years before heading to England for graduate studies.
“I was interested in performing and theater as a kid, and then I stepped away from it,” Ekstrom said. “But I had an interest in literature in 3D. I was looking for a master’s degree for permanent (teaching) certification.”
Because the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College London offered a jointly taught one-year program in text and performance, Ekstrom studied there. He said that in the mornings he took literature-based courses at King’s, and in the afternoons and evenings he focused on scene studies at RADA.
“We were on our feet with working professionals,” Ekstrom said.
Returning to Western New York, he taught for one more year — this time middle school students at Westfield Academy and Central School.
Ekstrom’s deep interest in theater led him to New York City, where for several years he worked for Manhattan Church of the Nazarene, that also housed the Off-Broadway Lamb’s Theatre. Periodically he left for “acting gigs,” including a tour of the musical Ellis Island.
Theater also took Ekstrom to Los Angeles before he returned home and began working for the Institution — first in the Chautauqua Bookstore’s book department and then as director of Smith Memorial Library.
“My creative outlet changed focus from performing to writing,” Ekstrom said. His first book, Confessions of a Christian Sinner, was published two years ago. He said it is a “spiritual memoir.”
Rothfus said he will discuss the increasing challenge of curating “a collection in a small space when the number of choices, in terms of titles and genres, continues to grow at a significant pace.”
“I’ll talk some about Chautauqua best sellers over the last couple of years, and what types of books those tend to be — not usually ‘blockbuster’ fiction authors like James Patterson,” Rothfus said.
And if time permits, Rothfus will discuss “the use of technology and software to help develop a collection that makes sense for our clientele.”
Having recently undergone a significant renovation following consultations with design firms, Chautauqua’s popular, independent bookstore is better able to accommodate the heavy traffic that flows through it day and night throughout the season.
Rothfus also manages the Odland Screenhouse on the west side of the Amphitheater, and is responsible for the purchasing, receiving and transference of all Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle books.
Atkinson will discuss how CLSC books are selected each year.
“I will share some glimpses into how we field and discuss suggestions for CLSC selections, as well as various factors that shape the selection process — especially our hopes for how books can live on the grounds (and) in discussions in CLSC circles across the country,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson “will bring along some of this year’s selections to discuss as literature (and) also as program choices.”
In addition to the CLSC, Atkinson’s work includes the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, The Chautauqua Prize, The Chautauqua Janus Prize and the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.
Atkinson — who earned a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and a MFA at Louisiana State University — taught creative writing at Interlochen Arts Academy and Summer Camp, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the University of Utah and LSU, and was the artist-in-residence for creative writing at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School.
Atkinson is part of a collective of six poets who launched Line Assembly in 2013, a national five-week tour of public poetry readings and workshops that were free-of-charge and filmed for a documentary.
The Academy of American Poets honored Atkinson with the Larry Levis Memorial Poetry Prize, and LSU honored them with the Robert Penn Warren MFA Thesis Award for poetry, and the Kent Gramm MFA Award for nonfiction.