SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER
This past Saturday, the beginning of the new Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle reading year dawned warm and sunny. The traditional Bryant Day celebration took place back in the courtyard surrounding the Miller Bell Tower, as well as streamed live on the Chautauqua Literary Arts Facebook page.
Historically, Bryant Day was held in the fall and — in addition to marking the start of the new CLSC reading year — commemorated William Cullen Bryant’s interest in and encouragement of the CLSC in 1878. Now, it is held at the end of the summer season and has a brief service followed by the CLSC graduates ringing the Bryant Bell in the bell tower.
This year the ceremony began with remarks from Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, and Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts. They both thanked everyone in attendance for a wonderful — if unconventional — season.
“I cannot tell you how happy I am and how hopeful I am that next summer (the CLSC programming) is going to be on the grounds, and we’re going to be asking questions and getting our books signed,” Ton-Aime said.
Next, Alumni Association of the CLSC President Dick Karslake read a poem written by Mrs. Grace Livingston-Hill-Lutz for the ceremony. The opening line of the poem reads “Temple and halls are silent now,” a statement that has held true for the majority of the summer season. However, this ceremony was anything but silent.
Ewalt unveiled the first 2022 CLSC selection by unwrapping the book in front of the audience. His book had been wrapped in a copy of The Chautauquan Daily, much to his good-humored dismay as he tore off the wrapping. A voice rang out from the crowd, joking that “it was last week’s.”
The first book revealed, after Ewalt had shredded the Daily wrapping paper, was The Arsonists’ City, by Hala Alyan, which will be featured during Week Seven, themed “More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home.”
According to Ton-Aime, one of Alyan’s other book, Salt Houses, was going to be a CLSC selection in 2019, but the author was unable to make it the week she would have been featured. Salt Houses was also a finalist for The Chautauqua Prize in 2018, and Ton-Aime is excited to finally get Alyan on the grounds.
Ton-Aime read a short description of the book, taken from Kirkus Reviews, that called it “painful and joyous, sad and funny — impossible to put down.” The Arsonists’ City is set in both America and the Middle East and tells a story about a seemingly assimilated Syrian-Lebanese American family that is dealing with secrets, betrayals and differing loyalties.
Ton-Aime pulled out and unwrapped the second CLSC 2022 book: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. Walton’s book will be featured during Week Nine, themed “An American Tapestry: Exploring Culture, Folk and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife and The Avett Brothers.”
According to the publisher’s description — which was read by Ton-Aime — the book follows Opal, an Afro-punk musician who is coming of age in Detroit and is discovered by singer/songwriter Neville Charles. She takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for Rivington Records. Provocative and chilling, this book features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of whom has not been seen in storytelling, and a “daring structure.”
Traditionally, the Bryant Day ceremony concludes with CLSC graduates — with a priority on that year’s class — ringing the Bryant Bell. However this year, the clapper had not put inside the bell and as a result, the bell swung, but did not ring.
The ceremony finished with an announcement from Ewalt regarding future programming. He said the Institution is excited to commit to the idea of the CLSC being a way to connect Chautauquans year round, and not just every Thursday afternoon in season in the Hall of Philosophy.
Coming from the accessibility provided by the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, the Institution will be introducing additional CLSC selections, including those who may be in other parts of the world and unable to join Chautauqua during the traditional season.
“So that way, we think about CLSC truly as the year-round conversation among readers that we know it is always meant to be,” Ewalt said. “(We are) excited for all of you to join us in that.”