Under sunny skies with waves crashing in from Chautauqua Lake, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle celebrated Bryant Day Saturday morning near the Miller Bell Tower, officially marking a new CLSC reading year.
To kick things off, CLSC Octagon Manager Stephine Hunt and CLSC Graduate Fellow Emma Ginader led Chautauquans and CLSC members and alumni alike gathered in front of the Bell Tower to sing, “From Age to Age They Gather,” to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Hunt and Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, announced five selections for the coming year, for both CLSC Young Readers and the CLSC.
The first book announced was The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie, by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Henry Herz, for CLSC Young Readers.
“This (is a) fabulous collection of stories that inspire delight and ask the question, ‘What if (Curie) had used her talents for diabolic purposes?’ ” Ton-Aime said. “(The book) includes 20 short stories and poems by award-winning writers including New York Times bestselling authors Seanan McGuire, Scott Sigler, Jane Yolen, Alethea Kontis and Jonathan Maberry, among others.”
Next, Apple: Skin to the Core, by Eric Gansworth, is a combined CLSC and CLSC Young Readers selection for Week Six next year, themed “Exploring the Transformative Power of Music with Renee Fleming.” Each book was wrapped in gift paper, which Hunt removed as Ton-Aime read descriptions.
“Eric Gansworth tells his story, the story of his family — of Onondaga among Tuscaroras — of Native folks everywhere,” Ton-Aime said, “from the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds.”
Gansworth, Ton-Aime said, “shatters the slur” and reclaims it in verse, prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word “heartbreaking.”
The CLSC Young Readers announcements concluded, the next book unveiled was The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance, by Dan Egan. It will be the CLSC selection for 2024’s Week Three: “What We Got Wrong: Learning from Our Mistakes.” Egan is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and was a CLSC author in 2019 for his book The Death and Life of The Great Lakes.
“The story of phosphorus spans the globe and vast tracts of human history,” Ton-Aime said. “But it’s also the key component of the most vital: fertilizer. … Egan also explores the alarming reality that diminishing access to phosphorus poses a threat to the food system worldwide — which risks rising conflict and even war.”
Next, Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, led those gathered in the traditional litany about the essential value of books and how humankind is immortalized in books.
Returning to Chautauqua in Week Nine of 2024, this time as a CLSC author, is Nicole Cuffy — the inaugural Chautauqua Janus Prize winner — for her novel Dances. She’ll present her debut novel in a week themed “Rising Together: Our Century of Creativity and Collaboration with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.”
“At 22 years old, Cece Cordell reaches the pinnacle of her career as a ballet dancer when she’s promoted to principal at the New York City Ballet,” Ton-Aime said. “She’s instantly catapulted into celebrity. … Haunted by the feeling that she doesn’t belong, she begins to unravel the loose threads of her past.”
The final CLSC selection announced at Bryant Day was Horse, by Geraldine Brooks — a Pulitzer Prize-winning author — for Week Five, on “Our Greatest Challenges (That We Can Do Something About).” Set in three different time periods, Horse explores the scenes of 1850s Kentucky, 1950s New York City and 2019 Washington, D.C.
“When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union,” Ton-Aime said. “Martha Jackson, a gallery owner noted for taking risks, becomes obsessed with a 19th-century equestrian oil painting.”
Among the characters are Jess a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, who find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse. Horse was a finalist for the 2023 Chautauqua Prize, and Brooks a frequent CLSC author.
Following the announcements, Hunt and Ginader led Chautauquans in a final song, “Our Aims Reach to the Sky” to the tune of “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee).”
Lastly, but certainly not least, Ton-Aime announced the vertical theme for the 2024 CLSC season: “Legacy.” The vertical theme serves as a combined theme between the CLSC, Chautauqua Lecture Series and Interfaith Lecture Series platforms.
“As we reflect on our sesquicentennial celebration, we consider the legacy we carry forward into the next 150 years,” he said. “Our time at Chautauqua and our encounters with literature in particular, goes to evaluate what we have learned here, and what we would take with us as contributions to the world.”
The ceremony ended with graduates of the CLSC Class of 2023 – and anyone else in attendance who wanted to – ringing the bell in the Miller Bell Tower.