The Governor of Vermont has proclaimed Oct. 17, 2019 to be “Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Day,” starting an entire weekend of events celebrating local history and words as part of the Brattleboro Literary Festival, a principal partner in the Brattleboro Words Project. The official proclamation will be read and shared on Oct. 17 at 11 a.m., when a new historic marker will be unveiled at Academy School in West Brattleboro, with one side dedicated to Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.
The other side of the marker will celebrate four schools that have occupied the area, including the Glenwood Ladies Seminary, a school Mary attended. Students and teachers from Academy School will participate, as will Freeman scholar Brent Kendrick and the West Brattleboro Association, which spearheaded much of the work to get the marker placed.
Events continue Thursday evening at 7 at Brooks Memorial Library, the Brattleboro Literary Festival will present talks by Brent Kendrick, author of Infant Sphinx: The Collected Letters of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Christopher Benfey, author of If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years. They will discuss the lives of both Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Rudyard Kipling, and how they knew each other. During their talk, cards made exclusively for the festival and Words Project, which feature a caricature of Mary, will be available. There will also be a special postcard which includes a partial script from one of Mary’s letters.
Throughout the Literary Festival, the “Something About Mary” walking exhibit can be found in downtown windows and storefronts. The exhibit, which features panels designed by local artist Jen Wiechers, in conjunction with Sandy Rouse, Don McLean, Jerry Carbone, and Jennifer Austin, will showcase letters, photos, books, and information about Mary’s life. Details about the specific locations will be posted on the Brattleboro Words’ Facebook page and website.
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, beloved 19th century American author and Brattleboro local, began her 50-year literary career in Brattleboro. She published over 250 short stories, 14 novels, and 3 plays. Freeman was quite an original. Strong and independent, she was a shrewd business woman as well as a talented writer. She made a fortune, and was known for writing of New England life and its characters, many of whom rebelled against societal expectations and constraints.
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman was internationally known, and America’s most popular woman writer during the late nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century. She was the first recipient of the prestigious William Dean Howells Gold Medal for Fiction in 1926, was among the first three women elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1938 was memorialized when the American Academy of Arts and Letters installed bronze doors inscribed, “Dedicated to the Memory of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and the Women Writers of America.” Mary also won the admiration of America’s most celebrated literary figures, including Kipling and Twain.
The Words Project’s “Something About Mary” series began in April for National Poetry Month, with a series of short poems written by Mary and read by Jen Austin, Executive/ Creative Director for the Brattleboro Words Project, and a producer of the Mary E. Wilkins Freeman audio tours for the Words Trail. Like many others who had never heard of Mary, Austin quickly became fascinated with the author and her writing. “Like so many aspects of the Words Project, Mary had many layers, and each could be a story of its own” said Austin.
The “Something About Mary” series continued with a screening of the movie “Revolt of Mother” based on one of Mary’s stories, at Brooks Memorial Library. The screening was part of the Brattleboro Words Projects’ ongoing monthly public roundtable discussion series. For this event, copies of the original story were made available online and at the library, and participants all agreed it was a captivating tale, and enjoyed learning from local expert Don McLean about Mary’s life and literary legacy. McLean will read one of Freeman’s stories, “Christmas Jenny” for the annual Guilford Christmas Program on December 13 and December 14 at Guilford’s historic Christ Church.
Under the guidance of teacher Joe Rivers, Brattleboro Area Middle School students have researched and recorded podcasts about Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Their work will be built upon and incorporated into final audio which will be professionally produced for the Brattleboro Words Trail. The students work will be posted prominently on the Brattleboro Words website throughout the Literary Festival.
The Brattleboro Words Project is a multi-year collaboration of Marlboro College, Brattleboro Historical Society, Brattleboro Literary Festival, Write Action and Brooks Memorial Library backed by a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities with support from The Windham Foundation, Edward Jones, Brattleboro Savings & Loan and other local businesses and individuals. The Project seeks public participation in research, writing and creating the ‘Brattleboro Words Trail’, audio linked to sites of interest in the history of words for walking, biking and driving tours of our area, a book on Brattleboro’s printing and publishing history, historic markers and other events presented as part of the October Brattleboro Literary Festival and throughout the year. For more information visit: www.brattleborowords.org.