Coming Up at the Library: September & Beyond

Last modified: 
Friday, July 3, 2020

Dear Fellow Library Enthusiast, It’s that time again. Fall is upon us, which means your Library is about to embark on another season of presenting, if I may be so bold, an extensive schedule of simply extraordinary public programs. All of our programs are admission free, thanks to a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, plus additional support from like-minded donors and our increasing ability to obtain competitively-awarded grants.

If you’re one of our growing band of regulars, we look forward to seeing you, well, regularly. If you’re not, well, what are you waiting for? Your Library has become one of Kansas City’s leading venues for engaging presentations by leading authors as well as a forum for civic engagement and public dialogue. It’s the place to be, this fall more than ever.

Our big deal this month is the Big Read, a magnum opus effort with Kansas City Ballet and other partners, supported by major funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to persuade everyone in town read and discuss Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  (This is one of those competitively-awarded grants I referred to a moment ago.) You’ve got to be a part of the Big Read – and there are so many ways to do it: programs, book discussion sessions, an exhibit of Thomas Hart Benton illustrations, and our unique Big Read, Corporate Edition, where you can “check out a librarian” who will come to your place of business and lead an on-site book discussion of Tom Sawyer with your fellow employees.

Beyond the Big Read, we’ve put together our usual wide-ranging line-up of guest speakers this month.

Princeton University scholar Esther Schor talks about her biography of Emma Lazarus, the poet who gave voice to the Statue of Liberty, but also a woman so far ahead of her time that she was “a feminist, a Zionist, and an internationally famous Jewish American writer before these categories even existed.” Learn more.

Financial guru James Grant, founder and editor of the contrarian financial markets newsletter Grant's Interest Rate Observer, is also quite the biographer,  as he’ll demonstrate in a talk on his new book about Thomas B. Reed, the most influential speaker of the House most people have never heard of. Learn more.

And if you’re looking to take a walk on the wilder side, check out presentation on The Vulture Perspective by Australian motivational speaker and personal trainer M.D. “Dorsal” Finn, who promises to reveal his formula for a real man’s guide to a happy and successful life. Learn more.

As for this week, here’s what you can look forward to over the next few days:


Wednesday, September 7 | Central Library | 6:30 p.m. Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted | Justin Martin

As you may have seen in this past Sunday's issue of the Kansas City Star, Justin Martin,  a former Kansas Citian, returns to his hometown for a presentation about his enthralling new biography of visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Best known for his work with sometime partner Calvin Vaux in the creation of New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Olmsted was also an abolitionist, a reporter, a reformer, and an early environmentalist, plus – and here’s the local connection – he was a mentor to George Kessler, the man responsible for much of Kansas City's iconic parks and boulevards system. All in all, Olmsted had an extraordinary career; as Martin notes, he “accomplished more than most people could in three lifetimes.” BTW, another pretty extraordinary person, the Library’s good friend, Pulitzer Prize winning former New York Times correspondent Shirley Christian, is going to make and bring “the world's greatest chocolate truffles” which you’ll be able to sample at the reception preceding Wednesday’s presentation, beginning at 6 p.m. RSVP now.

Thursday, September 8 | Central Library | 6:30 p.m. Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts | An Evening with Maury Yeston and William Whitener

Speaking of notable prize winners, tonight you’ll get the chance to bask in the presence of yet another one (where else can you get this kind of stuff?) when two-time Tony Award honoree, composer and lyricist Maury Yeston leads the Library’s formal kick-off of the Big Read with a presentation-cum-performance featuring selections from the soon-to-premiere Tom Sawyer – A Ballet in Three Acts  that will be Kansas City Ballet’s opener at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in October. 

Joining Yeston for an insightful discussion is William Whtener, the Ballet’s artistic director and choreographer of the production, which – believe it or not – may rank as the first full length American ballet derived from an American novel. This is one of those must-see opportunities you’ve just got to take advantage of. As usual, we’ll start with a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP now.

Friday, September 9 | Community Garden at 51st & Main | 4:30 p.m. The Glorious Whitewashers | A Community Fence Painting Event

How could we resist an opportunity for life to imitate art? Well, we couldn’t. And we are hoping you can’t either. As Tom Sawyer himself framed the issue (in Chapter 2, incidentally; remember, we want you to read the book), “Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

Come to think of it, does anyone paint fences anymore given that most of them seem to be made of vinyl these days? Well, we made our length of fence with wood, thanks to the carpentry skills of the phenomenally talented Jerry Houchins, the Library’s plant operations manager and overall go-to guy for all things mechanical. True, true, it is not the nine-foot board fence 30-yards long that is the object of Tom’s deviousness in the novel, let alone in this scene from the 1938 movie produced by David O. Selznick, but work with us here; we’re focusing on the concept.

And we’ve made it to so easy to participate: not only did we build the fence, we’ve got supplies of brushes, paint (our sincere thanks to Kathy Blackford of Glidden at 1826 Baltimore Ave. for this product donation), and buckets. Our friends from the Coterie Theatre will even set the stage, as it were, with a dramatic reading of the scene from the novel. 

It all takes place at the Community Garden at 51st and Main, thanks to the tremendous assistance of DST Systems and Kansas City Community Gardens. After you’re finished painting, why not follow your art to the Plaza Branch, just three blocks away at 4801 Main St. and check out your own copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer?

A Note on 9-11

We had really hoped to pull something together at the Library to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that have now colloquially come to be known as 9/11. But as with so much related to the so-called War on Terror, our efforts fell short. Perhaps this is just as well. Nothing that we contemplated came anywhere close to the absolutely brilliant Encyclopedia of 9/11 compiled by New York Magazine and featured in the current issue.

Coming Up in Coming Up

In subsequent postings, I’ll be telling you about upcoming developments in two of the Library’s signature series. First, our newish Kansas City: Cradle of Entrepreneurs series in which my dear friend and esteemed colleague Crosby Kemper III conducts public conversations with the local men and women who have turned their dreams into dynamic business enterprises; and second, the revival of our Meet the Past KCPT television show in which everyone’s favorite library director (yes, yes, same guy) interviews notable – and occasionally notorious – characters from Kansas City history, though this year we’re expanding the guest list to include famous people from throughout the Midwest. (Check out the entire first season of Meet the Past, featuring conversations with Harry Truman, Charlie Parker, Thomas Hart Benton, Annie Chambers, and Jesse James, among others.)

See you at the Library,
H Henry Fortunato Director of Public Affairs