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Mary Morris, Christina Baker Kline, and Valerie Martin

Tuesday April 28, 2015
07:00 pm

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Christina Baker Kline, Valerie Martin and Mary Morris riffed on the ups and downs of writing historical fiction. Each writer has told her own story of another time. In Orphan Train Christina Baker Kline delves into the story of orphans who are swept off the streets of New York and shipped off to Midwest. In The Ghost of the Mary Celeste Valerie Martin recounts the mysterious tale of a ship found sailing with all of its crew and passengers missing, and in The Jazz Palace Mary Morris recreates Jazz Age Chicago and the colorful characters who populated that era. The writers shared the issues of research, pleasures and pains of writing stories that happened long ago and the effort it takes to reinvent the past. 

 

About The Jazz Palace

In July of 1915 a fifteen-year old boy pauses on the Clark Street Bridge in downtown Chicago and witnesses the worst river accident ever to occur in American history. With the sinking of the Eastland and the death of eight hundred of its passengers the lives and stories of three people are set in motion. The boy, Benny Lehrman will become a jazz pianist but will always live with his memory of disaster.  The young girl, Pearl Chimbrova, with whom he will chat briefly on the bridge that day, will never quite forget him and a black trumpeter named Napoleon Hill who has been invited by Pearl’s older brother to play in the saloon that her family runs will befriend him.

 

As their lives intertwine, the novels also tells the story of the city in which they live. It is a world of gangsters, musicians and clubs emerge in which black musicians are no freer than they were before the Civil War, white youths come down to the South Side of Chicago to “slum,” and Al Capone and Louis Armstrong become legends. At the heart of the novel is the friendship that emerges between Benny and his mentor, Napoleon, a friendship in which while they will never be able to play together professionally because of their race.  But they will jam together in Pearl’s family salon which Napoleon has dubbed The Jazz Palace.  

 

As novel steams through the 1920’s and ends with the repeal of Prohibition, Benny, Pearl and Napoleon forge a bond that is as memorable as it is lasting.

 

About The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

In 1872 the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste was discovered adrift off the coast of the Azores. Her cargo was intact and there was no sign of struggle, but the crew was gone. They were never found.

 

This maritime mystery lies at the center of an intricate narrative branching through the highest levels of late-nineteenth-century literary society. While on a voyage to Africa, a rather hard-up and unproven young writer named Arthur Conan Doyle hears of the Mary Celeste and decides to write an outlandish short story about what took place. The account causes a sensation back in the United States, particularly between sought-after Philadelphia spiritualist medium Violet Petra and a rational-minded journalist named Phoebe Grant, who is seeking to expose Petra as a fraud. Then there is the family of the Mary Celeste‘s captain, a family linked to the sea for generations and marked repeatedly by tragedy. Each member of this ensemble cast holds a critical piece to the puzzle of the Mary Celeste.

 

Throughout the novel, three elements—a ship found sailing without a crew, a famous writer on the verge of enormous success, and the rise of an unorthodox and heretical religious fervor—converge in unexpected ways, in diaries, in letters, in safe harbors and rough seas. In a haunted, death-obsessed age, a ghost ship appearing in the mist is by turns a provocative mystery, an inspiration to creativity, and a tragic story of the disappearance of a family and of a bond between husband and wife that, for one moment, transcends the impenetrable barrier of death.

 

About Orphan Train

It’s not commonly known in American history that from 1854 to 1929 orphaned or abandoned children in the crowded cities of the East were often placed on “orphan trains” and shipped out west. The lucky ones would go on to be adopted and welcomed into loving families, but more often than not, children would be placed in hard labor positions with uncaring families. Such was the case with the novel’s protagonist Vivian. When Molly needs to complete community service hours to be kept out of juvenile detention she agrees to help Vivian clean out her attic. As the two bond and discuss some of the items they come across, Vivian finds the courage to confront her past as she recalls her childhood in Ireland and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where she lived in a tenement, and her troubled young adulthood in the Midwest. It’s not long before the pair discovers they have more in common than meets the eye and Molly becomes determined to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that continue to haunt her.

 

Mary Morris is the author of fourteen books - six novels, three collections of short stories, and four travel memoirs, including Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. Recently her short stories have appeared in such places as The AtlanticPloughshares, and Electric Literature. The recipient of the Rome Prize in Literature, Morris teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Her new novel, The Jazz Palace, set in Chicago during the Jazz Age will be published in April, 2015 by Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday. For more information visit her website at www.marymorris.net.

 

Valerie Martin is the author of nine novels, including TrespassItalian FeverThe Great DivorceMary Reilly, and the 2003 Orange Prize-winning Property and of three collections of short fiction.

 

Christina Baker Kline is the author of five novels, including Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be. Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007-2011, Kline is a recent recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships (to Ireland and Minnesota), and has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  She lives with husband and three sons in Montclair, New Jersey, and spends as much time as possible in northern Minnesota and on the coast of Maine, where she grew up.  

 

You can find out more on her website at www.christinabakerklline.com