A Portion of Thyself: Barbara Bonner Is Inspiring Generosity with Her First Book
By Nichole Dupont
“Giving away an old coat you wouldn’t be caught dead in isn’t exactly generous,” says philanthropy consultant Barbara Bonner, glancing over the top of her red-framed glasses. “It doesn’t have meaning. True generosity is giving away something that has meaning to you. It’s a gift. Generosity is a gift.”
Bonner, who is a veteran board member and fundraising and management consultant for nonprofits – Kripalu, The Museum of the City of New York, Bennington College – is offering up her own gift to the world. Inspiring Generosity (Wisdom Publications, Feb. 2014) is a book that she hopes people will buy and “then give it as a gift to someone else.” The book is a compilation of Bonner’s own lyric and simple observations that are intertwined with hundreds of quotes (from Euripides to Mother Teresa to FDR) and true – sometimes famous – stories of modern-day generosity at play in the lives of ordinary people. The official book launch is slated for Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m. at The Mount in Lenox as part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.
“When I tell people about the book, readers anticipate feeling guilty. They say right off the bat ‘I should do more.’ People feel guilty somehow,” Bonner says. “They have to deal with the issue of privilege.”
Paying the message forward has been a long time coming for the Columbus, Ohio native who, by her own account “grew up in a world of economic privilege” in the 1960s, in a society that was “by and large quite oblivious to a larger world of human need.” And while Bonner never doubted that her parents and surrounding neighbors were kind people, they were not truly generous, she says. But then again, that’s a subjective term, too.
“The way generosity is crafted in our culture…it’s limited to the giving of any material goods. There’s a big distinction that needs to be made between philanthropy and generosity. Philanthropy has become a business,” Bonner says. “It’s a relationship of exchange. In many cases it’s giving for fame. But what motivates people to give? I’m most interested in what it means to live a generous life; to have generosity as your compass.”
According to several reports and studies on charity, those who have the least tend to give the most. For instance, the Philanthropy Roundtable reports that of the $300 billion that is donated to charity every year in this country, 15 percent comes from foundation grants, 6 percent from corporations, and the rest, individual donations from people living in the most modest income bracket. While the origin of that impulse remains somewhat elusive, Bonner surmises that those who have experienced need have the empathy and the wherewithal to give, regardless of their own financial status.
“To feel real need makes you want to be generous. You are grateful to be in the position that you are the one giving,” she says. “I hear about these Lebanese families living in these incredibly poor border villages, and they give everything they have to the Syrian refugees who are crossing over. They are making sure that these people are being taken care of despite their own poverty. I feel really lucky that these stories exist. Sure, they’re not on the front page, but I’m ‘tuned in’ to them.”
Through her eyes, the stories are abundant and they are everywhere. Inspiring Generosity provides a glimpse of that truth in the short three-page tales of giving; an Indian all-star chef ditches his career to deliver food and haircuts to the most impoverished citizens of Madurai, a Staten Island medical technician devotes her life to helping war torn children receive prosthetic surgery and a new lease on life. Even locally in the Berkshires, Bonner finds ultimate generosity in the life of State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, who, with the help of local contractors and friends, was able to rebuild Ninth Ward resident Stanley Stewart’s house after it had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Yet, despite making nine trips to New Orleans over the course of nine months, Pignatelli considers his efforts as an unavoidable human duty.
“I am honored and extremely humbled to be included with all these extraordinary people whose riveting stories of unselfishness and innovation have changed lives and inspire us to be better people,” he says. “We all have the generosity inside of us that it takes to make a difference in us and in others!”
Tapping into that generosity may be a challenge, but Bonner is confident that it can happen…every day. As for the most generous thing a person can do, well, she says, that’s easy.
“Give people the benefit of the doubt. The act of forgiveness is a generous act. That’s when we start to move forward.”
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A Winter Warm-up: Berkshire Festival of Women Writers Prepares For March With A Week Of Workshops
By Amy Krzanik
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”—Alice Walker.
As this quote flashes on the screen, so begins Miss Representation, the 2011 documentary that shines a harsh light on how the American media portray woman—as bodies used to sell goods—and how they don’t—as powerful and influential three-dimensional human beings.
The topic of the film is something that Dr. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez [top photo, top right], Chairwoman of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and longtime professor of writing and gender studies, knows all too well. She began the Festival in 2011 as a way to “create encouraging, supportive platforms where women and girls can share their ideas and perspectives in the public sphere.” The reason creative outlets and a community in which to share them are so important, especially to girls and young women, is because, as Marie Wilson, Founder of The White House Project, states in the film, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
“Men’s voices still dominate in the public sphere, whether in politics, media or the arts,” Browdy says. “The Festival aims to counter that trend, and I am hoping, with the new Writing Workshops for Women, to give more women the tools and encouragement they need to begin to take their own ideas seriously, and step out into the world with them.”
Known for its month-long festival every March during women’s history month, the BFWW now has branched out to serve the area’s creative community year round, with a new monthly Lean-In group that includes upcoming themed workshops for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, and now a week of creative writing workshops scheduled for January 13-17.
The four six-hour writing workshops (each broken up over a two-day period) will be offered at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington. Open to women of all ages and at any stage in their writing careers, the workshops culminate on Friday with a public reading by participants that is open to the public (yes, including men).
In her workshop, Suzi Banks Baum, creator of BFWW’s “Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others” and publisher of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, will coach participants on how to use online sites and apps like Twitter, Facebook, and their own blogs to their advantage in an age when artists of all kinds are expected to be expert self-promoters.
“Writing The New Nature Poem” with Hannah Fries, associate editor and poetry editor of Orion Magazine, will show writers how to link their personal experiences to the natural world in order to create more forceful work about the earth and their place on it.
The award-winning author of two YA/Adult crossover novels, Jana Laiz, will host a class on how writers with a love of young adult literature can attract both teens and adults to their work, taking advantage of the success of series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.
“What’s Your Story?” with local author and jazz singer Lara Tupper will help writers work past the false, embedded ideas of themselves that are holding them back from telling the “true” tales they long to express.
Proceeds from this week of reasonably priced workshops go toward funding BFWW’s month-long festival in March, in which almost all of the 58 events are free of charge, including a talk by Gloria Steinem [top photo, bottom left] on March 4 at MCLA in North Adams as part of that college’s Public Policy Lecture Series, a special lecture-in-song about the women in traditional and contemporary folksongs given by Peggy Seeger [top photo, top left] at the Guthrie Center on March 18, and a performance of an expanded version of ENUF!, a musical featuring the stories and talents of 12 young African American women from Pittsfield on March 30. On March 9, International Women’s Day, BFWW will hold a program featuring three generations of artistic and socially active women from an Argentinian Jewish family—Raquel Partnoy, Alicia Partnoy and Ruth Irupe Sanabria [top photo, bottom right]. This is only a sampling of the performances, events, and author panels that will be part of this year’s festival.
“My not-so-secret ambition with all of this is to change the world for the better,” Browdy says. “If more women’s perspectives were being heard, the discourse would be more about nurturing and less about violence; more about collaboration, less about competition. I’m old-fashioned enough, as a feminist, to be able to say such a thing and mean it.”(0) Comments
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Novelist Glenda Ruby Conjures Up A “Death at Olana”
By Marilyn Bethany
The fictional character of Lindsey Brooks, an expert on antiques, fell into sleuthing early in her career at the behest of an acquaintance in law enforcement who understood what convenient containers antiques can be for smuggling contraband. In addition to running an international auction house, Miss Brooks has, over the years, occasionally partnered with the authorities, sharing her insider’s instinct for suspicious deals, as well as for spotting false bottoms, hidden drawers, and hollow legs. Now retired to a riverfront house in the Hudson Valley, she finds herself re-enlisted by the local sheriff to help solve a crime that was committed perilously close to home.
Thus begins Death at Olana, a novel by Glenda Ruby (below), a New York marketing executive. Ruby and her partner Ros Daly have lived part time for the past 30 years in a riverfront house that is a veritable stone’s throw from Olana, the c.1870 quasi-Persian pile built by Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.
RI: Death at Olana is your first published novel. What compelled you to start a new career writing fiction just when so many of your contemporaries are happily kicking back?
GR: I’ve always written fiction… short stories or casuals, mostly. Also poetry, back in the days when men were men and tables were round. But it’s the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, and Ruth Rendell that have captured my imagination since childhood. Not just the meticulously planned plots, the cleverly placed clues, but the wit and irony we find in Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Tommy and Tuppence, Adam Dalgliesh, and Inspector Wexford. Even Kate Atkinson, who also writes brilliant, serious fiction, is unable to resist creating a hapless detective, Jackson Brodie. All of these characters exist in and grapple with the human condition. That is what I am writing about, really. I have always wanted to try my hand at mystery writing, and I find it is great fun.
RI: It shows in the work! Your book is filled with amusing insights into a familiar social dynamic hereabouts: the inevitable tensions that arise between administrators, staff, board members, and donors at not-for-profits. Have you personal experience sitting on such boards?
GR: Years ago, when we first moved here, I had no time to devote to boards, and I suspect the moment has passed. We have always, of course, supported fund-raising by attending galas, dinners, fetes, parties, etc. I have offered my marketing expertise on a pro bono basis several times but have no takers, as yet. I had a great idea to change the name of the Thomas Cole House to the Thomas Cool House, but that seemed not to fly…
RI: Every sleuth needs a Watson and yours is, to my mind, a paragon: Bennett, Lindsey’s post-modern butler, combines the usual duties of driving, mixology, etc. with stepping in as madam’s date for cocktail and dinner parties, as well her companion at table when she’s dining in alone. Not quite a husband (Bennett keeps his place), he’s no forelock-tugging Carson or Jeeves either. What a dreamboat! How did you come up with the divine Bennett?
GR: Who among us has not wanted a handsome butler even if he isn’t named Rhett?!??!
RI: Your novel is more Agatha Christie than John le Carré. Can you tell us a little about how these genres are faring in the fraught publishing industry right now?
GR: It’s complicated. Publishers seem to feel The Thriller is the genre of the moment. It is very important to have a high body count in the first few pages, blow ‘em up, slash ‘em, etc. Gore is good, dismemberment gets remembered, but keep the writing simple. Without naming names, most best-sellers today are written at a 6th-grade level. Christie and the others I mentioned are not interested in lurid writing. John le Carré, whose niche is espionage, sells well but not as well as, say, David Baldacci; that is because le Carré’s books are, in fact, literature, and fewer people are comfortable reading literature. Christie is the largest selling author after Shakespeare and still sells 5 million books each year. In 2002, her publisher did a relaunch and books first published 50 years ago went back on the best-seller lists. She, of course, has been criticized for not writing particularly well; she has a very straightforward style—this is offset, however, by the intricacy of her plots and the psychology of the characters.
RI: In addition to its mordant humor, your novel delights with its erudition, not just about Frederic Church and art history in general, but about the region. The travelogue you provide of the Amtrak route between Hudson and Penn Station—one of the best train rides of all time—is priceless. Is it incumbent on authors of this type of mystery to keep us engaged above and beyond the central question of who-done-it?
GR: I think the mise en scene is important in any genre. Christie and Sayers write about an England that probably never existed but that one nonetheless likes to remember fondly. The rich history of our Valley is fascinating. And there is always more to know. We who live here are thrilled to learn about the area because we love it so. And you must admit the inhabitants—past and present—are colorful, to say the very least.
RI: (At left, the porch where plots thicken for both the author and her protagonist.) I understand you are working on a second novel. Please say it’s about another historic house in the region. Murder at Hyde Park, perhaps? The private life of the Roosevelts (that mother! that marriage!) is such a rich vein.
GR: A Murderous Summer at Bard. So far, three people have died but I’m only half-way through. Things may get worse. The third novel, busily gestating, involves pirates and buried treasure, always a crowd-pleaser.
Death at Olana, by Glenda Ruby, published by Greendale Books, is available at Olana; Thomas Cole National Historic Site; The Hudson Train station; Spotty Dog, Hudson; Oblong Books, Rhinebeck and Millerton; Rural Residence, Hudson, and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Paperback, $20; Kindle edition, $9.95(1) Comments
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Books: “Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley” A Vicarious Pleasure
By Dan Shaw
The imaginary line that divides Connecticut’s Litchfield County from New York’s Columbia, Dutchess and Putnam Counties became very real to Jane Garmey as she researched and wrote her beautiful new coffee table book, Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley. “When I began work on the book, I did not know how intensely rural this part of New York still was,” says Garmey, who published the stunning Private Gardens of Connecticut three years ago. “I was also unprepared for the grandeur of the landscape. The sweeping valleys and large open tracts of land are remarkably different from the gentler, more protected countryside of Connecticut. Inevitably, terrain plays a role in making a garden, and dealing with the transitions between a cultivated garden and its natural surroundings is a problem that had to be confronted and solved in nearly every one of the gardens profiled here.”
If you are looking to this book for inspiration and feel daunted by the gardens’ scope and ambition, Garmey wants you to know that these are the creations of enlightened amateurs. “Few of these garden makers were in any way knowledgeable when they started out,” says Garmey, who was a novice gardener herself thirty years ago when she started spending weekends in northwestern Connecticut. “Most admit that at first they were entirely focused on their houses and gave little or no thought to the surrounding land and its suitability, or lack thereof, as a gardening habitat.”
The twenty-six gardens photographed by Garmey’s collaborator, John Hall, are the creations of passionate, if not obsessive, gardeners. There are great estates like Edgewater, which is owned by the renowned American furniture collector Richard Jenrette, who purchased the property that juts into the Hudson River from the writer Gore Vidal in 1969; he has created a refined, majestic landscape suitable for his Federal house built in the 1820s by the Livingston family. Amy Goldman‘s estate is more of a well-groomed laboratory where the Ph.D in pyschology cultivates melons and tomatoes, winning 38 blue ribbons in a single year at the Dutchess County Fair. Her books on the subject have become classics (and Martha Stewart asks her for advice.)
Garmey even found an urban garden in the city of Hudson. Richard Eagan’s backyard was originally a “big long dreary space,” but now it is an enchanted jungle full of thistles, verbascum and milkweed. There is a pond surrounded by gravel and a narrow entry path so visitors must walk through single file. “Different in every season, this garden is all about looking through, looking over, looking under, and all the other ways of looking,” says Garmey, whose book is truly an eye-opener.
While most of the gardens were photographed in spring and summer, there are gorgeous autumn shots of Frederic Rich’s riverfront property in Philipstown, where he boldly sited a Zen garden in the woods. Inspired by the rock gardens of Japan, Rich designed the Zen garden as a calculated abstraction. “The placement of the rocks and gravel in this garden appear completely natural but, in fact, nothing is left to chance,” says Garmey. “Each rock in the tableau sits on part of a grid and even the direction the rocks are leaning has been carefully worked out.”
One of Garmey’s criteria for choosing gardens was that the owners had a hands-on involvement in designing and maintaining their properties (which doesn’t mean they don’t have hired help to assist with weeding and mowing.) Since the book has only a couple of photographs of snow-covered landscapes, one wonders what these gardeners do from November to March when the ground is frozen. “I’d love to know!” says Garmey. “Some move into their greenhouses and others, like Richard Eagan, shut down their garden and take off for warmer climates.” And for those of us who are wintering in the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires or Litchfield Hills, Garmey’s book allows us to dream lavishly about the spring and summer to come.
Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley
New York City Book Party hosted by Bunny Williams
Tuesday, October 22 from 6-8 p.m.
418 East 75th Street
Columbia County Book Party
Hudson Opera House
Saturday, November 23 from 5 - 7 p.m.
327 Warren St.
Hudson, NY 12534
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“Love Where You Live” - Hammertown’s Mantra Is Now A Book, Too
By Dan Shaw
If grown-up life is really high school all over again and again, then the Rural Intelligence region finally has a yearbook thanks to Joan Osofsky of Hammertown: Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country, a coffee-table design tome published by Rizzoli that features 18 country houses in Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess and Litchfield counties. You won’t find any manicured estates or McMansions in Love Where You Live, but you will probably see the houses of at least a few people you know from our neck of the woods including Bobby Houston & Eric Shamie of Alford, MA; Diane Love & Bob Frye of Millerton, NY; Rob Bristow & Pillar Proffitt of Lakeville, CT; Susan Orlean & John Gillespie of Gallatin, NY; Miles & Lillian Cahn, who founded Coach Leatherware and created Coach Farm in Pine Plains, NY, which is renowned for its exquisite goat cheese.
While many of the featured homes are furnished with upholstery, rugs, and lighting from one of the three Hammertown stores—in Great Barrington, Pine Plains and Rhinebeck—they are also full of items from beloved local resources with national reputations such as Michael Trapp Antiques and Ian Ingersoll Cabinetmakers in West Cornwall, CT; Copake Auction in Copake, NY; Hunter Bee in Millerton, NY; Pergola Home and Privet House of New Preston, CT; Rural Residence and Stair Galleries in Hudson, NY.
Osofsky and her collaborators—writer Abby Adans of Ancram, NY, and John Gruen of Lakeville, CT—understand and appreciate the nuances of rural living and they’ve assembled a book that celebrates and deconstructs modern country style. “What all of these homes have in common is their respect for the landscape,” observes Osofsky, a former school teacher and farmer’s wife, who’s been a retailer in our region for nearly 30 years. “Everybody decorates with an eye to the outdoors.”
Unlike standard contemporary design books that are chockablock with houses decorated soup-to-nuts by brand-name interior designers, the aptly titled Love Where You Live features houses that are clearly reflections of their owners sensibilities, and most are filled with with books, crafts and paintings by local artists. “They have a collected look,” says Osofsky. “They have been put together over time. When people come to Hammertown to shop, we never try to sell them everything they need because their homes will end up looking like a store! We encourage them to explore all of the other wonderful retailers and dealers in our area, too.”
Every savvy real-estate agent in our area should give this book to their potential clients so they will understand our region’s soul. The houses are not “aspirational” in the Architectural Digest or Elle Decor sense. You would never mistake them for houses in Greenwich or the Hamptons. But they are exactly what thoughtful, sensitive people aspire to: homes where dogs jump on the furniture, wood fires burn in the hearth, and guests are not required to remove their shoes before entering the living room.
The book’s inclusive spirit is a reflection of Osofsky’s commitment to giving back to the community. Its launch party at the Pine Plains store on Saturday, Sepetember 21, coincides with an annual fundraiser for the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. The Rhinebeck store will have a book signing on Friday, September 20, and the Berkshires book signing on Sunday, September 29, will be at Chesterwood, the historic home Daniel Chester French, where Hammertown decorated the guest cottage last year. As much as the book has its roots in our region, the philosophy behind it has a universal message. “Everybody,” says Osofsky, “should love where they live.”(0) Comments