Saturday, March 21, 2020
March 21-22, 2020: StoweStudying: The Stowe Center
[On March 20, 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s titanic novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form for the first time. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied a handful of Stowe contexts, leading up to this special post on the wonderful Stowe Center in Hartford!]
On three inspiring sides to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center (beyond its important focus on Stowe herself, of course).
1) The Salons: As I highlighted in Monday’s post, two of Stowe’s earliest forms of public engagement and activism were communal conversations: her membership in the Lane Seminary’s Semi-Colon Club; and her successful efforts to bring a series of debates over slavery and abolition to that Cincinnati school. As such, I think she would be especially excited about the Salons at Stowe, a series of “courageous conversations on social justice” that feature impressive invited speakers, difficult and important topics, and a great deal of community attendance and participation. I’ve had the chance to attend a couple of the Salons over the last few years, and would rank them near the top of the many impressive and inspiring public scholarly conversations I’ve been part of in my career.
2) The Prize: In that hyperlinked post I reflected on my chance to be part of the Stowe Prize lecture and celebration in 2017, when the amazing Bryan Stevenson received the semi-annual Literary Prize (there’s also a concurrent semi-annual Student Prize). Given how much Stowe wed her lifelong commitment to activism and reform to her equally lifelong career as a professional writer, I might challenge my earlier statement and say that she’d be especially excited about the Center awarding a prize for “a distinguished book of general adult fiction or non-fiction that illuminates a critical social justice issue in contemporary society in the United States.” But it’s not either-or, and indeed it is precisely the combination of the Salons and the Prize that makes the Center so much more than just a historic house or museum (although it does that very well too).
3) The Nook: The Salons and the Prize ceremony take place at particular times throughout the year; but honestly the Stowe Center is worth a visit at any time, and again not just for what it offers as a historic house & museum. No, just as inspiring is the West Hartford neighborhood known as Nook Farm in which the Center is located (and which it shares with the Mark Twain House). Twain and Stowe were neighbors who became friends, and walking the grounds of Nook Farm offers a glimpse into a world shared by two of the 19th century’s (and America’s) most prominent and important authors. I don’t know any other place in America that feels quite like that, one more reason to visit and support the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other great sites you’d highlight?