ON THE SCENE: First 2023 LPI roundtable event was a hit
Ever wondered what it’s like to repair cities and villages in the aftermath of war? Or how have people who were once sworn enemies come together as trusted allies? Or imagined how the arts might be a key element in bridging those divides and helping to foster healing?
Author Stephen Kiernan posed such questions before he started his latest novel, “The Glass Chateau,” as he has done before tackling any of his previous novels, attendees of the Lake Placid Institute’s first John C. Bogle Adirondack Roundtable attendees learned at 8:30 Saturday morning, July 22.
Attendees also experienced a very different venue. Before COVID and the refurbishing of the Olympic Center, the Roundtables were held at the Lake Placid Conference Center. This summer, they are being hosted by the Lake Placid Center for the Arts as part of a test for increased collaboration between the two organizations.
“The Institute reached out to us several months ago and said they were interested in working with us to dive into the mission of arts and humanities in the region,” said James Lemons, LPCA executive director. “It seemed like such a natural fit; we’re friends already, and we might as well be partners to elevate arts and culture in the region, as that’s what we’re here for. What I like about the Institute is that they focus on the humanities, one of the smaller things in our portfolio. Working with them and helping them grow that portion of their mission work benefits the LPCA at the same time.”
“We reached out to the art center because we want to expand our audience and reach for the Roundtable and our other events,” said Cathy McGraw, president of the Lake Placid Institute. “They have a much bigger wheelhouse than we do, and today was a good test. We had a great turnout, and there are a few adjustments to be made, but most importantly, it was a great presentation.”
The collaboration between the two agencies resulted in the Roundtable speakers and the sessions being held at the art center. The good news is that the partnership resulted in a packed session. While the initial test site proved a bit cramped, and the breakfast needed some tweaking, the presentation was considered by many to be one of the best. Further good news is the LPCA has several other more spacious locations to consider.
Kiernan began by pointing out that while he was by no means the first author to share reflections at one of the Roundtables, he was pleased to have had connections with several who spoke previously, not the least of which was his brother Peter. And, as many knew, he has a deep connection to Lake Placid, where his father served as the last president of the Lake Placid Club, and, as a consequence, he was a seasonal resident from about two through high school.
A very successful journalist, Kiernan has won such awards as the George Polk Award for medical reporting, the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, and the Freedom of Information Award. Based in Vermont, Kiernan has also spent many years on the staff of the Breadloaf Writers Conference and one year on its School of English staff. Shifting his career, Kiernan has written five novels and two works on non-fiction, all exploring challenging questions such as how to die well and what is an authentic patriot.
“Marc Chagall very much influenced ‘The Glass Chateau,’ but there are a lot of other things that writers throughout history do and are influenced by, and I try to stay clear of those,” said Kiernan. “Imagine a damaged nation. Imagine that the people are divided, entrenched, and polarized whether it is financially, spiritually or culturally.
“People were very much in an adversarial relationship with each other, everything from socialists on the left to the neo-Nazis on the right. You have a former president who stages rallies that are critical of the current president, and somehow all these people are supposed to join hands and rebuild this country. Now I know this is an incredible leap of imagination, that it could never happen, but it did in France after World War II. This novel begins a month after the end of the war. It is not a war novel. It is a recovery novel.”
Later, Kiernan said that before he even starts writing, he thinks of a big question, such as, can a man of war become a man of peace? For this one, is it possible for a divided nation to heal? He said this, noting that our country did not heal after the Civil War, as many are still wrestling with issues central to that conflict. Thus, when developing “The Glass Chateau,” Kiernan was looking for examples of where nations reconciled within themselves, not because somebody had all the power but because the process was more democratic.
After the presentation, David Bumsted reflected on fiction’s ability to get to the heart of an issue and enable people to see a set of circumstances in a new light, as Kiernan’s novels do so well.
“Somehow, the characters in fiction can bring you deeper into how the world looks from someone else’s eyes,” said Bumsted. “That’s what causes a transformational new perspective. An example that pops into my mind is Anthony Doerr’s ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’ That little German boy and that little French girl; here, you have one clearly on the wrong side of history and the other on the right, but they are the two most empathetic characters. You feel for both of them. That’s what fiction does. It brings back the point that these are all human beings.”
“The presentation was fabulous because Stephen was funny, very personable about how he got involved in writing novels, and his willingness to share the mistakes he made, such in his research when learning how to blow glass,” said Barbara Erickson. “I have been attending Institute Roundtables since the beginning. I thought Stephen was the best. I turned to another and said I felt like crying, and she said she did, too. He touched us.”
Inviting us to stop and think about what’s behind the curtain is the purpose of most of the Institute’s activities. Their initial collaboration with the LPCA proved to be a winner for both groups. The July 29 speaker will be Bill McColgan, CEO of Mountain Lake PBS. Learn more at www.lakeplacidinstitute.org.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)