Family Histories: The 12th Annual WOMEN IN PRINT

Jennifer Davis Carey, Allison Chisolm, Audrey Nicholson

The twelfth annual Women in Print event was held on March 18, 2015, in the Saxe Room at the Worcester Public Library. The theme for the event was “Family Histories,” highlighting three local authors who all drew heavily upon genealogical research and family stories while writing their books. 

The evening began with a warm welcome from WWHP President Dianne Bruce, who introduced each of the authors. The first author to speak was Dr. Jennifer Davis Carey. When Dr. Carey was a child growing up in Brooklyn, her grandmother would tell stories about her experience of emigrating from Barbados to Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. As Dr. Carey reached adulthood, she reflected upon those stories and wondered, “How sanitized are the stories that are told to children?” She decided to use her grandmother’s stories and letters she found in her grandmother’s old black leather handbag as a starting point for researching her debut novel Near the Hope. The novel explores the harsh realities of emigrating from the class and color restrictions of Barbados through the eyes of the main character, Dellie Standard, based upon Dr. Carey’s grandmother. 

During the 19th century, Barbados was full of enslaved Africans working on sugar cane plantations. This industry affected the whole island. While Barbados is a very beautiful island, the difficulty of life there “drove people to madness” according to Dr. Carey. This is what motivated people from Barbados to emigrate to the United States, where they had high hopes for a better life. However, adjusting to life in New York had its own set of challenges. Dr. Carey concluded by reading an excerpt from Near the Hope, describing how everything about New York felt very different — “even the pavement beneath their feet instead of soil.” 

The second author of the evening was Allison Chisolm, author of The Inventive Life of Charles Hill Morgan. Ms. Chisolm began her talk by mentioning that she didn’t set out to become a biographer, but in her public relations work, she enjoyed writing profiles. When Charles Hill Morgan’s 82-year-old grandson, Paul Morgan, approached her to write his grandfather’s biography, Ms. Chisolm thought at first it would be like writing “a very long profile,” not realizing all of the sifting and sorting of information that writing a biography entails. It ended up taking her eight years to write and publish the book. 

Ms. Chisolm gave a brief synopsis of Charles Hill Morgan’s life. He was an inventor who was born in 1831 and grew up in Clinton, Massachusetts. Morgan believed “there was always a better way to achieve something.” Morgan’s many achievements included learning about railroad engines, finding a commercially viable way to manufacture paper bags, inventing a machine called “continuous rolling mills,” helping expand the Washburn wire business, and becoming a trustee at WPI. Morgan also started a construction company that contributed great things to Worcester, such as the maternity ward at Memorial Hospital, built partly as a response to the loss of Morgan’s wife and son during childbirth. As she spoke, Ms. Chisolm also displayed a slideshow with pictures of Morgan, his family, his inventions, and places significant to his life. In closing, Ms. Chisolm remarked, “Biography can help us learn from other’s experiences and give us hope that we can improve ourselves in some way.” 

The final author of the evening was Audrey Nicholson, author of the novel Celtic Knots. Ms. Nicholson was born in London, England, raised in Belfast, Ireland, and is the child of an interfaith marriage between a Protestant and a Catholic. She mentioned she wanted to write a story about Northern Ireland that didn’t read like a history book, but told a story of a family and their struggles. Celtic Knots mostly takes place in the 1930s, but according to Ms. Nicholson, “The Irish struggles go back centuries, particularly the Protestant/Catholic animosity.” Similarly to Jennifer Davis Carey, Ms. Nicholson drew upon family stories she heard as a child to write her novel. 

Ms. Nicholson gave a brief summary of the novel, which centers around a Catholic man named Tom, who was a philanderer. Tom’s daughter, Lucy, was not willing to put up with his behavior and confronted Tom and his mistress. This confrontation ended in disaster: Lucy wound up in the hospital in a coma and her mother, Ellen, died on the way to visit her after being struck by a tree branch. Ms. Nicholson read an excerpt from the book which takes place right after Ellen’s burial. While Tom is struggling with living on his own, “it dawned on him how many ways there were to miss a wife.” Tom also wonders in this section of the novel how much difference it makes to be Protestant or Catholic.

Ms. Nicholson concluded her talk by reading an excerpt from the beginning of the book, where Lucy is at her granddaughter’s wedding, thinking back on her life and reflecting on the reasons why her family wound up leaving Ireland for the United States and Australia.

After the audience had an opportunity to ask the authors a few questions, Dianne Bruce thanked each author with a parting gift and a complimentary membership to WWHP. She also thanked the WWHP Events Committee for organizing Women in Print, as well as many other events throughout the year, and for providing the evening’s refreshments. As always, Women in Print proved to be a very interesting and informative event and an excellent opportunity to learn about local female authors and their published works.   

Published Date: 
September 22, 2015