Baltimore Reading to Lead Talk About Campus Racism

Building on the fantastic April 22 community reading of Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Prairie Fringed Orchids, by Vincent Terrell Durham, and the rich conversation that followed, PPL is excited to continue our play reading series, Friday, with Baltimore, by Kirsten Greenidge

Come join us at 6PM, Friday, May 6, in our Main Reading Room, with our community partner, the Associated Colleges of St. Lawrence Valley, as we hold the third reading in our play-reading and discussion series Breaking Barriers: Plays at the Library.

Tickets are free and available on Eventbrite, at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/baltimore-by-kirsten-greenidge-a-staged-reading-tickets-328211558607 and on our Potsdam Public Library Facebook Page. Register today, share with your friends and come out to support arts and conversation in your community!

In selecting Baltimore, Associated Colleges of St. Lawrence Valley Executive Director Peter J. Anderson said, “Greenidge’s play addresses a difficult topic that gets to the heart of the most important thing we need to get right on our campuses.”

“But our campuses don’t have hard borders here in Potsdam, and our students are part of our larger community,” he said. “We have to learn to talk with each other about racism. Theater has always been one of the ways society can explore difficult topics and can be a powerful way for us all to be provoked into new ways of thinking about our power and collective responsibilities.

For the Associated Colleges, as we move into a new strategic plan focused on community building, economic development and diversity, we value these kinds of conversations as fundamental to getting anything done.”

Baltimore focuses on the subject of racism on campus and  when a racially-charged incident divides her first-year students, reluctant resident advisor Shelby finds herself in the middle of a conversation she does not want to have. As pressure to address the controversy mounts from residents, the new dean, and even her best friend, Shelby must decide if she will enter the fray or watch her community come apart at the seams. Sharp, funny, and searing, Baltimore is a timely drama about racism on college campuses.

Breaking Barriers is a four-part series looking at issues that are controversial and central to our community through the lens of theatre arts. To learn more about the project, its creation and its mission, check out our blog, here: https://potsdamlibrary.org/new-ppl-play-series-breaks-barriers/

Rivka Eckert, Breaking Barriers co-creator and SUNY Potsdam Department of Theatre and Dance Assistant Professor, said we had originally looked to partner with SUNY Potsdam’s Center for Diversity, and were encouraged to expand the frame and collaborative opportunity for all the colleges represented by the Associated Colleges of the St Lawrence Valley.

“Because they are already working to bring together scholars, students, staff and community members, working with them in this capacity offers an enriching opportunity to use the arts to share and reflect on common experiences of our colleges,” she said.

In choosing Baltimore, Eckert developed a survey that went out to students, faculty, and staff at Clarkson, SUNY Potsdam, Saint Lawrence University, and SUNY Canton. The survey asked what topics they would like to bring to the community for conversation, and about stereotypes of the college experience.

“Reading through the results illuminated a wide and diverse experience, but one of the throughlines was around a desire to move conversations around justice and racial equity towards action,” Eckert said. “Kristen Greenidge’s play addresses the tension of a college campus in conflict with an earnest desire to move forward. As Peter mentioned, this play reading series offers a unique opportunity to reflect on our collective responsibility towards equity.”

Actors will read the script in the style of a staged or choral reading, reading from music stands with spoken stage directions. Following the readings, there will be a conversation between Breaking Barriers creators, participants, and community organization liaisons meant to engage in the themes, concerns, and impact of the play.

The play’s director Angela Sweigart-Gallagher, a St. Lawrence University Associate Professor of Performance & Communication Arts, said Baltimore speaks directly to one of the major issues facing universities communities, which is how to encourage students to communicate across cultural and racial differences. 

“So, often we see this issue as one that only affects our students of color but it affects the entire community,” Sweigart-Gallagher said. “We need to help our students understand how harm does not hinge on intent and to accept that sometimes how we see ourselves and our actions may not be how others see them.” 

Sweigart-Gallagher said she was “thrilled to be asked” to participate in Breaking Barriers as St. Lawrence University is always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other artists in the community and to give their students opportunities to work on different kinds of projects. 

“I loved the concept of community partnerships. I am always stressing with my students how theatre (at its best) represents and speaks to the issues of the day. Even theatre that might be considered escapist reflects something back about the need for escapism,” she said. “So, this kind of collaboration mirrors my belief that theatre can be a conduit for conversations, a way to think deeply about issues that matter to us, and to be in community with others who also care about those issues.”

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and administered by the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.

Actor/Director Bios:

Director Angela Sweigart-Gallagher is an Associate Professor of Performance and Communication Arts at St. Lawrence University. Her research interests and performance projects focus on the intersection of politics and performance. Her scholarly writing and performance reviews have appeared in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, New England Theatre Journal, parTake, Performance Matters, Performance Research, Theatre Symposium, Theory in Action, and Youth Theatre Journal. Dr. Sweigart-Gallagher earned her PhD in Theatre Research from the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

Angela Sweigart-Gallagher

Kaleb Davis is a senior Performance and Communication Arts major and film studies minor. He is a former student athlete as a member of the football team and he is very excited to be apart of this production. He has a passion for the arts and storytelling. He is the co-director of the How Did We Get Here?, a documentary about gentrification in several cities on the east coast.

Kaleb Davis

JD Larabie is a Junior and currently working on an English and PCA double major with a focus on Theatre and Performance and creative writing at St. Lawrence Unviersity. He has performed in The Bakkhai (Fall ’19) as a member of the chorus and in She Kills Monsters (Fall ’21) as Chuck. He also performed in University Theatre’s Zoom Production of Sweat (Fall ’20) as Jason.  

JD Larabie

Emily Mose is a senior studying Performance and Communication Arts with a focus on Theatre and Performance at St. Lawrence University. Her previous productions include being the stage manager for In The Next Room, the servant in The Bakkhai, in the company of Me Too and SLU, assistant stage manager for Sweat, and Agnes in She Kills Monsters.  

Aja Samuel is a sophomore at St. Lawrence University and is a PCA major and Spanish minor. Her most recent roles were in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and She Kills Monsters at St. Lawerence University.  

Aja Samuel

Penda Sarr is a sophomore at St Lawrence University majoring in Anthropology and minoring in PCA.  She recently appeared in St. Lawrence’s production of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind 

Penda Sarr

Carmiña Goya is a first year student at St. Lawrence University from Argentina who plans to major in Performance and Communication Arts with a focus on Theatre and Performance and a minor in Studio Art. 

Carmiña Goya

Aysha Benjamin attends The State University Of New York at Potsdam and studies in theatre. Her most recent performance was SUNY Potsdam’s production of Our Town as Mrs. Gibbs. Aysha was also cast in SUNY Potsdam’s production of Ready. Steady. Yeti. Go. as Carly. At Brooklyn Children’s Theater, Aysha appeared as Rafiki in the Lion King Jr, Winfred in Mary Poppins, Witch in Into The Woods Jr., and Fiona in Shrek Jr. This program also allowed her to perform with Broadway star Jelani Aladdin. Aysha has also been in five other Broadway Junior shows in which she got to perform on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. Aysha is a recipient of the Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez/Katherine L. Lopez scholarship for excellence in musical theatre.

Aysha Benjamin

Katelin Guerin is also a SLU students reading in the play. A bio and photo were not immediately available.

Theatre, Community, & Conversation begins Friday at PPL!

Communication is at the heart of understanding, and beginning Friday, April 8, Potsdam Public Library will be host to the first of a four-part series looking at issues that are controversial and central to the community through the lens of theatre and a community talk-back.

Breaking Barriers: Plays at the Library begins the community conversation with Paula Vogel’s play How I Learned to Drive, 6 p.m. Friday in the library’s main reading room.

Tickets are free and available on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/how-i-learned-to-drive-by-paula-vogel-a-staged-reading-tickets-295441492457 and on the PPL Facebook page under events.

The play was selected with the help of community partner, St. Lawrence Valley Renewal House, an organization that, according to their mission statement, “respond(s) immediately to the needs of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in St. Lawrence County through services which empower victims and increase community awareness.”

For How I Learned to Drive, actors will read scripts in the style of a staged or choral reading, reading from music stands with spoken stage directions. Following the readings, there will be a conversation between Breaking Barriers creators, participants, and community organization liaisons meant to engage in the themes, concerns, and impact of the play.

Renewal House Executive Director Ilene Burke, in an email wrote, “Being approached by the creators of the play series was very exciting for us, because it shows a readiness to have a conversation about sexual assault and an opportunity, through a different platform, to bring awareness to our community.  Oftentimes, our community has only a vague idea of the violence that happens around us.”

The project was created by SUNY Potsdam Department of Theatre and Dance Assistant Professor Rivka Eckert and PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert. 

How I Learned to Drive tells the story of Li’l Bit, now a woman of around thirty-five years, coming to terms with the abusive and emotionally complex relationship that she had with her Uncle Peck. The play works in a non-linear way, using flashbacks, monologues, and a heightened sense of the surreal to show how Li’l Bit relates to her memory and trauma.

“We are hopeful that this play will assist in having an open conversation surrounding sexual assault, while strengthening our community’s knowledge and response in supporting victims/survivors,” Burke wrote.

Rivka Eckert said Renewal House’s reputation as a stable and reliable service provider for families in the North Country precedes them.

“I knew that the complexity of the work they do serving survivors of domestic assault and sexual violence and the important roles they fill within the community as a safe and healing space for survivors would make them strong community partners,” she said. “My hope is that this project will introduce more people to the variety of services they offer, destigmatize some of the stereotypes around asking for help, and break down some of the barriers around the stigma and shame that can be associated with being a survivor.”

She said Vogel’s Pulitzer-prize winning play was chosen because of the nuanced and poetic way the play moves through the trauma and impact of sexual abuse manifest in the characters’ lives. 

“The story is not what you expect and offers haunting portrayals of how abuse changes lives, which gets at the goals of our project,” Eckert said. “There is just so much to say and feel by the end of the play. Perfect for starting a conversation!”

The play will be directed by Jennifer Thomas. Thomas is an associate professor of performance at St. Lawrence University. Her recent productions include: She Kills Monsters, #metoo & SLU, and Spring Awakening. “(I’m) grateful and excited to present work beyond the walls of the theatre and the university setting,” she said. 

Jennifer Thomas

Aja Samuel, stage directions, is a sophomore at St. Lawrence University. She is a Performance and Communication Arts major and a Spanish minor. Her most recent roles include Tilly in University theatre’s production of She Kills Monsters (fall ‘21) and Ensemble in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (spring ‘22). 

Aja Samuel

Emily Brisson will be reading the part of L’il Bit. Brisson is a current senior at St. Lawrence University studying Pre-Law with an English and Government major and a minor in film. Throughout her time at St. Lawrence she has participated in Spring Awakening, #MeToo and SLU, and She Kills Monsters and is excited to get one final script in before graduation. 

Emily Brisson

Danny Thomas will be reading the part of Uncle Peck. Thomas is a father and husband in Canton, New York. He works in the biotech industry as a Customer Success Manager. He has worked in theatre primarily as a sound designer and foley artist, but does enjoy the occasional opportunity to be on stage, under the lights.

Danny Thomas

Patsy Buckley will be reading the part of the Greek Chorus. Buckley is a senior at St. Lawrence. She is majoring in performance with a minor in education. She is grateful for this opportunity. Next year she is looking forward to moving out west and finding shows to audition for.

Patsy Buckley

In addition to Renewal House, Breaking Barriers creators are partnering with Adirondack Diversity Initiative, John Brown Lives!, and Associated Colleges of the St Lawrence Valley, which comprises SUNYs Canton and Potsdam, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence University. Based on partner feedback, an artistic team of local directors, actors, professors, and theatre-makers selected plays that speak to the concerns of each group. In working across university and community lines, we are better able to collaborate and exchange ideas towards a shared vision of strengthening civic participation through the arts. 

Future plays will be held on the following dates:

Friday, April 22, 6 p.m.: Polar Bears, Black Boys, and Prairie Fringed Orchids, by Vincent Terrell Durham with community partner Adirondack Diversity Initiative

Friday, May 5, 6 p.m.: Baltimore, by Kirsten Greenidge with community partner Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley

Friday, June 10, 6 p.m.: Curios and Crinolines, by Elaine Kuracina with community partner John Brown Lives!

To learn more about Breaking Barriers and its creation and purpose, visit https://potsdamlibrary.org/new-ppl-play-series-breaks-barriers/

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and administered by the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.

More Than a Workshop, Aubrey Slaterpryce’s Village Writers Guild Nurtures Art

Hello, hello People of PPL,

It is with great pleasure that we get to introduce our newest PPL staff member, Aubrey Slaterpryce. Aubrey has all the fervor one could want in the library and brings a remarkable talent and enthusiasm for writing and adding to the programming we have here. 

Just last week we introduced our Village Writers Guild at the Potsdam Public Library, which is created and facilitated by Aubrey and here we thought it important to give you a bit more information about the Guild and the person who is really making it all possible. 

Aubrey Slaterpryce

Aubrey graduated from SUNY Potsdam in Fall 2021 with a BFA in Creative Writing, and during that time at SUNY Potsdam, they participated in, then led, SUNY Potsdam’s Writers’ Cafe for three years 

“Writers’ Cafe was a writing club based at SUNY Potsdam,” Aubrey said. “I joined as a freshman at the beginning of my spring semester. I met some phenomenal people through that group. It helped push me to continue writing, and showed me that writing was something people could actually commit to and sustain throughout their lives.”

It also showed Aubrey the importance of having a writing community, a place to see one’s writing through the eyes of the other.

“I became president of the club during my junior year, but with Covid-19, attendance to meetings was down,” Aubrey said. “Very few people came, and the school did little to help enable the success of it. They were busy with plenty of other things, so I understand. Whereas the Potsdam Public Library, who has embraced the idea fully, has given me more support than I ever expected.”

Aubrey was inspired to start the Village Writers Guild because humans (and artists) exist in relation to one another, in the context of community. 

“It is so important and beneficial to share and voice work, and hear others’ work, while we are still writing it,” Aubrey said. “It helps make us view our own work with an outsider’s lens, to consider how the audience will react.”

Aubrey started writing as a child and said the endless stories that filled their head, resulted in them continuing to exercise their imagination well up until high school. 

“For me, writing is a way to process anything and everything. If I put it down on the paper then it frees up room in my head. I owe a lot of my own self-found peace to writing. I am possessed by words, and find myself writing about the intersection of humans, nature, and imagination a lot. I am inspired by mythology and storytelling, by language and the philosophy of it, and by the various ways to construct a story,” Aubrey said. “My favorite author is N. K. Jemisin with her Broken Earth series. Other authors I love include Thomas Pynchon and his The Crying of Lot 49, and Tara Westover’s Educated. A goal of mine this year is to read more than seventy books; I’ve already read sixteen since January 1st.”

A workshop group encourages people to write more because they have the opportunity and the encouragement to share it with others, Aubrey said, recognizing that sharing is difficult, due to the fear of negative feedback. But Aubrey said that The Village Writers Guild makes useful and supportive feedback one of its top priorities.

“We will help the writer get from where they are with a piece of work to where they want to be with it,” Aubrey said. “To do this, we employ our other top priority; getting writers to continue writing, despite everything else. I believe quantity generates quality, creation enables design. Prolificacy begets precision.”

The first meeting of the Village Writers Guild will be held on Thursday, March 3rd, from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, and each Sunday and Thursday after that. The Guild will be broken up into two groups, Group A will meet on Sundays in the library’s main reading room, and Group B will meet Thursday in the classroom on the mezzanine. Both groups will meet between the hours of 4 and 6 p.m.

There are no restrictions for attending either group, but because the Guild is rooted in building a writer’s community, participants are encouraged to continue attending the same group each week to help build and nurture a community with your fellow writers. Attendance is not mandatory. 

“As for what I’m looking forward to coming out of the group, there’s a lot.” Aubrey concluded. “One of the things I’m hoping for is a public reading where members could share their polished work with an actual audience. Something else is bringing in guest authors and writers, to have themed meetings and events, and to share plenty of book recommendations. Above all, I want the Village Writers Guild to exist as a space for sharing art in a creative and nurturing manner. I want members to look forward to coming, sharing their work, providing feedback for others, and contributing to a group of artists passionate to create anything, everything.”

Interested in hearing more from the Village Writers Guild? Sign up for news and other information with the form below: https://forms.gle/rMHmiar3GERMEFmu9

Village Writers Guild Seeks to Grow Writing Community

Dear Library Community,

Hello! Are you a writer or interested in exploring creative writing? 

The Village Writers Guild, hosted by Aubrey Slaterpryce, at the Potsdam Public Library, offers the space you seek. This space pursues creative freedom and openness, ultimately seeking to have you do one thing: continue to write. During the meetings, members have the opportunity to share written projects they’ve been working on, receive high quality feedback, and engage in various prompts to help start the creative process. Please bring and share your writings of any kind; poetry, fiction and nonfiction, stage and screenplays, or even a graphic novel you’ve been working on! 

The most important part of the workshop is providing feedback for each writer. Structured after the Critical Response Process by Liz Lerman, this feedback requires no outside work—focusing only on your observations in the moment. If interested, you can read more about the Critical Response Process by visiting lizlerman.com/critical-response-process/

We look forward to welcoming you into our growing creative community. Meetings will be held on Sundays (Group A) and Thursdays (Group B) from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Find the meetings at the Potsdam Public Library. On Sundays, Group A will meet on the first floor. On Thursdays, Group B will meet in the upstairs classroom. Please feel free to attend either group, at whatever time is convenient for you. Though, we encourage you to continue attending that group to help build and nurture a community with your fellow writers. 

The first meeting will be held on Thursday, March 3rd, from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, and each Sunday and Thursday after that. We recommend you bring a notebook, a writing utensil, and a piece of writing you would love to share!

Hand sanitizer is located near the central circulation desk, on the first floor of the library. It is highly recommended that you wear a mask in attendance.

Interested in hearing more from the Village Writers Guild? Sign up for news and other information with the form below: https://forms.gle/rMHmiar3GERMEFmu9

We hope to see you there!

Aubrey Slaterpryce

aslaterpryce@potsdamlibrary.org

Potsdam Public Library Clerk

Exploring the Flow with Blair

Hello, hello, People of PPL,

Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert here, just dropping in one of the newest videos I put together from one of the earliest outings Dr. Blair Madore of the ADK Mountain Club’s Laurentian Chapter and I did together as part of PPL on the Outside.

Here we went for a walk at Higley Flow State Park in South Colton. The trip was designated as an early winter hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski trip, as you can never tell what the weather is going to do well in advance of an outing during the winter months. In this case, we were able to go for a walk, as the trails were lightly dusted with snow.

The wonderful thing about this outing (as can be the case with any of our outings with Blair) is that we were unexpectedly joined by Tim Pearl, a long-time trail maintenance worker at Higley. Tim told us that not only was it the best job he has ever had, but he told us all about the work he did there, a bit about the history of the trees that make up the forest we were walking through, and more. Add Blair’s knowledge of the trails and general awareness of nature, and you get yourself a pretty lovely time.

I hope you enjoy this edition of PPL on the Outside with Dr. Blair Madore.

Hope to see you out there with us, next time,

William

New PPL Play Series Aims to Break Barriers

PPL has found itself returning to its former calling as a theater during 2021’s Plays Across the Walls series. This Spring, PPL will again play the part of theater during the Breaking Barriers: Plays at the Library series.

After a few months’ work, we at PPL are excited to announce the newest project on our programming schedule: Breaking Barriers: Plays at the Library. 

The project, created by SUNY Potsdam Department of Theatre and Dance Assistant Professor Rivka Eckert and PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert, is a four-part series looking at issues that are controversial and central to our community through the lens of theatre arts. 

The emphasis is on strengthening connections with local community groups and using plays to begin community conversations. The four staged readings will take place at the library, with the first performance tentatively scheduled for April 8. We are partnering with the following community groups: Adirondack Diversity Initiative, John Brown Lives!, Renewal House, and Associated Colleges of the St Lawrence Valley, which comprises SUNYs Canton and Potsdam, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence University. Based on our partner feedback, an artistic team of local directors, actors, professors, and theatre-makers select plays that speak to the concerns of each group. In working across university and community lines, we are better able to collaborate and exchange ideas towards a shared vision of strengthening civic participation through the arts.

The project was born from 2021’s Banned Books Read Outs held at PPL during Banned and Challenged Books Week. Rivka suggested reading banned plays and we both talked about reaching out to community organizations to get input as to what issues they would like to see addressed. From there, we decided that instead on making the focus on banned plays, wanted to focus on the community connection and conversation over issues that matter to the people that make up this community.

Additionally, after we held performances for Plays Across the Walls in the library’s main reading room in November, it has added a new level of excitement over how we can explore the library as a space for theatre.

Actors will read scripts in the style of a staged or choral reading, reading from music stands with spoken stage directions. Following the readings, community organization liaisons will guide audience members through a conversation meant to engage in the themes, concerns, and impact of the play. The actors reading the plays will also talk about how they prepared for reading.

Rivka said the play reading series will provide community organizations, audiences, and performers the critical opportunity to use theatre to begin a conversation and take actionable steps towards being a stronger community.   

“After almost two years of a pandemic that has kept us largely apart and isolated, these five performances and community dialogues are a way to heal, laugh, wonder, and make positive change together. In short, we get to meet one another, and the stories we carry, and begin the work of understanding.

By bringing Renewal House, Adirondack Diversity Initiative, John Brown Lives! and the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley to the library is a huge deal, she said. 

“Often spaces get marked as belonging to a certain type of person or people, and others can feel excluded from participation. Using the library, a bastion of civic exchange and free thought, as a performance site claims the space and conversation for everyone,” she said. “What better place to learn, discover, and watch performance that engages in the critical issues of our community than the library?”

Questions that motivate the project: How can we strengthen the North Country community through theatre? How can we support one another in deep listening linked to tangible actions and accountability? How can we re/claim the library as a space for civic exchange, performance, discourse, and change?

“I grew up believing that the library was a place of wonder and order,” Rivka said. “I remember librarians helping me browse card catalogues to search for topics that weren’t covered around my dining room table or in my classroom. While the card catalogues aren’t there anymore, the library and the Breaking Barriers Play Reading Series stands as a place where we can dream and search together.”

This project is made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrants Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and administered by the St. Lawrence County Arts Council.

This just in: Out & About

Out and About, by Kendall Taylor, is one of the newest books to PPL’s North Country Collection and is a guide book in step with our PPL on the Outside program, encouraging the exploration of our greater backyards.


The holidays are behind us and many of us are coming down off the high of that busy season: running to the stores for last minute gifts; trying to get to the post office in time; did you remember all the ingredients for the certain dish you were cooking before the stores close for a day and a half?!

Okay, stop. 🛑✋ 

Look around. You made it. We are into the first week of 2022 and the season of getting your bearings about you are afoot! The question is, what to do with the time you were spending running around. 

Well, we just added a book to our North Country Collection full of suggestions, which will do you good the whole year ‘round. 

Places to go and Things to do: Out and About in the North Country, by Kendall Taylor (second edition), is a wonderful book loaded with information about trails, parks, festivals, driving tours (What?! I LOVE a good driving tour!!), museums, Shipwrecks (Seriously?! Tell me you don’t want to know more!) . . . The list goes on. 

The book started out as a fundraiser 15 years ago for Kendall’s daughter’s school, but she said that edition was only used as a guide for “what not to do” in this “sophisticated” edition that she added was modeled on the Lonely Planet series (the Australian travel guide book publisher), with side bars, i.e., “don’t go on Tuesday, it’s too busy. If you go on the weekend, you get in free between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m,” Kendall said in a phone interview. 

And if the book is already checked out, you can buy a copy at the North Country Children’s Museum

In fact, this second edition was published as a fundraiser for the museum. Sharon Williams, the museum’s executive director, tells us that the book can be picked up at many of the local book stores, convenient marts, museums, or at the Children’s Museum website: https://northcountrychildrensmuseum.org/shop/ 

Have a look at the video below to see and hear more about the book from both Sharon and Kendall and, just like we at the Potsdam Public Library advocate through our PPL on the Outside Program, get out and explore your greater backyard!

The video review and sample of Out and About, created by Potsdam Public Library through PPL on the Outside.

Gearing up for Winter Walks

Well, it might not be winter yet, but winter weather is here, and in what is known as “Frozen River Country,” that means we can hide inside or learn to fall in love with winter by getting outside in ways that are new to us.

We chose getting outside, and did so, frequently, with our friend Blair Madore, who has taken us on a variety of nature hikes. (If you have been keeping up with out PPL on the Outside blogs and have subscribed to the Potsdam Public Library YouTube channel, you likely have seen our videos of Blair on the trail).

Along those adventures, Blair led a series of snowshoe trips. If you haven’t gone snowshoeing before, it is quite exhilarating and if you find the right places, as Blair does, you get to see nature in a whole new way.

So, in the spirit of getting ready for another winter outdoors with Blair and, sometimes me, as expedition leaders, below is a video which will give a taste of what you have to look forward to if you join us.

Enjoy, and we look forward to seeing you on the trail!

William Eckert

PPL Adult Program Coordinator

Madore Makes “Life in Potsdam . . .” Better

At its inception, PPL on the Outside was rooted in exploring the wilderness and curated trails of Potsdam and beyond. The more I talked about it, the more I had people telling me I needed to talk to and coordinate with Blair Madore. I didn’t know Blair at the time but was quick to learn that not only is he a math professor at SUNY Potsdam, the vice chair, education of the Adirondack Mountain Club Laurentian Chapter and the Red Sandstone Trail Coordinator, but he is a staunch advocate for getting into the wild. 

Perfect!

By the time we finished our first call together about free, outdoor programming, we had agreed to a partnership between PPL and the ADK Mountain Club and scheduled an autumnal, two-day walk along the Red Sandstone Trail that would highlight both its natural and historical setting.

Since then we have had several hiking and snowshoeing adventures in and out of the Adirondacks. We even coordinated a Pirate Hike for kids on Sugar Island, where Blair regaled families of the legend of the Pirates of the Raquette River and had them search for lost treasure.

While we are working on more free, outdoor adventures together for our community to participate in, I sat down with Blair to talk about his love of nature and of all things Potsdam, and below is Blair, in his own words, kicking it off in his feelings about Potsdam in a nutshell. “Life in Potsdam is good!”

Be well and we’ll see each other soon!

Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert 

Dr. Blair Madore, during a history and nature hike on the Red Sandstone Trail, often stopped to talk about the many natural wonders we can find in our backyards.

“Life in Potsdam is good. For people who don’t know me, I lived in Toronto for a long time before I came to Potsdam, and of all the things I wanted in life, I wanted to live in a small college town with access to nature. I thought that was a place in Ontario but it turns out it was a place in New York. In fact, the place in Ontario I had set as a goal to live is actually nowhere near as good as Potsdam, when it comes to that small-town life with a great access to nature. 

“So that is a big part of what endears me to Potsdam.

“(O)ur club puts on a lot of regular activities. Sometimes it reaches a lot of people and sometimes it doesn’t and working with PPL on the Outside has been great because it has managed to tap into a different segment of people who might be interested in this kind of thing. (S)o we got to do some great activities, and a bunch of different people participated with us, and I am certain that those people have done more activities since and will probably continue to do more activities. 

“So in that regard it has been a huge success.

Blair led families on a July 2021 hike on Sugar Island where he told them the tale of the Pirates of the Raquette River. Kids went treasure hunting and had a surprise ending to the hike . . . Now you can go too, through the magic of our GoPro. Stay tuned for more videos on the trail with Blair!

“We are lucky . . . Before I lived here I lived in Toronto for a long time and I was still an avid outdoors person, but in Toronto I would drive two hours and hike five miles into the woods. In order to get to what I can get to in a 10-mile drive and 10-minute hike from Potsdam. And there is more to be discovered.”

Over the years of discovering the surrounding natural resources, Blair has also discovered that there are a bevy of hidden gems that are unmarked. And while he said one would need a personal guide to help find these trails and waterfalls and other such locations, he has certainly become that guide for many of us.

Until recently, the Tooley Pond waterfalls hikes were among those trails that were unmarked by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, unlike so many other trial heads. Hikers instead had to keep an eye out for an 8-by-10 board marking the trails, and really needed someone who knew the terrain. Blair was that person for the last 10-to-15 years. 

And even after all that time, Blair is still discovering new trails.

Blair led a beginner snowshoe trip at Lampson Falls during February 2021. He has given many a chance to fall in love with winter in the north country by exploring nature in the snow.

“I discovered that there is a whole new hike on Tooley Pond Road that’s not marked, that nobody knows about,” Blair said at the time of of our interview. He reported back that this trail he described is now marked for public access. The name of that trail was not immediately available.

“There’s a huge granite outcropping with beautiful cliffs on the side of it that apparently people have been using for climbing for some time, but it is otherwise not known about at all,” he said. “And very recently the Department of Environmental Conservation sent a team of trail workers up there and they built a beautiful new trail that goes up to the cliffs, circles around back so that it’s not too steep, and then climbs up to the top of the hill (where) you have this incredible view over the surrounding countryside.”

And it gets better!

When he reached the top of the cliff, Blair said he was welcomed by an “incredible roar.” After looking around, he found the sound originating from Twin Falls, nearly a mile away, although it sounded like it was right next to him.

“I never had any idea this place was there, whatsoever. I discovered it this year. How many other places are there that I don’t know about, that you don’t know about, that other people don’t know about?”

The wonderful thing about going outside with Blair is his contagious, child-like wonder with nature. Here, he marveled at a tree growing from a boulder during a December 2020 hike through Higley Flow State Park.

As a member and officer of the Adirondack Mountain Club, Blair celebrated what he said was a fantastic “bonanza” of people using and discovering these trails since the pandemic. He cited his club cohort, Mark Simon, who coordinates the Stone Valley Trail and has been a trail coordinator for more than 20 years, as having said he has never seen this much human traffic on local trails.

Moreover, aside from the ADK Mountain Club and PPL on the Outside, Blair pointed to the STLC Trails, a website administered by the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the St. Lawrence County Trails and Nature Up North, as being a champion of trail information including maps, hiking tips, how to find equipment, outdoor challenges and more, making it easier for individuals and families to romp around the woods. 

“It’s been really exciting doing this partnership with the library,” Blair said. “Definitely the folks on our executive committee at the (Adirondack Mountain) Club have encouraged me to continue doing it and do more. 

“You know, our club wants to encourage people to take care of the wilderness. A lot of people really think that you join the Adirondack Mountain Club because you want to go hike the (Adirondack) High Peaks and, for some, that is true, but the big, long-term goal is we want people who enjoy the outdoors and who enjoy the wilderness because if we don’t have those people we don’t have the stewards for the future, and as much as we would like to think that the wilderness takes care of itself, it really doesn’t. It needs stewards. It needs people to help make sure that those trails are in good shape, to help make sure that those properties don’t get bought up and turned into something else, to really help manage this sort of public trust, this resource that we get to share all together. The club does a lot of things but that is certainly at the very heart of what the club is all about. Anything that helps to promote that is a great thing.”

Honoring Banned Books Week with “Read Outs”

September 26 kicks off 2021’s Banned and Challenged Books Week, where we celebrate the right not only to read, but to have the right to choose what we read without censorship.

Each year, Banned and Challenged Books Week  has a different theme.  This year’s theme is Books Unite Us; Censorship Divides Us.

At Potsdam Public Library we celebrate the right to read and aim to give the public open access to books and information and to raise awareness of censorship.

In addition, we work to create programs that support the promotion of reading and fight against censorship.

So, to kick off Banned and Challenged Books week, on Sunday, Sept. 26, from 2 to 3 p.m. we will be hosting a “Read Out” on the front steps of the library where community members, educators and writers will talk about the fight against censorship and will read selections from books that have been banned or challenged by schools, bookstores or libraries. 

In the event of inclement weather, the program will take place inside the library in the main reading room. 

Throughout the remainder of the week, ending Oct. 2, there will be an open mic from noon to 1 p.m. set up on either the library front steps or in the library’s main reading room, again, depending upon the weather, where members of the public can sign up to read for up to 15 minutes from a selection of any book that has been banned or challenged.

According to the the American Library Association (ALA), 

“Every year, the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) compiles a list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books in order to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools. The lists are based on information from media stories and voluntary reports sent to OIF from communities across the U.S. The Top 10 lists are only a snapshot of books challenged. Surveys indicate that 82-97% of book challenges – documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries – remain unreported and receive no media.”

You can find the top 10 most challenged books for each year (2001 – present) here.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. Of the 273 books that were targeted, here are the 10 most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:

  1. George by Alex Gino
    Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
    Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
    Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message. American Library Association. (1996-2021). Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists. Retrieved from https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10

To learn more about Banned and Challenged Books Week, visit bannedbooksweek.org