Little Women author has big week ahead in MKE libraries

Louisa May Alcott was much more than the author of “Little Women”, as a new series on the popular 19th-century writer hopes to show.

Two Marquette English department scholars collaborated with Raynor Library and Milwaukee Public Library to bring a five-event series entitled “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women” to enlighten the community on the author’s life, lesser-known novels she wrote and her time as a war nurse.

The initiative for the series began when Sarah Wadsworth, associate professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences, received an email advertising a grant from the American Library Association. The grant, worth $2,500, was awarded to 30 libraries across the country for the promotion of five reading, viewing and discussion programs featuring Harriet Reisen’s biography and documentary about Louisa May Alcott.

Following the email, Wadsworth contacted Angela Sorby, also an associate professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“As I became aware of the details of the grant I contacted Angela (Sorby) to see if she was interested, and when we found out we could have two scholars on the grant and work with the library, we became very excited,” Wadsworth said.

Wadsworth also contacted the director at Milwaukee Public Library and proposed the collaborative opportunity to share the life of Alcott. Within weeks of the initial email the project was underway, she said.

“The purpose of the event is to draw people in and bridge the academic and community relationship through this series, and the (Central) library was very willing to do this with us,” Wadsworth said.

Sorby elaborated on the series’ purpose, explaining that the events and lectures are to celebrate Alcott’s diverse career and to remind people of her “fascinating and complex history as a reformer, nurse and ‘blood-and-thunder’ author,” Sorby said via email.

The series launched yesterday at the Raynor Library Conference Center with activities such as film clips, music, performances from the theater department, readings from lesser-known Alcott works and speeches from both Wadsworth and Sorby.

Phylis Ravel, artistic associate professor for Performing and Media Arts at Marquette, was in charge of coordinating the acting and dramatic readings for the series.

She said the theater department is pleased to be working with an esteemed group of colleagues and is excited to present a concert reading of “Behind a Mask,” an often unrecognized novel written by Alcott about a woman’s acting skills, how she can fool a family and escape betrothed people.

This rarely seen thriller is a most provocative piece,” Ravel said. “We have enjoyed bringing a selection of this novel to life.”

Upcoming events including documentaries and discussion of Alcott and her life’s work will occur at both the Raynor Library and Milwaukee Public Library in its Betty Brinn Children’s Room at the Herzfeld Activity Center.

The final event of the series will occur on Nov. 29 in celebration of Alcott’s birthday. There will be a birthday cake to go along with the series-closing discussion on the documentary and biography. An informal exhibit of Alcott’s juvenile fiction will also be on display in the Children’s Room.

Sorby and Wadsworth both said they hope students and the community will walk away with many things after attending the series.

“People are people no matter the era and they are endlessly fascinating,” Sorby said.  “Alcott had an intense childhood with her idealistic parents, and she parlayed her (often difficult) background into a career as a novelist.”