Friday, February 29, 2008

Quest through the Past: 'Looking for Bijah and Lucy' at Washington College

Chestertown, MD — Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, noted biographer and a professor on the faculty of Dartmouth College, will present "Looking for Bijah and Lucy: The Search for an African-American Family That Moved Into Legend," a discussion of her latest research project and its resulting book, at Washington College's Litrenta Lecture Hall on Tuesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m. A booksigning will follow the lecture.

Gerzina will be in residence at Washington College from March 17-21 as this year's Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. Her latest book, Mr. and Mrs. Prince, was a labor of love, jointly researched with her husband, Anthony Gerzina, whom she met when they were both students at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont.

Lucy Terry, the first known African-American poet, and her husband Abijah ("Bijah") Prince, were landowners and former slaves who lived 200 years earlier in the same village in Vermont as the Gerzinas, and have gone down in history as remarkable people who fought for their rights in the courts.

Mr. and Mrs. Prince paints a vivid picture of 18th century New England, a frontier society shaped as much by race and color as by economic struggle and the constant threat of war. Both Gerzina and her husband regarded their work on the book as "a life-changing event."

Established through a generous gift from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis, the annual Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellowship brings to campus an individual engaged in the study or interpretation of African-American history and related fields. Besides providing the recipient an opportunity for a week of focused writing, the fellowship also offers Washington College students exposure to some of today's leading interpreters of African-American culture. During her week in Chestertown, Gerzina will meet with students and faculty and speak to classes about her own work.

Gerzina has a B.A. from Marlboro College, an M.A. from Simmons College, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. She has been a tenured professor at Vassar College and at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is now the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography at Dartmouth College, where she is the first woman ever to chair the English department, and the first African-American woman to chair an Ivy League English department. She is also Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Exeter in Devon, England.

Gerzina's first book, Carrington, is the only biography of the Bloomsbury Group figure Dora Carrington, and was made into a 1995 movie starring Emma Thompson. Her second book,Black London (published in the U.K. as Black England), delved deeply into the lives of black people in 18th-century Britain, and was a New York Times Notable Book.

Gerzina is the host of the nationally syndicated radio program "The Book Show," on which she conducts weekly interviews with some of the finest writers working today, including Anna Quindlen, Toni Morrison, and Jamaica Kincaid. She has appeared frequently on British television and radio documentaries.

Litrenta Lecture Hall is located in the John S. Toll Science Center. Admission to "Looking for Bijah and Lucy: The Search for an African-American Family That Moved Into Legend" is free and open to the public.

February 29, 2008

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