Guest post by Stephen H. Grant
Authors are blessed when their books are published on important anniversaries. Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger hit the stands in the spring of 2014, coinciding with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1564. After the Folger Shakespeare Library was dedicated in 1932, four decades passed before the first biography of its founders appeared. This lapse is quite surprising when one considers that the private research library, only two blocks from the US Capitol, houses the largest Shakespeare collection in the world. The biography unlocks the key to how, during the Gilded Age, a quiet Victorian couple, together and alone, pulled off the feat from their Brooklyn brownstone.
During the last 18 months, I have been active in arranging speaking venues, book signings, and media events in Washington, DC, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Connecticut. In addition to four events organized by the publisher, hosts have included 13 private clubs, 12 libraries, 6 public halls, 3 bookshops, 3 private homes, 3 radio stations, 2 TV stations, 2 colleges, 1 museum, and 1 theatre.
High points were TV performances on CBS This Morning and C-SPAN2, and peddling books at a table near Ralph Nader, Cokie Roberts, Ted Olson, and Steve Forbes (photo 2). Chagrined to find a long taxi line at New York’s Penn Station, I folded my six-foot-four frame into a pedicab and bounced along the Manhattan roadway to the sedate Union League Club. As I emerged from between two plastic flaps, the doorman eyed me warily.
A cool DC venue was the Naval Lodge (photo 1), chartered in 1805, only paces from the Folger Shakespeare Library. In Boston, it doesn’t get any better than the Athenaeum, founded in 1807. Adjacent to this private bibliophiles’ club one block from the Massachusetts State House lies the Old Granary Burial Ground, established in 1660. The stone obelisk gravestone in the center (photo 3) contains the remains of Abiah Folger and her husband, Josiah Franklin, the parents of Benjamin Franklin. Henry Folger traced his line back to Abiah’s father, Peter. Henry once wrote, “Had I not collected Shakespeariana, I would have collected Frankliniana.”
Attending the Athenaeum lecture (photo 4) was a grandniece of Henry Folger who remembers nervously reciting a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses at a Thanksgiving dinner at Emily Folger’s residence in Glen Cove, Long Island after “Uncle Henry” died.
The Theatre Library Association named Collecting Shakespeare a finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award in 2014 in the field of live theatre or performance. Next year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death in 1616. Gigs are already scheduled in Santa Fe, San Diego, Palo Alto, and San Francisco. Lucky author!
Stephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.