February 23rd Update – Welcome & Project Status

Welcome to The James Family Letters website. Throughout development, this will be your one stop shop for all project related information.

2015 was an exciting year for The James Family Letters project and, with the help of a generous Public Presentation Planning Grant from the Connecticut Humanities Fund, we were able to meet some of our high level goals. These include:

  • Convened a gathering of scholars at the Old Saybrook Historical Society. Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward recounted stories and theories about how the James family, especially the women, fit into a political landscape that began to change in the years just before the Civil War. Joining him were Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin from Columbia University and Professor Emerita Diane Isaacs from the University of Delaware. They spoke of the connections between Ann Petry’s upbringing in a nearly all-white village and her art, as well as how W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of double consciousness shaped the family.
  • Conducted on-screen interviews with three people: Garth Meadows, who operated James’ Pharmacy during the 1980s; former Frist Selectman Barbara Maynard, a long-time friend and fan of the James family; and Raven Wilkinson, the first African American ballerina, who began spending summers in Old Saybrook in the mid-1930s.
  • Photographed many of the original letters written by the James family, which Liz donated to the Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • Photographed artifacts and ephemera that are in the hands of a private collector.
  • Filmed locations shots that will provide background.
  • Through the end of January raised $3,000 in donations.
  • Secured and restored a tape-recording of an interview that Garth’s wife recorded in 1975 with Anna Louise James.
  • Promoted the film at the Hartford Public Library on February 16.

Ash shooting Cong Church in OSLiz and RavenPanel sans Walter & TeddBut all of this is just the beginning, as 2016 is looking to be an even bigger year for the project. A few items that we’re already moving forward on are:

  • Plan additional fundraising
  • Determine what issues and themes we need to address explore on the scholars’ responses to the meeting transcript
  • Promote the film at various venues: the Wasch Center at Wesleyan University, March 16; and the Essex Meadows’ Arts and Exploration series, August 21
  • Photograph Anna Louise James’ papers at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe.
  • Conduct an interview with Professor Emeritus Edward Clark of Suffolk University, who nominated Ann Petry for the first of her four honorary doctorates and created the Collection of African American Literature, which has since been named in his honor.
  • Film areas around Newburyport, Massachusetts, where another of the James sisters worked.
  • Explore filming on location in the places where the family lived, worked, and attended school, including Virginia, Georgia, Florida, and Hawaii.

And all of this is just the beginning of The James Family Letters! We will have so much more information to share in the coming months, so make sure to sign up to our email list so that you always have the latest news on this project delivered directly to your inbox!

Recent Comments

  • Annette Chittenden
    February 22, 2018 - 2:57 am · Reply

    Just got back from Ms. Petry’s talk at the firehouse in Killingworth, CT. (2/21/18). EXCITING AND INSPIRING! My great, great, great grandfather,, Simeon Chittenden is buried in the North Guilford CT cemetery with his “man servant” Shem next to him – then his wife Submit. I was never able to get any info on this African American gentleman Shem, except that he grew up with Simeon. So, to be a small part of getting ALL of CT history told I have made my contribution to getting your film done. A powerful project! As a retired art teacher of 37 1/2 years in New Haven, I remember how difficult it was in 1978 to get info. on African American artists for my middle school students! Honored to play a small part in your endeavors!!!

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