Library notes: Biographies contain fascinating details

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 24, 2019

By Gretchen Beilfuss Witt

Rowan Public Library 

Biographies have held an endless fascination for me. Not only does the reader get to discover the life and achievements of a particular person, but often the milieu of the times is revealed and considered as well. The library has just received a new assortment of biographies with fascinating experiences to share.

The biography “Bluff City” by Preston Lauterbach is just such a book. Subtitled “The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers,” the book describes Withers’ life as he grows up in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a postman, who discovers photography as a teenager and develops his skills as a photographer during his Army experiences in the Pacific theater of World War II.

After returning to Memphis after the war, he becomes one of the first black members of the Memphis Police Department but continues to hone his photography skills, taking pictures of the baseball greats of the Negro League and fans of the games.

Losing his job as a policeman, he supported his growing family as a freelance photographer. The book continues to expound on Withers’ involvement and photographic witness of the action in Memphis from Elvis Presley to the strike in 1968 that drew Martin Luther King Jr. to the city before his assassination.

This is a fascinating look at one man’s observations and contributions to a complex and remarkable era in American history.

Also exploring a tense and changing time in American history is “Born Criminal: The Story of Matilda Joslyn Gage, Radical Suffragist” by Angelica Shirley Carpenter. The only child of a liberal Quaker doctor and his wife, Matilda was constantly involved in the family’s discussions about politics.

In an age when children were to remain quietly invisible among company, her father insisted she be educated and her opinions regarded as important. Matilda’s parents were initially involved in the Underground Railroad, welcoming former slaves traveling through New York to Canada and their freedom.

Matilda was raised to think for herself and to challenge social injustices. She was an active partner with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the suffragist’s movement, although she is not as well known as the others. Interestingly, she is also the mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum of “The Wizard of Oz” fame and had a great deal of influence on him as a person and writer.

David Grann’s “The White Darkness” tells the tale of Henry Worsley, a contemporary British polar explorer following in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton. The slim volume fits nicely in your hands and has startlingly lovely photography of Antarctica as well as pictures of Worsley and his fellow explorers.

Henry Worsley, a distant relation of Shackleton’s teammate Frank Worsley, teamed up with the great-grand-nephew of Shackleton, Will Gow and Henry Adams, the great-grandson of Jameson Boyd Adams, second-in-command of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition. After training together for two years, they successfully walked to the South Pole. Several years later, Worsley attempted to walk across Antarctica alone, and those experiences are also related in the book.

Other folks may be more interested in sports or literary figures. Catherine Reef’s “A Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator Mary Shelley” is a fascinating look at the complicated life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

“Bobby,” a pictorial autobiography of hockey legend Bobby Orr, is a fun and uplifting journey through his growing up years and through to his work after his retirement from hockey.

Pick up these or other personal stories at the library and enjoy today.

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These programs are scheduled at the library:

Earth Day scavenger hunt: Headquarters through March 30. Learn about the planet and how we can take care of it. Children who finish the scavenger hunt will be entered into a raffle contest for a prize. 704-216-8234.

Dragon training: East branch through March 30. Toothless and his friends have flown off on an adventure. Help Hiccup find them before he goes to the hidden world. Find them all and be entered into a raffle contest for a literary-themed prize.  Tammie, 704-216-7842.

Sensory Storytime: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at East branch; 10:30 a.m. Thursday at South. Ans interactive, 30-minute storytime involves books, songs and movement and is designed for those with autism and/or sensory challenges. All ages and those of all abilities are welcome. For questions or to make accessibility arrangements, call 704-216-7842 at East or 704-216-7728 at South.

Nailed It! for Teens: 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Headquarters, 4-5 p.m. Thursday at East. Based on the popular Netflix show, teens are invited to decorate their own desserts and see how close they come to the original. 704-216-8258.

Chapter Chats: 5:15-6 p.m. Tuesday, East. This weekly book club is for ages 14 to 17 and intended primarily for participants with developmental or intellectual disabilities, though all are welcome. Tammie Foster, 704-216-7842.

Friends of RPL concert series: Castlebay, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Headquarters. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. The concert is free, and all ages are welcome. 704-216-8243.

Computer Basics: 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Headquarters. Not sure how a computer turns on or off? No worries. Let us help you begin the first steps to working with a computer. Appropriate for all ages. No computer skills required. Meet in the second-floor computer lab. 704-216-8242.

Lunch at the Library: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, East. Enjoy a clean, Wi-Fi-accessible, and peaceful place to have lunch. The East Branch meeting room will be open. Lunch is not provided, but tables, chairs and ambiance are. While in the library, check out upcoming programs and free resources. 704-216-7840.

Caregiver series Session 4: “Hospice and Advanced Directives,” 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, South. This four-part series is designed with the caregiver in mind, discussing needs and roles and providing information to help ensure a healthy balance for the well-being of caregivers and their loved ones. This session, presented by Trellis Support Care, will cover what hospice is and when hospice gets involved. It will also feature an advanced directive instructional with a notary. Registration required; call Paulette at 704-216-7731 to reserve a seat.

Book Bites Book Club: 6 p.m. Tuesday, South. Refreshments will be served, and new members are welcome. Contact Paulette at for details about this month’s selection.

DIY: Greening Your Life: 6-7 p.m. April 1, South. Explore how to make and use natural alternatives for everyday living to help minimize or eliminate harmful chemicals from your home and life. Learn how to make natural cleansers, body and bath salts, natural bug sprays, and more using easy recipes and easy-to-find natural ingredients. This program is part of the Learn.Act.Grow. series. 704-216-7731.

March displays

• Headquarters: Rowan Doll Society, Community Care Clinic, North Carolina railroad maps.

• East branch: Painted glassware presented by Amanda Kepley.

• South branch: “History of Agriculture and Farms” presented by Rowan County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.