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Forthcoming events and conferences

The Eccles Centre for American Studies regularly organises and supports conferences, seminars, lectures and other events on North American and transatlantic themes, often in partnership with other institutions and organisations.


The African-American Great Migration

When  Thursday 27 March 2014, 18.45 – 20.15
Price   Free (Please email Eccles-centre@bl.uk to reserve tickets)

‎Pulitzer-Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson will discuss the Great Migration, one of the biggest underreported stories of the 20th Century. It lasted from 1915 to 1970, involved six million people and was one of the largest internal migrations in U.S. history. It changed the country, North and South. It brought us John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, Bill Russell, Motown, Denzel Washington, Michelle Obama -- all products of the Great Migration. It changed the cultural and political landscape of the United States, exerting pressure on the South to change and paving the way toward equal rights for the lowest caste people in the country.

Isabel Wilkerson is the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, the New York Times bestseller that chronicles the true story of three people who made the decision of their lives during the Great Migration, a watershed in American history. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The book was named to more than 30 Best of the Year lists, including The New York Times' 10 Best Books of the Year, Amazon's 5 Best Books of the Year and Best of the Year lists in The Economist, The Guardian, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, The San Francisco Examiner, Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, O Magazine, Publishers Weekly, and over a dozen others. It made national news when President Barack Obama chose the book for summer reading in 2011. In 2012, The New York Times Magazine added Warmth to its list of the best nonfiction books of all time.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library in collaboration with the US Embassy, London.


Puttin’ on the Glitz - Fashion and Film in the Jazz Age

When   Friday 28 March, 18.30 – 20.00
Where  Conference Centre
Price    £8 / £6 (over 60s) / £5 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Fashion extraordinaire Amber Jane Butchart transports you to the glitz and glamour of Jazz Age Hollywood and the costumes that took London by storm. She draws on the Library's collection of vintage magazines in this talk with Christopher Laverty, editor of the popular blog Clothes on Film, who examines the flamboyantly dressed 'Dandy Gangster' as portrayed in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

From Theda Bara and Ginger Rogers to the costume designers who became celebrities in their own right, Amber explores fashion on the big screen during the 1920s – 30s. Magazines like Photoplay and Vogue featured Hollywood stars and every detail of their costumes, exciting fans and retailers to recreate dresses like the famous ruffled gown worn by Joan Crawford in the 1932 film Letty Lynton.

Gangsters from the 1920s Prohibition era cared more for their suits, hats and shoes than anything else. They wore lavish fabrics and glaringly bright tones. Chris examines the history of the 'dandy gangster' and the specifics of his attire. He gives us exclusive access to the costumes in award-winning series Boardwalk Empire and the influence these colourful men still have on fashion today.

This event is perfect for fashion designers and students, bloggers, costume designers, film-makers and anyone interested in fashion and film.

Followed by a cocktail party hosted by The Vintage Mafia. Enjoy a complimentary prohibition-themed cocktail kindly sponsored by The Eccles Centre for American Studies.


The Secret Lives of the Hemingway Wives

When    Monday 28 April, 18.45 – 20.00
Where   Conference Centre
Price     £5 / £4 (over 60s) / £3 Book Tickets via the BL Box Office

Today, Ernest Hemingway is remembered as one of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century. But he was also married to four extraordinary women: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Told in four parts, Eccles British Library Writer in Residence 2012 Naomi Wood’s new novel, Mrs. Hemingway, tells the story of what it was to love – and be loved by – one of the most famous writers in the world. Set against the backdrop of Roaring Twenties Paris up until Cold War America, Mrs. Hemingway recovers each woman from Hemingway’ shadow, and gives a touching and balanced account of life with ‘Ernesto’. Naomi Wood will read from her novel, and explore in videos, photographs and personal testimony what we know of these women and the eras they lived in.


Michael Katakis and Michael Palin: An Evening with Two Travellers

When    Wed 30 April, 18.45 – 20.00
Where   Conference Centre
Price     £8 / £6 (over 60s) / £5 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Writer and photographer Michael Katakis and fellow author and presenter Michael Palin share a love of exploration and new human encounters, often in some of the most remarkable places in the world. At this event they discuss their experiences and read from their journals and books. Michael Katakis also introduces his polemical new book about America, A Thousand Shards of Glass.


Music & Conversation: Devon Sproule

When Friday 9 May 2014, 18.30 – 20.00 
Price £8/£6/£5 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Devon Sproule is a singer-songwriter of distinction. She issued her first album at the age of 16, and in 2013 her most recent disc, Colours, a co-operation with fellow singer-songwriter Mike O’Neill was released on the Tin Angel label. Devon was born in Canada. Her family lived in a commune near Kingston, Ontario, before moving to the USA, to the Twin Oaks community, an ecovillage in Virginia. She has toured extensively in North America and Europe, and in 2007 she and her husband gave a memorable performance of her work on Later with Jools Holland.

Asked about the influence of her background on her music Devon has spoken of the existence in the village of a desire and willingness to communicate, of a versatility of communication, and of her pride in her alternative upbringing. Her modern folk style draws on influences of blues, country and she says, ‘while I’m not a jazz guitarist, I steal absolutely as much as I can from the genre’. Neil Spencer, in The Observer, referred to the ‘refreshing sweetness’ and ‘infectious sunny outlook’ in her early albums, Jonathan Aird of AmericanaUK, called her latest work ‘essential’.

In a rare solo appearance Devon will perform a selection of her compositions and discuss her life and work with this evening’s audience.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.


In the Land of the Head Hunters

When  Friday 23 May 2014, 18:00-20:30
Price   £5/£4/£3 Book tickets via the BL Box Office
In 1914, American photographer Edward S. Curtis released the first feature-length, fiction film to star an entirely indigenous cast, In the Land of the Head Hunters, made with the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) people on location in British Columbia. Although a critical success, the film made no money and was quickly lost to the archive.

Based on recent archival research, in 2008 a collaborative team led by Aaron Glass (now at the Bard Graduate Center), Brad Evans (Rutgers), and Andrea Sanborn (of the U’mista Cultural Centre in BC) oversaw a new restoration of the film that returned the film’s original title, title cards, long-missing footage, colour tinting, initial publicity graphics, and original musical score—now thought to be the earliest extant original feature-length film score in America. The history of the film and recent restoration project are documented at http://www.curtisfilm.rutgers.edu. The trailer for the restored film can be viewed here.

Marking the centenary of the film’s release, restoration co-producer Brad Evans, will introduce this special screening, complete with the original score.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.


America and Britain in the 21st Century

When Thursday 29 May 2014, 18:30-20:30
Price £8/£6/£5 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

In the annual Benjamin Franklin House lecture, Sir Nigel Sheinwald will discuss America's and Britain's changing roles in the world, will explain why a strong transatlantic relationship nevertheless remains important, and why international engagement by both countries remains in their, and the rest of the world's, interests. Sir Nigel is a senior British diplomat, who served as HM Ambassador to the United States of America from October 2007 to January 2012.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library in collaboration with Benjamin Franklin House.


The National Lampoon and US Satire in the 70s

When Friday 30 May 2014, 18:30-20:30
Price £5/£4/£3 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Now most associated with broad comedy films, the National Lampoon was originally a sharp, often coruscating, satirical magazine that captured the political and cultural transformations of the 1970s. As part of the British Library's Comics exhibition programme, Ellin Stein, author of That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick: The National Lampoon and the Comedy Insurgents Who Captured the Mainstream, explores its huge influence on subsequent American comedy and its continuing relevance.

This event is co-sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and the American Museum in Britain.


I Put a Spell on You

When Monday 09 June 2014, 18:45-20:30            
Price £5/£4/£3 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Eccles British Library Writer in Residence John Burnside introduces his new memoir. In this exquisite, haunting book, he describes his coming of age from the industrial misery of Cowdenbeath and Corby to the new world of Cambridge. This is a memoir of romance – of lost love and the love of being lost – darkened by threat, illuminated by glamour.

The old Scots word ‘glamour’ means magical charm, and the first time he was played I Put a Spell on You, John Burnside thought he had never heard a more beautiful song – it was an enchantment, a fascination that would turn to obsession. Implicit in the song were all the ambiguities that intrigued him – love, possession and danger – and this book is an exploration of the darker side of glamour and attraction. Beginning with memories of a brutal murder, the book follows the author through a series of uncanny encounters with ‘lost girls’, with brilliant digressions on murder ballads, voodoo, acid and insomnia, and a cast that includes Kafka and Narcissus, Diane Arbus and Mel Lyman, The Four Tops and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and time spent lost in the Arctic Circle, black-and-white films and a mental institution. I Put a Spell on You is a book about memory, about the other side of love: a book of secrets and wonders.

John Burnside’s recent books include the poetry collection All One Breath (February 2014), the book of stories, Something Like Happy, the novel, A Summer of Drowning, shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Prize, and his poetry collection, Black Cat Bone, which won both the 2011 Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. He is a Professor of English at St Andrews.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.


Bolivar: American Liberator

When Monday 16 June 2014, 18:45-20:30
Price £5/£4/£3 Book tickets via the BL Box Office

Drawing on her new biography of the revolutionary leader, novelist and journalist Marie Arana discusses the colourful and dramatic life of Simon Bolivar. In 1813, he launched a campaign for the independence of Colombia and Venezuela, commencing a dazzling career that would take him across the rugged terrain of South America. From his battlefield victories to his ill-fated brief marriage and legendary love affairs, Bolivar emerges as a man of many facets: fearless general, brilliant strategist, consummate diplomat, passionate abolitionist, and gifted writer.

Marie Arana is a biographer, essayist, novelist, and former editor in chief of Book World at The Washington Post. Currently, she is a guest columnist for the New York Times, Writer at Large for The Post, and Senior Advisor to the US Librarian of Congress. An active spokesperson on Latin America and biculturalism, she is also a specialist on the book industry.

This event is sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and the UCL Institute of the Americas.


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