Library one of 30 in country to receive grant

Programs celebrate ‘Little Women’ author Louisa May Alcott

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 14, 2011


ROCHESTER — The Rochester Hills Public Library is one of 30 in the country to receive a grant to present a series of programs based on the documentary film “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women” and the companion biography of the same name written by Harriet Reisen.

Library adult services manager Sheila Konen came across the grant offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities and sponsored by the American Library Association in the summer of 2010.

“The grant was awarded to 30 libraries around the country. They are probably split between university libraries and public libraries, and we’re the only library in Michigan that was awarded the grant, which will cover the cost of putting on the programs,” she said. “I thought it would be a fantastic way to re-introduce people to Louisa May Alcott, because, in reading the grant, I found out a lot of things about her that I wasn’t aware of.”

Alcott is recognized around the world for her novel “Little Women,” but Konen said few know her as the woman who grew up in the innermost circle of the transcendentalist and antislavery movements, served as a Civil War army nurse and led a secret literary life.

“She wrote a lot more for adults, including poetry and essays, she wrote in some women’s magazines, she wrote lots of novels, and she wrote under a pseudonym. It surprised me to learn all the things that I did about her life itself, as well as her writing life,” Konen said.

The grant requires libraries to offer at least five reading, viewing and discussion programs, but the Rochester Hills Public Library is offering six programs through November — in partnership with the Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm and Oakland University.

The kickoff to the “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women” project will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Rochester Hills Museum. Michele Dunham, education program coordinator at the museum, will begin the afternoon with a presentation emphasizing local history and what life was like in the community at the time of Alcott’s life. Musician Tim Twiss will entertain with 19th century banjo music, and special guest Marianne Donnelly will round out the afternoon by performing in a living history portrayal of Alcott, talking to the audience about Alcott’s life and the issues that were dear to her heart. Those interested in attending the kickoff program are asked to register online.

The programs will continue with a biography book discussion at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 in the library multipurpose room, a film screening with director Nancy Porter at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 at Oakland University, a discussion of her lesser-known works during the Louisa May Alcott Wrote That program at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 in the library multipurpose room, a “Little Women” read-in program Nov. 21 at Oakland University, and a roundtable discussion titled “Louisa May Alcott and the 19th Century Social Reform” at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Oakland University.

“We are very excited to participate in this kind of community outreach project,” said Jeff Insko, project scholar at Oakland University. “For us, it’s a way for the university to partner with another cultural entity, and we’re really thrilled to be building those kinds of relationships.”

For more information on the series, including registration information, visit or call adults services at (248) 650-7130.