The legacies of eight wordsmiths from the city’s timeline are brought to life by a set of contemporary storytellers, activists and artists on June 14, when the North 2 Shore Festival presents “Readings from Asbury Park” at The Stephen Crane House.
They were the storytellers, poets, journalists, and social crusaders — some famous, some all but forgotten — whose connections to Asbury Park made a deep impression on their words and their works. On the evening of Wed., June 14, their voices will be heard anew, when a collective of contemporary authors, activists and artists, representing numerous aspects and eras of city life, celebrates a community’s rich written legacy while sharing selections from their own body of work.
Presented by the Asbury Park Historical Society as part of the inaugural North 2 Shore Festival, “Readings from Asbury Park: Voices From Our City, Then and Now” stands as a unique offering on the festival’s slate of events; one that draws from the city’s 150-year timeline, as it shines a spotlight on the writers and public speakers who have “painted pictures” and “made music” through the power of the word.
Funded through a grant from the Newark-based New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the 7:00 p.m. event will be hosted inside the Stephen Crane House at 508 Fourth Avenue, the State and National Historic Site where the world-renowned author of “The Red Badge of Courage” composed his first attempts at fiction, and where he resided while beginning his professional writing career as a teenaged cub reporter for his brother’s boardwalk-based news service.
In the words of Historical Society president Kay Harris, the program “shows the Crane House at its best, as a place where our city’s cultural history comes together — a literary landmark that draws visitors from all over the world, and a real community resource that spans the centuries.”
“The Historical Society is honored to have been selected as one of the grant awardees for this exciting project that recognizes Asbury Park as a premier destination for arts and entertainment,” continued Harris, adding that the Wednesday event “reinforces our organization’s participation in and support of a far-reaching arts and cultural master plan for our city.”
The “Readings” event includes a salute to the house’s onetime owner Helen Crane, who in addition to being Stephen’s mother was a well known temperance lecturer and social activist with a pronounced creative streak that saw her establish the city’s first art school there at the place she dubbed “Arbutus Cottage.” Mrs. Crane will be honored by community activist and Asbury Park Reporter journalist Kerry Margaret Butch, herself a former resident of the house at 508.
Rev. James Francis Robinson, the pastor of St. Stephen AME Zion Church in what was then known as the “West Park” neighborhood, was a Crane contemporary whose opposition to the segregationist policies of Asbury Park’s founder James A. Bradley drew the attention of big-city newspapers via a series of “Indignation Meetings” and peaceful protests. The words of the 19th century activist will be read by his 21st century counterpart Rev. Kerwin Webb, pastor of Neptune’s Martin Luther King Jr. Presbyterian Church and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the city-based Interfaith Neighbors.
An early recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and a fiction writer whose early years in Asbury Park played a significant role in such books as “The Boardwalk,” Margaret Widdemer will be celebrated by actor-playwright Marjorie Conn, a longtime friend of the Crane House whose intimate theatrical portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt, Lizzie Borden, and Stephen’s “common law” wife Cora have been popular attractions on the in-house stage.
Born in Asbury Park, Edna Woolman Chase rose from the most humble beginnings to become an international influencer as managing editor of Vogue magazine. The industry legend is paid tribute by fashion and entertainment journalist Tiasia Newman, the BigBreak magazine correspondent who also contributes to the AP Reporter website.
The first woman to be inducted to the Ukulele Hall of Fame, May Singhi Breen partnered with composer husband Peter DeRose on a long-running NBC radio show and dozens of songwriting collaborations, in addition to hosting friends like Babe Ruth at their Eighth Avenue home (May would take over the directorship of the Babe’s children’s charity after his death). The Tin Pan Alley-era musician-lyricist will be channeled by contemporary singer-songwriter Deirdre Forrest, who also happens to play and teach the uke!
Known to millions in his day as a globetrotting writer, broadcaster and newsman, Lowell Thomas wrote the book that put him on the map (“With Lawrence in Arabia”) at the Asbury Park home of his parents — and his frequent returns to the city found him sponsoring The Beacon, the student magazine at AP HighSchool. The June 14 event will see the reading of a little-known, potentially controversial article that the famous figure wrote for The Beacon — with a counterpoint perspective from Claire Garland, an authority on New Jersey’s indigenous populations, and director of the Sand Hill Indians Historical Association.
The author of more than 50 books on American socio-political issues (including hard-hitting examinations of the Hoover-era FBI and the KKK), Fred J. Cook began his career in investigative journalism with the Asbury Park Press, for whom he covered such stories as the Hindenburg and Morro Castle disasters. The self-described “Maverick” is honored by Wallace Stroby, a veteran of the Press and Star-Ledger newsrooms turned award-winning author of crime/ mystery novels.
Last but not least, the namesake of the Stephen Crane House — a prolific talent who produced a vast portfolio of novels, short stories, verse and news dispatches during his brief 28 years — will be discussed by Grammy nominated biographer and historian Daniel Wolff, whose acclaimed book “Fourth of July Asbury Park” (featuring an exploration of young Crane’s years in Founder Bradley’s seaside resort) was recently reissued in a newly expanded edition.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the limited-seating 7 p.m. event on June 14, with tickets to “Readings from Asbury Park” priced at $15 in advance via Eventbrite, at northtoshore.com/event/readings-from-asbury-park. Contact the Historical Society at 732-361-0189 for additional information, and visit the official festival website for full schedule details on North 2 Shore happenings going on around Asbury Park between June 14-18, as well as related events in Atlantic City and Newark.