Sat, April 8, 4 p.m.
Harriet Scott Chessman will present her new book, The Lost Sketchbook of Edgar Degas, in conversation with John Elder.
Ten years after Edgar Degas’ 1873 winter sojourn in New Orleans, a lost sketchbook surfaces. His Creole cousin Tell—who lost her sight as a young woman—listens as her former child-servant describes the drawings and reads Degas’ enigmatic words. The experience is both cryptic and revelatory, leading Tell to new understandings of her marriage, her difficult, brilliant cousin Edgar, her daughter Josephine, and herself. A lyrical novel about what art can reveal, and a nuanced imagining of the familial, racial and financial forces on Edgar Degas and his work.
“I read The Lost Sketchbook of Edgar Degas with deep admiration for Chessman’s empathetic powers. She inhabits this sumptuous world of New Orleans with grace and a kind of heightened sensual alertness, a mystery that unravels level by level as Tell, a fetching character, comes through the oblique sketchbook of her gifted cousin to an awareness of herself, her world, her family – a reality that has become ‘simply history’ in the best way: imaginatively conceived and assimilated. This is a lovely novel that I would recommend to anyone.” — Jay Parini, author of Anthracite Country, Benjamin's Crossing, Robert Frost: A Life, and The Last Station.
Chessman is the author of four acclaimed earlier novels: Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, Someone Not Really Her Mother, The Beauty of Ordinary Things, and Ohio Angels. Her fiction has been translated into eight languages and featured in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The L.A. Times. She has taught English and creative writing at Yale University, Bread Loaf School of English, and Stanford University. She lives in Connecticut.
Elder is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies and English, Middlebury College, and author of Reading the Mountains of Home and Picking Up the Flute, among many more.