Whatever did New Englanders do on long winter evenings before cable, satellite and the internet? In the decades before and after the Civil War, our rural ancestors used to create neighborhood events to improve their minds. Community members male and female would compose and read aloud homegrown, handwritten literary “newspapers” full of keen verbal wit. Sometimes serious, sometimes sentimental but mostly very funny, these “newspapers” were common in villages across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and revealed the hopes, fears, humor and surprisingly daring behavior of our forebears. Jo Radner shares excerpts from her forthcoming book about hundreds of these “newspapers” and provides examples from villages in your region.
Jo Radner received her PhD from Harvard University. Before returning to her family home in western Maine as a freelance storyteller and oral historian, Radner spent 31 years as a professor at American University in Washington, DC. There she taught literature, folklore, women’s studies, American studies, Celtic studies, and storytelling. She has published books and articles in all those fields, and is now writing a book titled Performing the Paper: Rural Self-Improvement in Northern New England, about a 19th-century village tradition of creating and performing handwritten literary newspapers. Radner is a past president of the American Folklore Society and the National Storytelling Network.