I’ve done some of my best writing, and thinking, at Chautauqua Institution in New York. For much of my life, I attended part of the nine-week summer season each year, participating in the Boys and Girls Club, making life-long friends, swinging my legs on the porch of The Maple Inn, listening to lectures and falling in love with classical music. I’m a Chautauquan at heart, even though circumstances have prevented me from visiting recently.
For those of you who have never heard of this wondrous intellectual community, a documentary will be premiering on PBS stations around the country on Monday, Jan. 31. You can watch a 3-minute clip here and learn more about the production here. In Oregon, apparently, it’ll air on Feb. 1, according to OPB’s schedule.
One of the two summers I lived in Chautauqua, working as a music reporter for the daily newspaper, I listened to Stanley Kunitz read poetry in the amphitheater. It was one of the most profoundly moving events I’ve ever attended. Later that afternoon, when I came home to Alumni Hall, where I shared a room with a School of Music employee, the great poet was on the porch, signing books and talking to admirers. Another time I sat on that porch with Nancy Gibbs, the prolific Time essayist, who graciously agreed to a roundtable Q and A session with the Chautauquan Daily staff.
Amazing things happen in Chautauqua. I’m not sure if the documentary will capture my favorite things about the place, but I’m going to stay up late to watch, and remember, and hope for a time in the near future when I can bring my daughter there.