BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The 12th Annual Novel Affair hosted by Lake Forest’s Ragdale, to celebrate authors and artists for a weekend of creativity, had all the elements of a terrific read: a setting straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald, from the glamorous Lake Bluff club where Phoebe and Tad Turner hosted a book-signing to the cocktail party overlooking Lake Michigan; intriguing characters—authors from New York to Great Falls, Montana, who mingled with guests at intimate North Shore dinners and addressed 750 students from 8 area schools furnishing fascinating advice about their trade; and fast-paced action, thanks to chairs Jeanna Park and Rosemary O’Connell who raised over $75,000 to advance 200 artists’ residencies, 30 Ragdale in School fellowships, and more than 50 public programs.
Built in 1897 by legendary architect Howard Van Doren Shaw as his summer residence, Ragdale’s beautiful solitude, space, and time inspires artists to be creative and interact with other artists and writers from a wide variety of disciplines.
With the support of Ragdale’s donors, forty teachers were also invited to participate in the Novel Affair weekend. This year’s featured authors were Quraysh Ali Lansana, Nickolas Butler, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Lan Samantha Chang, Jamie Ford, Min Jin Lee, Achy Obejas, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Megan Stielstra. They were joined by conceptual artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and design leaders Bruce Mau and Bisi Williams.
We asked Ragdale’s Executive Director, Jeff Meeuwsen, to tell us more about Novel Affair.
How do you choose the authors? Have they all had literary residencies?
Our Novel Affair featured authors and artists are nominated by a committee of Ragdale staff, trustees, and curatorial board members. Ragdale’s curatorial board includes more than 25 highly accomplished arts professionals from around the world, almost all of whom are Ragdale alumni. This group advises us on Novel Affair, residencies, fellowships, educational programs, and the needs of the ever-evolving art world.
Some, but not all, of our Novel Affair authors and artists have been in residence at Ragdale in the past. All Novel Affair featured guests are awarded Ragdale residency for use in developing future work and we look forward to having each of them return in the next 1-3 years.
I imagine that the author’s visits to local classrooms really encourage students to become authors.
This is second year of Novel Affair School Day, and each of our featured artists spent time engaging with a local school group, from Chicago to Waukegan. We created the School Day so that we could maximize the connections between our talented guests and the regional community. Like our larger yearlong Ragdale in Schools program, the featured artists and authors share their personal stories, passions, challenges, inspirations, and insights into creative careers. It is a valuable, thought-provoking experience for teachers and students alike.
Are there certain genres of writers that you select or are they from all across the board?
We work hard to represent diverse cultural and artistic points of view—much like the wide array of artists you might find around Ragdale’s dinner table on any given day. This includes writers of all types as well as choreographers, filmmakers, designers, visual artists, composers, and more. We also seek a balance of more familiar names with those who may currently be lesser known—exceptional practitioners that we believe audiences should discover.
Tell me something about a couple of the authors and their interactions with students.
There are many, many great stories and we are so fortunate to have our sought-after guests offer a weekend to benefit Ragdale. I was particularly thrilled to host Bruce Mau and his wife, Bisi Williams, this year. Bruce is an internationally celebrated thought leader who has written and/or designed more than 200 books, among many other achievements. The cocktail reception and dinner were wonderful, but it was absolutely thrilling to have Bruce and Bisi work with a group of about forty 4th graders from North Chicago and Waukegan, introducing concepts of design thinking, problem solving, and career opportunity. The next Bruce Mau might just be in that group of creative youth.
On July 14, Ragdale will offer to the public with its owner, Roger Deromedi, a special opportunity to take a self-guided tour of the recently restored, exquisitely landscaped Mayflower Ravine. The experience will be enhanced by encounters with strolling musicians and artists along the winding paths. A garden reception will follow.
In 1912 Jens Jensen, the famous Midwest landscape architect, designed paths and bridges in the Mayflower Ravine as part of his landscape plan for the Rumsey Estate. Over the past century, excessive storm water scoured the streambed down five feet and destabilized the slopes. Restoration of 800 feet of the ravine occurred between 2012 and 2015 and included raising, redirecting, and naturalizing the streambed back to its 1912 appearance; stabilizing the side slopes and replanting with native species; and adding paths, log bridges, and a council ring, all consistent with Jensen’s original plan. Nearly 12 million pounds of stone and soil were imported along with 275 native trees, 3,400 shrubs, and 40,000 perennials.
Proceeds benefit the Ragdale in Schools project and its free Arts and Nature workshops offered to students from Chicago to Waukegan.
For further information and to purchase tickets for July 14 visit ragdale.org.
Photo credit: Will Hartman