The New York Men Who Made The City Modern

The Haystack Book Festival, a program from the Norfolk Foundation in Norfolk, Conn., will inaugurate its fifth year with a series of events around the theme “New York Stories.” Punctuating the summer months from June 4 to Aug. 5, the festival’s four readings, performances, and conversations will tell the story of how modernism infiltrated and cross-pollinated dance, poetry, music, photography, and painting in New York between the mid-1940s and the mid-’60s.

The line-up will include discussions of the work of photographer George Platt Lynes, who worked with Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine, co-founders of the New York City Ballet, a reading of the epic autobiographical poem “I Remember” by Joe Brainard, and a discussion of the influence of music on the work of poet John Ashberry, followed by a performance by Melvin Chen, director of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

While the more established September Haystack Book Festival is known as a more traditional literary conference, in which a committee pursues books and writers for a weekend of literary edification, the festival’s co-directors, Steve Melville and Michael Selleck, conceived of the summer festival as a way of integrating Norfolk’s historic ethos as a home to the arts into its biannual celebration of literature.

This festival’s four events will be held in conjunction with the celebrated local arts institutions based at the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Estate in Norfolk — in June, the Yale Summer School of Art; in July, the Yale Summer School of Music and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival; in August, the Yale Poetry Center — to explore a range of different art forms through the lens of contemporary literature.

The festival will begin on Sunday, June 4 at The Art Barn on the Stoeckel Estate, with a participatory reading of “I Remember,” Brainard’s book-length autobiographical poem. Brainard, who died of AIDS complications in 1994, is better known for his work as a visual artist of the New York School, working primarily in painting and drawing, collage, and assemblage — a style that is echoed in “I Remember,” a series of memory fragments brought into harmony by the titular refrain.

On Friday, June 23, also at The Art Barn, will be a conversation between artist and writer Jarrett Earnest, the author of “The Young and Evil: Queer Modernism in New York, 1930-1955,” and Allen Ellenzweig, author of “George Platt Lynes: The Daring Eye,” the first complete biography of George Platt Lynes. Inspired in part by this year’s theme at the Yale Summer School of Art, “Freedom of Form,” Earnest and Ellenzweig will look beyond Platt Lynes’s more established role as a portraitist and fashion photographer to explore his work as the principal photographer of Balanchine’s dancers as well as his pioneering engagement with the male nude, to locate the his place in the development of American Modernism.

Timed with the opening events of the Norfolk Music Festival, “John Ashberry’s Playlist” Sunday, July 9, at The Norfolk Library, will explore Ashberry’s poetry and the soundscape in which he wrote it. “I have always felt that my ideas came out of music,” Ashberry has said. “I listen to music all the time, especially when I am writing.” A discussion between Karin Roffman, author of “The Songs We Know Best: John Ashberry’s Early Life,” and Melvin Chen, Deputy Dean at the Yale School of Music and director of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (Chen also happens to be Roffman’s husband), will be followed by a performance, by Chen, of some of the music that inspired Ashberry’s work.

The festival will close on Saturday, Aug. 5, with “Modernism and Tradition: The Foundations of American Art and Culture,” a conversation between Jennifer Homans, author of the Pulitzer-finalist “Mr. B,” a biography of George Balanchine, and Hugh Eakin, author of “Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America.”

Granary Books

Joe Brainard, 1975 by Frederick Fulmer Courtesy the artist / Asher Grey Gallery /

Oxford University Press

Granary Books

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