Robert Frost's granddaughter kicks off annual 'Sunday Afternoons with Robert Frost' lectures

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SHAFTSBURY, VT. — In 1916, when Robert Frost wrote, "The Road Not Taken," he sent a dispatch to future readers. A century later, that message will find yearning Frost fans heading up another road — Vermont Rt. 7A in Shaftsbury — to the place their idol once called home.

That's where the Friends of Robert Frost open their annual lecture series, "Sunday Afternoons with Robert Frost," at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 26, at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, with a talk by Lesley Lee Francis, Frost's granddaughter.

Frost scholar Lea Newman, professor emerita of English from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, is also vice president of the Friends.

She said the series, which features three installments this summer, is the centerpiece of the museum's public programs.

"A significant part of our mission is educational, and these programs are an important part of what we do to fulfill that," Newman said. "Each summer, since the museum became fully operational in 2003, we have sponsored a series of programs designed to bring to our community new insights into the poems of Robert Frost in particular, poetry in general, and the cultural history of the place Frost called home from 1920 to 1929."

The poetry to which Newman referred left generations of readers with images of snowy evenings, wooded trails and stone walls.

One such reader, Carole Thompson, the museum's founder, president and director, said this summer the Friends are thrilled to have a member of the Frost family speak.

"It's always a joy for us to host Frost's granddaughter, Lesley Francis, whose insight on the poet's life and poetry is interesting and unique," Thompson said.

Francis' presentation surrounds her latest book, released in 2015: "You Come Too: My Journey with Robert Frost." She holds a doctorate in Romance languages from Duke University, and has taught at several colleges and universities. Francis has lectured and written extensively on Frost and his poetry.

Newman, who has also published a study of Frost's poetry, said that during her three decades of teaching at MCLA, she felt as if she knew the legendary poet through his verse.

"His poems were very accessible to my students," Newman said. "Their appreciation increased as our discussions revealed the depth of even his most simplistic appearing poems. Frost was a poet of substance as well as aesthetic delight."

Newman added that as a family member and scholar, Francis promises to offer unique insights on the poet's life.

Copies of "You Come Too," will be available for sale, and Francis will hold a book signing following her lecture.

Today, the house Frost lived in during the Roaring Twenties is a thriving seasonal museum.

After selling his property in Franconia, N.H., Frost moved to the 1769 Stone Cottage on Rt. 7A in Shaftsbury.

Later, he purchased a gravesite in Old Bennington, Vt., to accommodate future generations of descendants.

His grave in the churchyard of the First Congregational Church (Old First Church) remains one of Bennington's top draws for visitors.

The poet's stone cottage attracts many regional Frost devotees. What started as a reading group 19 years ago by Thompson, eventually grew into The Friends of Robert Frost, a national non-profit organization.

Its mission is the historical preservation of Frost's Shaftsbury farm, and to educate the public on his poetry.

Tens of thousands of visitors have vindicated the group's perseverance and vision.

Newman noted that Francis is one in a long list of notable speakers during the lecture series' history.

"Equally impressive have been the poet laureates of the United States Robert Pinsky and Richard Wilbur, poet laureates of Vermont Grace Paley and Galway Kinnell, and critically acclaimed poets Stephen Sandy, Timothy Steele, and Franklin D. Reeve," Newman said.

The 2016 series will consist of two additional presentations. On Aug. 7, Donald Sheehy, Ph.D., professor of English at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, will speak on: "Robert Frost as a Renaissance Man: New Revelations in his poem 'New Hampshire.'"

Sheehy is the co-editor of a volume of Robert Frost's letters, will closely examine parts of this poem written in the dining room of the Stone House Museum.

On Sept. 18, Mark Richardson, Ph.D., will discuss the 2016 release, "The Letters of Robert Frost, Volume II," of which he is co-editor. The book includes letters Frost wrote while he was living in what is now the Stone House Museum.

Richardson intends to speak on letters that could shed light on Frost's relationship with locals in the area, and further related insights. He is a professor of English at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.

Thompson said the lectures are meant for the general public, and that attendees with just a curiosity of Frost will find them an afternoon well spent.

"Anyone who loves Frost's poetry, from a newcomer to a scholar, will enjoy these talks," Thompson said.

IF YOU GO ...

What: 'Sunday Afternoons with Robert Frost,' a talk by Lesley Lee Francis, Frost's granddaughter

When: 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 26

Where: Little Red Barn, located on the grounds of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, at 121 Historic Route 7A in South Shaftsbury, Vt.

Cost: Free

Information: 802-447-6200, frostfriends.org

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist.


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