The Mount's popular author series goes online

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LENOX — The Mount has always wanted to expand its audience and author reach. Now, COVID-19 has given Edith Wharton's summer estate the push.

"What's sort of unique about us is many of our programs do translate to online mediums — the conversations translate fairly well," said Michelle Daly, public programs director at The Mount. "With great understanding and patience from our authors, we were able to pivot our programs online fairly quickly and continue our conversations with authors. We've always wanted to have The Mount expand our reach in terms of audience, this is way for us to bring some of that programing to life for [new audiences]."

Starting last week, with a private, members-only Zoom "Library Conversation - Wharton's Women," The Mount launched its summer season, announcing a lineup of virtual conversations with authors hosted by Mount favorite Heidi Pitlor, editor of "The Best American Short Stories." Jessica Shattuck, the bestselling author of "The Hazards of Good Breeding" and "Perfect Life," will kick off the series Sunday, May 31.

The virtual programs will be free for "attendees," but registration is required and donations are welcome.

"The silver lining to this strange new world we're living in right now is going online has enabled us to reach a new audience," said Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount. "We're no longer encumbered geographically; we're able to attract a larger audience in terms of the actual audience and the talent."

Traditionally, The Mount invites authors to come to Lenox every summer to speak to a live audience, which at its top capacity during normal conditions, according to Wissler, can be 140. Tickets sell out fast, and getting authors to come to the Berkshires during busy summer months takes a lot of scheduling, and often some authors who want to come just can't make it happen. But now, up to 500 virtual attendees can join, said Wissler, and a number of the authors joining in the conversation series have new books coming out this year, according to Daly.

"We're very excited about who is lined up this summer," Daly said. "They are all really exciting writers, three or four of them have books coming out this summer that I, personally, can't wait to read."

The summer will also include the new "Discourse & Process" chats, an online companion series moderated by Julie Scelfo, author of "The Women Who Made New York." At the end of this month, they will also launch the institution's first online exhibition celebrating the centennial anniversary of Wharton's "Age of Innocence."

For those who still hold out hope other regular Mount programing will be put back on the calendar this summer, Wissler said they're "still very much trying to figure out the rest of the summer," and remain "flexible."

The Mount is also considering partnering with institutions "close by," according to Wissler, with larger spaces that might be able to better accommodate social distancing guidelines.

"We're exploring our options," she said.

For those who still want to see the grounds and Wharton's gardens in person this summer, you still can.

"The grounds are open; like a public park," Wissler said. Patrons are asked to keep dogs leashed, practice social distancing and wear face masks when appropriate. The grounds are open dawn to dusk, seven days a week.

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Currently, the grounds crew are still working on site to maintain the gardens, though staggering their shifts and not sharing equipment. Through the federal Payroll Protection Plan, The Mount was able to keep all current staff on salary through June, Wissler said. They have also applied for grant funding to help through the rest of the year. As for seasonal staff, she said it's too soon to know.

"Behind every staff member, there's a family to support," Wissler said. "I feel a great responsibility to keep as many employees as I can."

In times like this, members of The Mount like to think about what Edith Wharton would do.

"I think she would be doing what she did during first World War," Wissler said. "She put down the pen, donned her humanitarian hat and climbed into the trenches — organizing food warehouses, advocating for child care. She would have thrown her full weight into making sure the most vulnerable received the care and protection they need."

Season at a glance

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- Sunday, May 31, 4 p.m: Jessica Shattuck, bestselling author of "The Hazards of Good Breeding" and "Perfect Life." Conversation with Heidi Pitlor on her latest book, "The Women in the Castle."

- Monday, June 1, 4 p.m: Author Martha Ackmann will discuss her latest book, "These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson" with Cindy Dickenson, former Program Director for the Emily Dickenson Museum.

- Thursday, June 11, 4 p.m.: Anne Schuyler, Director of Interpretation & Visitor Services and Nicholas Hudson, Curatorial Assistant, share insights from their research in preparation for of the centennial celebration of Wharton's Pulitzer prize-winning novel.

- Sunday, June 14, 4 p.m: Anna Solomon, best-selling author of "Leaving Lucy Pear" and "The Little Bride," joins Heidi Pitlor for an in-depth conversation on her most recent novel "The Book of V."

- Sunday, July 19, 4 p.m: Lily King, best-selling author of "The Pleasing Hour" and "Euphoria," joins Heidi Pitlor for an in-depth conversation on her bestselling novel, "Writers & Lovers."

- Monday, Aug. 24, 4 p.m: Curtis Sittenfeld, bestselling author of "American Wife" and "Eligible," joins Heidi Pitlor for an in-depth conversation on her most recent novel, "Rodham."

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Thursdays, May 28 - June 24, 9 a.m.: Mass Audubon birding experts will share the sights and sounds of birds on The Mount's property. Watch online and then explore the grounds on your own. Free.


Mondays, June 8 - July 27, 4 p.m.: Discourse & Process is a new online companion series to our 2020 Summer Lectures (which is postponed until further notice). Moderated by Julie Scelfo, author of "The Women Who Made New York," this series will give the authors an opportunity to discuss elements of the writing and research process. Free.

- June 8 - Eve Kahn, author of "Forever Seeing New Beauties: The Forgotten Impressionist Mary Rogers Williams"

- June 15 - Katherine Smyth, author of "All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf"

- June 22 - Donna Rifkind, author of "The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel" and "Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood"

- June 29 - Jenn Shapland, author of "My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir"

- July 6 - Kerri Greenidge, author of "Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter"

- July 13 - Kimberly Hamlin, author of "Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener"

- July 20 - Michael Gorra author of "The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War"

- July 27 - Nick Basbanes, author of "Cross of Snow: A Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow"


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