Mary Shelley’s Birthday Celebration
Sunday, August 28 • 3-5 p.m.
Old Books on Front Street
249 N. Front Street
The fantasy and horror genres undoubtedly have huge and dedicated followings. For so many people (including myself and my husband), it’s true escapism, filled with nothing but hours of entertainment and distractions from the chaos and disappointments of reality. For Gwenyfar Rohler, owner of Old Books on Front Street, Gothic and supernaturalism literature means more than traveling out of this world and into another. It means taking time to acknowledge and celebrate one of the greatest revolutions in the literary world, by recognizing one woman who quite literally paved the way for one other female writers in the genre: Mary Wollstencraft Shelley. WIthout her, we wouldn’t be able to pay due to the countless trials and tribulations women writers have endured throughout the course of history. It all starts in revisiting a classic Shelley work, incomparable to another author, “Frankenstein.”
Marking the beginning of the modern genres of fantasy and horror, Shelley published this fundamental and popular book in 1818 in London—anonymously, nonetheless. It wasn’t until her second edition did her name appear. She was one of the youngest, most talented writers in the 19th century, having written “Frankenstein” between the ripe age of 18 and 21. More so, it received more notoriety than another of its time. And to top it off, it was written by … a woman.
“Overwhelmingly, both of these genres are still dominated by men (though J.K. Rowling sure has given everybody a run!),” Rohler says. “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was a pivotal point in Western literature. Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia Butler are but three of many women who have written in this genre successfully for years.”
Sure, there are classics we’ve all come to revere, written by the likes of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. Still, women are largely and grossly underrepresented in fantasty and horror, even with outstanding contributions such as Rowling’s “Harry Potter” (a series that sold well over 400 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages, making her the first female to become a billionaire writing books). Even today, many publish under pseudonyms or just their initials.
Though we’ve come a long way from women’s rights and suffrage, gender battles still exist—maybe in less obvious ways. “When Susan Cheever was here, she talked about ‘Little Women’ as the first book to describe the domestic life of American women as worthy of a plot,” Rohler says. “As publishing has opened up to women, so has the recognition of the contributions that women make to society.”
This recognition made Rohler think about her business’ next celebration carefully. On August 28th from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., she welcomes the public to celebrate Shelley’s 214th birthday at Old Books on Front Street. There will be cake, readings by regional fantasy writers and even a little singing, aimed to raise the ghost of Shelley herself. Scheduled to perform and read from their works are Diana Bastine, author of, “The Source”; Debra Killeen, author of the award-winning fantasy series, “The Myrridian Cycle”; Elaine Corvidae winner of numerous Eppie Awards; S.L Schmitz; Christy English, author of, “The Queen’s Pawn”; and life-long fantasy fanatic and writer, Calie Voorhis.
Rohler foresees the celebration continuing annually, too. Shelley affects so many by scribing reflections of the battles we still endure in our daily lives some centuries later.
“Few people can actually describe the plot of ‘Ulysses,’” Rohler explains. “Find me five people who do not know the plot of ‘Frankenstein’—try. Mary Shelley is a writer who has lived (since her death) in her husband’s shadow.”
By honoring Shelley’s works, it opens the door to dialogue about how far women have come and how far we have to go. “We have a tendency to judge the past by the parameters and expectations of the present,” she continues. “It can be difficult in the present with all the gains that have been made for us to truly appreciate the struggle to do things we take for granted—like publish a book or poem under our own name.”
In the end, Old Books hopes to meet new writers, help them produce regional works and even introduce them to lesser known books.
For more information about Mary Shelley’s birthday party at Old Books visit www.oldbooksonfrontst.com or call (910) 76-BOOKS.