• by Julianne Adams •
For almost a decade, the Nantucket Atheneum has played host to a number of illustrious men and women through the Geschke Lecture Series. The Series began in 2005 when the Atheneum received a grant from the National Endowment For The Humanities, a pivotal turning point for the Atheneum. Amy Jenness, Head Adult Program Coordinator, writes, “The grant helped establish the Adult Programs Department (which hadn’t existed before) and refocused the library’s goals to include cultural and educational programs for the island.” The Series received its name from the Geschke Foundation, whose donation to the project matched the National grant. Today, the Geschke Series continues to play a central role in fulfilling to the Atheneum’s community aims.
Purposefully eclectic in its speakers, the Series actively strives to cover a broad variety of topics. As Jenness explains, “Our goal is to bring speakers here who represent the best and brightest in their field. We hope to inform and inspire our audience by giving them access to people who offer them new perspectives and cutting edge information.” Past participants have included Jill Abramson (former executive editor of the New York Times), Dr. Susan Hockfield (former president of MIT), and David Gregory (political television journalist).
Given the standard of speakers, it is unsurprising that the entirety of the summer community is regularly attends the Geschke Series. “Last year we had a Harvard astronomer [Dr. Robert Kirshner] who attracted a lot of kids, which I loved,” remarks Jenness. Most attendees are “over a wide spectrum of age and experience. No expert knowledge required.” The audience, too, is an active part of the talks. The 40-minute lectures are typically followed by 20 minutes of Q & A, a period in which the audience can interact with the established and noteworthy speakers.
This year, the Series once again offers an impressive roster of speakers across a wide range of topics. Kicking off the three-week event is Dr. Walter Willett, currently a professor at Harvard University. Willett, also chairman of the Department of Nutrition of Harvard School of Public Health, has a rich history of medical research and has written more than 1000 articles and four books. His focus for 25 years has been the links between diet and disease. On July 14, Dr. Willett will speak about nutrition and health.
On July 20, Esther Dyson will shift the topic of discussion with her talk on new technologies and emerging markets. Dyson, a former journalist and technology visionary, has been a major player in the digital world. An active investor, she sits on the board of multiple nonprofit organizations and growing companies, like MeetUp.com, and was a key funder of game changing companies, such as Flickr. Dyson is chairwoman of EDventure and recently launched HICcup (Health Initiative Coordinating Council).
Joe Klein, an illustrious political writer and journalist continues the Series on July 30 with a talk on domestic and international politics. Klein has written for some of the most well respected publications like The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, and The New Republic. A former Guggenheim fellow, Klein has written six books, including his novel Primary Colors and The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Twice a recipient of the National Headliner Award for best magazine column, Klein is a regular contributor to shows like Meet the Press and The Chris Mathews Show.
Rounding out the Series is Peter Baker, a political journalist and writer whose work was central to some of the most pivotal political events of recent history. Baker wrote for the Washington Post for almost 20 years, where he helped break the Monica Lewinsky story and was the first US reporter in Afghanistan after September 11. A regular contributor to PBS’s Washington Week, Baker co-wrote Kremlin Rising: Vladmir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution in 2007 with his wife, journalist Susan B. Glasser. Baker continues his landmark career as the White House correspondent for the New York Times.
In addition to the Geschke events, the Atheneum offers the Constance Laibe Hays Memorial Lecture on August 6. Begun in 2006, the annual event honors Constance Laibe Hays, a New York Times reporter. The year after her 2005 death, her family and friends created the event “to support the work of both new and established writers.”
This year the event has two speakers: Stephen Shepard and Lynn Povich. Husband and wife, both are award-winning journalists with impressive careers. Shepard served as founding dean of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism after working as editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek for over 20 years. In 1975, Povich became senior editor at Newsweek—the first woman to do so. After serving as editor-in-chief of Working Woman and managing editor for MSNBC.com’s East Coast content, Povich now serves on the boards of Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch and International Women’s Media Foundation.
Because these speakers are so highly sought after, the Hays and Geschke events are all ticketed ($25), unlike most Atheneum events. Jenness explains, “The money raised from those two [series] goes back into [the] budget to pay for next year’s programs. In addition, the lectures from both series draw a larger audience than what the library can hold and are held off site.” Lecture tickets may be purchased at the Atheneum Box Office in the garden along India Street and online at www.nantucketatheneum.org
Spread throughout the summer, the Geschke and Hays lectures grant the island community a thrilling chance to hear prominent thinkers share their stories and ideas.