American Inspiration, a best-selling author series by American Ancestors

Photos, left to right: Gail Collins talks to sold-out audience; the American Ancestors Research Center at 99 Newbury Street; the historic rotunda at start of an event.

Get inspired by today’s best-known writers!

American Inspiration is a new, thought-provoking series of talks by best-selling authors presenting books that explore themes of personal identity, families and immigration, and social and cultural history. The series launched in the Fall 2019 and will continue through 2020 with a lineup of well-known writers discussing their newest releases on a variety of fascinating topics. Additional authors, community partners, guest moderators, and “in conversation” hosts will be added to this website as announced. Sign up for American Inspiration e-news to stay in the know.

Each writer’s hour-long event will include a talk by the author plus a moderated question and answer session. All attendees are invited to meet the author at a post-event book signing. Most programs will take place at 99-101 Newbury Street in our historic rotunda in Boston’s Back Bay, only steps from the Public Garden.

You can purchase event tickets below starting at $12.50.

Marcia Chatelain with Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

February 11 at 6 p.m.

The author of South Side Girls and a professor at Georgetown University will discuss her latest work with Leah Wright Rigueur of Harvard’s Kennedy School. From Civil Rights to Ferguson, Franchise reveals the untold history of how fast food became one of the greatest generators of black wealth in America; an industry fueled not only by corporations, but by black capitalists and civil rights leaders, who—in the troubled years after King’s assassination—believed they found an economic answer to the problem of racial inequality. Join us to learn how and why franchises blossomed at the very moment a freedom movement began to whither.

Marcia Chatelain is a professor of history and African American studies at Georgetown University, and is a leading public voice on the history of race, education, and food culture. Leah Wright Rigueur’s research expertise includes 20th Century U.S. political and social history and modern African American history, with an emphasis on race, political ideology, and civil rights.

At 3:00 p.m. that day, WGBH News reporter Callie Crossley will interview Professor Chatelain at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library. You can tune into the livestream on our Facebook page.

Kristen Richardson with The Season: A Social History of the Debutante

February 26 at 2 p.m.

Explore the 600-year history of debutante balls when this author, herself from a family of debutantes, shares stories and images from her new book, named a Smithsonian “Best History Book of 2019.” The Season traces the social seasons of young women on both sides of the Atlantic, from Georgian England to colonial Philadelphia, from the Antebellum South and Wharton’s New York back to England, where debutante daughters of Gilded Age millionaires sought to marry British aristocrats. Richardson delves into Jazz Age debuts, carnival balls in the American South, and the reimagined ritual of elite African American communities, which offers both social polish and academic scholarships.

While exploring why the debutante tradition persists—and why it has spread to Russia, China, and other nations—Kristen Richardson has uncovered its extensive cultural influence. Don’t miss this experience of The Season.

Adam Hochschild with Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

March 6 at 2 p.m.

Presented with the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive

From the best-selling author of Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing, forgotten story of one of the most charismatic radical leaders of the last century. Rose Pastor arrived in New York City in 1903, a Jewish refugee from Russia. She found a partner in James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of one of the legendary 400 families of New York high society, and together joined the burgeoning Socialist Party. Over the next dozen years, they moved among the liveliest group of activists and dreamers this country has ever seen including Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, Jack London, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Don’t missing hearing from this master of narrative nonfiction about this inspiring American and her circle of friends.

Adam Hochschild is the author of ten books including King Leopold's Ghost and To End All Wars, both finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Bury the Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN USA Literary Award.

The author’s illustrated presentation about Rebel Cinderella will be followed by a conversation with Judith Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Jonathan Reckford with Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World

March 15 at 11:30 a.m

The CEO of Habitat for Humanity will share stories and insights from his inspiring and insightful new book, Our Better Angels, which celebrates the shared principles that unite us. Picking up President Jimmy Carter where leaves off in the book’s foreword—“When the waters rise, so do our better angels”—Jonathan Reckford draws from his experience working with people from all walks of life to show how seven timeless virtues—kindness, community, empowerment, joy, respect, generosity, and service—can improve the quality of our lives, our families, and communities around the world.

Jonathan Reckford has led Habitat for Humanity International since 2005; under his leadership, the global housing organization has grown from serving 125,000 individuals a year to more than 8.7 million people in 2018 alone. Reckford’s March talk will be held at Trinity Church, in nearby Copley Square, and featured as part of their annual Price Lectures series.

Stephen Puleo with Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission

March 19 at 6:00 p.m.

The historian and author of American Treasures and Dark Tide returns with Voyage of Mercy, the remarkable true story of America’s first ever humanitarian mission—to Ireland in 1847 during the potato famine. In the early 1800s, the interactions between nations consisted of pure political strategy, warfare, and occasional trade. Then came one remarkable mission that inspired America to donate massive relief to Ireland that sparked America’s tradition of providing humanitarian aid around the world. Join us in the week of St. Patrick’s Day to learn more about the voyage of Boston sea captain Robert Bennet Forbes and the crew of the USS Jamestown—a little-known chapter of our home front history brought to life by one Boston’s best-loved historians.

Stephen Puleo is a historian, college teacher, public speaker, and the author of seven books, including Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History magazine, the Boston Globe, and other publications, he has taught at Suffolk University and UMass-Boston.

Honor Moore with Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Mid-Century

March 24 at 2 p.m.

Hear from this celebrated author about her new biography-memoir—the story of her mother and herself, their relationship and changing lives as 20th-Century women. In past acclaimed books, Honor Moore has presented her bishop father and her Boston painter grandmother. Now, with the sweep of an epic novel, she introduces readers to Jenny Moore, her charismatic and brilliant mother who was born into privilege on Boston’s North Shore, and whose life shifted dramatically as she engaged in the peace and social justice movements of the 1960s. After nine children, Jenny realized her ambition to become a writer. Don’t miss Moore’s conversation with writer Claire Messud (The Burning Girl, The Emperor’s Children) about Our Revolution and the lives of American women then and now.

Honor Moore is the author of The Bishop’s Daughter, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The White Blackbird, a New York Times Notable Book, as well as three collections of poems.

Photos, left to right: Holly-George Warren signs copies of Janis book at WGBH Studio the Newsfeed Café at the Boston Public Library; Audience at Gail Collins event in historic rotunda; Warren beside Fall 2019 author poster on Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

Past Events

Scott Simon with Sunnyside Plaza at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library and at NEHGS Family History Benefit Dinner

January 30, 2020

At our Winter Dinner we honored one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. Scott Simon has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars; his books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy. In the afternoon, he made a special appearance at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library, where his interview with Craig LeMoult was livestreamed.

Historical Novelist William Martin with Bound For Gold: A Novel of the California Gold Rush

January 14, 2020

The New York Times best-selling author (Cape Cod, Back Bay) joined us to explore the history of California and its Gold Rush as he discussed his latest historical thriller featuring the Boston rare-book dealer Peter Fallon and his girlfriend Evangeline Carrington. Don’t miss William Martin’s fascinating and history-rich presentation about this “rollicking epic tale (of) Boston meets San Francisco…History brought to life” (author H.W. Brands).

The Big House author George Howe Colt with The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968

November 21, 2019

The author of The Big House visited our historic rotunda the just-released paperback edition of his celebrated book The Game—the compelling true tale portraying our country, our college city, and several young men in the turbulent sixties, a transformative time in American culture. Those who couldn’t make the live event were able to tune in to the American Ancestors Facebook page for a livestream of his 3 p.m. interview with news reporter Esteban Bustillos at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library.

Grammy-Nominated Biographer Holly George-Warren with Janis: Her Life and Music

December 10, 2019

One of the most highly regarded chroniclers of American music history discussed the acclaimed singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970) - the “Queen of Rock & Roll,” a countercultural icon in San Francisco, and a star at the famous Woodstock Festival – with Henry Santoro of WGBH News. The event followed, by a book signing, was held live at the WGBH Boston Public Library Studio with a musical performance by Americana singer-songwriter Susan Cattaneo. Also livestreamed.

Historian Donald L. Miller with Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign that Broke the Confederacy

November 12, 2019

Donald L. Miller engaged in an illuminating conversation with Cathal J. Nolan of Boston University's International History Institute. The two shared insights on the longest and most decisive military campaign of the Civil War; the conflict that solidified Ulysses S. Grant’s reputation as the Union’s most capable general.

NY Times columnist Gail Collins with No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History

October 18, 2019

The beloved New York Times columnist was greeted by a sold-out crowd in the historic rotunda, where she talked with series curator Margaret Talcott about her rollicking new book. With razor-sharp, insightful social commentary, No Stopping Us Now re-introduces readers to the most influential and effective women in American history, from colonial times to Nancy Pelosi, Sojourner Truth to Mae West.

Watch it online at the WGBH Forum Network website.

Biographer Brian Jay Jones with Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination

September 26, 2019

The biographer of Jim Henson and George Lucas joined us to discuss another creative genius who shaped America’s cultural life: Theodor Geisel, the writer, poet, and illustrator who authored such classics as The Cat in the Hat under the pen name Dr. Seuss.

Biographer Susan Ronald with Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire

September 17, 2019

We took an in-depth look at the life and legacy of Condé Nast, the publishing legend whose life and career were as high profile and glamourous as his magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair. British-American biographer Susan Ronald worked with his family and a dedicated team at Condé Nast Publications to reveal the life of this extraordinary American.

Reach the American Inspiration series' producers at

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