A book launch like no other

Wearing a costume lent to her by the Plymouth Plantation (Massachusetts), Beth Powning signs copies of A Measure of Light, which focuses on the remarkable life of Mary Dyer, a Puritan who fled persecution in 17th century England, only to be persecuted again in New England after joining the Quaker movement.
Wearing a costume lent to her by the Plymouth Plantation (Massachusetts), Beth Powning signs copies of A Measure of Light, which focuses on the remarkable life of Mary Dyer, a Puritan who fled persecution in 17th century England, only to be persecuted again in New England after joining the Quaker movement.

Beth Powning’s A Measure of Light inspires recreation of 17th Century Puritan New England in Sussex, N.B.

For six months members of SLICE (Sussex Literary Initiative and Cultural Events) were dedicated to exceeding the fantastic event they organized to launch Beth Powning’s 2010 best-selling novel, The Sea Captain’s Wife. And on Friday they did just that by converting the Royal Canadian Legion into the mid-17th Century Massachusetts Bay Colony, the setting for Powning’s newest novel, A Measure of Light (Knopf Canada).

Powning describes herself as a ‘secular Quaker’ who left Connecticut in the 1970’s with her husband Peter to settle in rural New Brunswick, but admits she was remarkably ignorant of the historic struggle of Mary Dyer, a Puritan who fled persecution in 17th century England, only to be persecuted again in New England after joining the Quaker movement.

However as she explained during a Q & A following her reading from the novel, “I read one sentence about Mary Dyer and felt this prickle, like my hair was standing up on my scalp and I thought I can’t believe I never knew about this woman and that put me on a course of reading about Mary. It was not an easy book to write as it was a very tough subject and I thought about turning away from it. But every time I got called back, sometimes by incredible coincidences and also by a strong feeling Mary wanted me to write this book. I had a sense of righting an injustice. Mary has come down through history as a benighted character and that’s just wrong. I had to straighten the record.”

Just as A Measure of Light is grounded in meticulous research, so was SLICE’s literary event. In response to publicist Patricia Stout’s invitation, over 500 guests (including a busload chartered by Moncton’s Frye Festival) arrived wearing black clothing as requested, and were given Puritan white collars or caps to don before entering the candle-lit hall where they were surrounded by the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a 17th-century working village.

Artisans plied their trades, creating products or demonstrating skills essential to the survival of the colony. They ranged from candle makers to spinners and quilters, and from basket weavers to apple tree grafters and scribes. Music was supplied by recording artists La Tour Baroque Duo, with Tim Blackmore playing the recorder and Michel Cardin the theorbo, a type of lute invented around 1600. Following the reading, guests were invited to sample succotash, a pottage of sweet corn and beans which the settlers learned to make from the Eastern Woodlands First Nations people; coarse, dark grained ‘gnarly’ bread and a special brewed A Measure of Light Ale crafted by Picaroons. And at the back of the hall, in keeping with the authenticity of Mary Dyer’s brave determination to give women a voice, there was a collection box for donations to the local women’s shelter.

Scroll down for images from the launch.

Calligrapher and scribe Fred Harrison (Elgin) uses an ostrich feather pen to copy letters from A Measure of Light.
Calligrapher and scribe Fred Harrison (Elgin) uses an ostrich feather pen to copy letters from A Measure of Light.
Dr. Sandra Bell of the University of New Brunswick, dressed as a courtier of Charles I, introduced author Beth Powning.
Dr. Sandra Bell of the University of New Brunswick, dressed as a courtier of Charles I, introduced author Beth Powning.
Emcee Kevin McCaig: “A book launch in Sussex is an event like no other.”
Emcee Kevin McCaig: “A book launch in Sussex is an event like no other.”
17th century music was provided by Tim Blackmore (Saint John) and Michel Cardin (Moncton) of La Tour Baroque Duo. Cardin is shown here with a theorbo, a type of lute invented in Italy around 1600.
17th century music was provided by Tim Blackmore (Saint John) and Michel Cardin (Moncton) of La Tour Baroque Duo. Cardin is shown here with a theorbo, a type of lute invented in Italy around 1600.
Patricia Stout and SLICE committee members sewed Puritan-style white collars, cuffs, aprons and bonnets for the 500 guests.
Patricia Stout and SLICE committee members sewed Puritan-style white collars, cuffs, aprons and bonnets for the 500 guests.
Basket weaver Sandra Racine is an Elder of nearby Elsipogtog First Nation, representing the Narragansett of Massachusetts.
Basket weaver Sandra Racine is an Elder of nearby Elsipogtog First Nation, representing the Narragansett of Massachusetts.
SLICE Soap maker Ann Ophaug
Ann Ophaug of Sussex, NB, demonstrates soap making.
SLICE committee members Deborah Freeze, Cathy Hardy, Jane Achen and Stephanie Coburn served authentic 17th century food – succotash and gnarly bread -- while Picaroons brewery developed ‘A Measure of Light Ale’.
SLICE committee members Deborah Freeze, Cathy Healy*, Jane Achen and Stephanie Coburn served authentic 17th century food – succotash and gnarly bread — while Picaroons brewery developed ‘A Measure of Light Ale’.

Margaret Patricia Eaton is a visual arts columnist for the Moncton Times & Transcript and an award-winning poet. Her most recent collection is Vision & Voice with artist Angelica De Benedetti.

Correction: The last photo caption originally identified the people in the picture as Deborah Freeze, Cathy Hardy*, Jane Achen and Stephanie Coburn. Our apologies to Cathy Healy.

Written By

Kim Hart Macneill is a journalist and magazine editor whose work has appeared in This Magazine, Canadian Business, and East Coast Living. She divides her time between Halifax and Moncton.

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6 Comments

  • Margaret – great pictures! It looks as if everyone was in the spirit for the reading. How wonderful to make such a many-dimensioned event!

  • Great photos! Since I wasn’t able to stay for the full event, seeing these is great. Thanks so much. This SLICE group are a wonderful group of people, dedicated to the promotion of literature and arts in the Sussex community.

  • Great, was at Beth’s latest launch in Toronto. Was once editor of the Kings County Record, where I met Beth & Peter. The launch, as you’ll have heard, was a great success. Lovely to see Beth (am now 91 & retired). Have just started reading her latest, as usual it’s fascinating and well researched and written.
    So her launch was a trip down Memory Lane for me — I remember Sussex fondly (mostly!) — was, as always, left with happy memories of being Down East.
    Best wishes — ANN FARRELL
    annpfarrell2011@gmail.com 505-115 The Esplanade Toronto ON M5E 1Y7

  • What a wonderful launch! Looking forward to curling up in my papazon chair and getting to read the book!
    Tara Baxendale, Toronto, ON

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