SALEM — Two of America’s greatest literary legends — Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau — have not yet run out of things to say. Perhaps that’s no surprise. These writers were prolific and they were opinionated. On Wednesday, June 30, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., they will meet up virtually to dish about literature, writing, friends in common, Concord and much more. Their writing may be a tad inaccessible to today’s readers, but not their humanity. Join this free virtual gathering to witness two American greats in a lively, free-ranging conversation taken from primary sources. Use this link to attend this free event, sponsored by The House of the Seven Gables.
Bringing the two authors to life are Rob Velella and Richard Smith. Velella has been enacting and interpreting Hawthorne for about a decade and Smith has been performing as Thoreau for 22 years. They’ve performed “Singular Characters” together for nearly a decade.
“I always tell people this is the best thing we’ve ever done,” says Smith, who first began dressing as Thoreau and interacting with people as Thoreau when he worked as a park ranger at Minuteman National Historic Park and, then, at Walden Pond.
“Living history — what I do — is important because it puts humanity into people. When people come by Walden Pond, they ask me what I do all day. They want to know about the food, about my friendships. This portrayal makes Thoreau real to fans and also to people who have no idea who the heck this guy is.”
Velella does a very credible Hawthorne, as well. Handsome, dressed elegantly in black with a top hat, he very much resembles a middle-aged Hawthorne. “This program is supposed to be both educational and entertaining,” he says. “One of the motivations in doing it is to remove the barriers between the classic authors and modern readers,” he says.
Hawthorne and Thoreau hung out together in the mid-1800s. They took a boat ride together, walked together and Hawthorne even invited Thoreau to come to Salem and stay with him and his family at 14 Wall St.
“When we’re forced to read their work in school,” says Velella, “we tend to see the authors in little bubbles, isolated from the rest of their world. But their works were not created in a bubble. A lot informed their writing and that’s what we try to convey,” he says.
“We’re fleshing out the relationship between these two men using their words, articles, journals and primary source material from others who were in their lives. By the end of the program we expect people will come to some conclusions about the nature of their relationship. I think they will agree with us that the authors shared a distinct respect for one another.”
Smith agrees, but is quick to point out that while Hawthorne did write about Thoreau in his journals, Thoreau never mentioned Hawthorne and the time they spent together. Perhaps, says Smith, it was because Thoreau was 13 years younger than Hawthorne.”
Velella wants people to find a way into Hawthorne’s body of work. “A lot of themes he touches upon are very 21st century. He had a 21st century cynicism that any angsty young person living today can understand.”