Kate Clifford Larson – Historian and Author (Part 2 of 2)

By Admin | June 5, 2024 at 6:10 am

One of your later biographies after Harriet Tubman was a biography of Rosemary Kennedy. How did you come to write a biography of this little known Kennedy sibling? How in the world did you find biographical data on someone who was out of the public view for many decades?

Lovely Rosemary. It was January 2005 and I was working on
my biography of Mary Surratt, the woman who helped John Wilkes Booth with his plot to assassinate
Abraham Lincoln, and I heard that Rosemary had died. She was eighty-six years old. The Boston Globe
had a very nice obituary and it made me wonder about her life. So little was known about her. She had
been kept out of the public eye for decades. My curiosity had been piqued, though. The Kennedy Library
is in Boston, so I determined that I would look into the archives and see what was there. In 2008, after I
had finished my Mary Surratt biography, I went to the library to see if there was enough material to
write an article. I was surprised to learn that there was quite a lot of material related to Rosemary,
including letters to and from her, discussions of her health in other documents, and more. I knew then I
could write a full biography of her by using those rich and fresh archival papers. I learned that by putting
Rosemary at the center of the Kennedy family story you see her siblings and parents in a different light.
That taught me a lesson about how to be a better biographer.
What is your actual process of writing? How many hours per day? Do you have a favorite place to write?
Do you have colleagues or family members review your books-in-progress? My process is uneven. I do
not write everyday. I do research everyday, even if it is just tracking down one primary source. I read, a
lot – primary and secondary sources that cover not only my subject, but also materials that help define
and shape the historical context and landscapes of their lives. I write almost exclusively in my home
office – though during the last couple of months of writing and organizing the biography you will find me
in the dining room with dozens of books and many, many, many files scattered all over the place and
around my computer.
What is your view of the emerging technology of AI on historical research and authorship? How will it
replace what historians do now? AI is intriguing. I think it actually could be a very helpful tool for writers,
but it has limitations. AI does not have access to archives, for instance. Historians need to do that work.
It cannot be nuanced like an historian can be. There are issues that do concern me – in classrooms I fear
that some students will use it rather than doing the writing themselves. Teachers will need to develop
ways to detect that kind of cheating.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a historian as a profession? What advice
for someone already in the business but just starting out? Being an historian is a gift – it allows one to
immerse themselves in another time and place, and helps one make connections to the present. I would
say that you must absolutely LOVE what you are studying and writing about. You can’t make your way
through it all if you do not remained inspired.
What is your next book project? Currently working on a new subject – a woman, of course – and I will
announce it when I have finished a book proposal and a publisher has optioned it for publication. Stay

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Kate Clifford Larson – Historian and Author (Part 1 of 2)

By Admin | May 7, 2024 at 1:14 pm

Dr. Kate Larson is an accomplished author and lecturer on a wide array of notable Americans. DailyInterview recently had the pleasure of several hours of conversation with her to discuss her career and what she is working on now. This interview is lightly edited for clarity and length.

Where did you go to school and what was your major?

I received my BA at Simmons College (now University) in Boston. I majored in Economics and History, both of which I loved. I went on to earn my MBA at Northeastern University, also in Boston.

Did you have an area of specialty in business after your MBA?

I worked for a small regional investment bank for a few years. My job was to research and determine the value of local and regional closely-held companies which were clients of my firm.

Did you enjoy investment banking?

The job was interesting and I really enjoyed it with one exception. When we had meetings with companies/clients, I was often asked to take notes. My boss was a great guy and he often jumped up and offered to take the notes, especially if I was the industry expert at the table.

Can you describe your thought process of leaving the business world and becoming a historian?

I had two small children at home when I decided to leave the business world and start a different career as a teacher. I went back to Simmons and enrolled in their Master of Liberal Studies program. It was fantastic. I took Women’s History and Women’s Studies courses, African American History and Culture courses, and more. It was heaven to me.

Your first book was the very successful work on Harriet Tubman. How did you choose her as your first subject?

While I was working on my master’s degree at Simmons, I discovered, this was the early 1990s, that there had not been a modern adult biography written about Harriet Tubman. The last was published in 1943. My professors were shocked like I was. She was famous, but her fame mostly rested on the scores and scores of children’s books that had been published throughout the 20 th century.

You did not think that was adequate representation?

They were filled with myths, misinformation, stereotypes, and they had little depth or critical analysis. I became passionate about trying to find historical documentation about her. My professors at Simmons agreed that digging into her life story and the research it entailed was too complicated for a master’s thesis and they encouraged me to move forward and get my doctorate in history.

Where did you study for your PhD?

I ended up at the University of New Hampshire and I was privileged to work with some outstanding historians who were eager to guide me through the research and writing. My dissertation on Harriet Tubman was published as Bound for the Promised Land in late 2003. All these years later I continue to be grateful for their mentorship, support, and incredible generosity.

You served as a consultant on the Harriet Tubman biopic that starred Cynthia Erivo. What did your duties consist of? Were you actually on set?

I was not on set. They had other consultants who did work on set who provided advice on clothing, language, sets, etc.

Did it make you want to write a film script?

Actually, I worked on the script with Kasi Lemmons. She had acquired the script from a writer who had written it in the early 1990s and he had little knowledge of Tubman’s real life history. So, we set out to correct the myths and misinformation. It made me want to learn how to write scripts better. It isn’t so easy.

How close was the film to the actual biographical details in Tubman’s life?

There are some inaccuracies in the film, though nothing really consequential in my view. Kasi did an incredible job teasing out and bringing to life Harriet Tubman, the brilliant, fierce and loving woman that she really was Cynthia Erivo was masterful in the role.

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Greg Hardison – Playwright and Director of Museum Theatre (Part 2 of 2)

By Admin | August 7, 2010 at 2:49 am

Greg Hardison is the Director of Museum Theatre at the Kentucky Historical Society. We visited with him recently in Frankfurt, Kentucky and continues with his interview

When did you decide to become a playwright and what influenced your decision? I began writing plays when I owned my own company.

Do you develop your own ideas for your plays or do your directors suggest topics?

I develop my own ideas for the most part, but they are influenced by institutional goals and initiatives, new exhibitions, teachers needs, current trends and audience interests.

I have total confidence from my directors and supervisors. There is never a lack of ideas really, but I get to shape and mold it. We use a lot of market research, scholarly guidance, and gut feelings to make our final decisions.

Who is your favorite playwright?

Shakespeare wins hands down as the best of all time. His works stand the test of time. Always new interpretations, but the text remains as important as ever. There are many others that I like too, but usually on a play-by-play basis.

Which current playwright today is the most overrated?

None. I realize that is a calculated response, but everyone is entitled to their own voice. Some are just more appreciated, understood, and popular than others.

But art isn’t about being popular, it’s about saying what you think and feel. Just ask the guy who cut his ear off, or the fact that most artists die poor, and don’t become famous until after they die.

Other than your own works, how often do you attend the theatre?

Sad to say, I don’t attend as much as I would like to. My job and my family keep me terribly busy. I try to see about five to six pieces a year, mostly local productions with friends, and the occasional traveling piece. There is some great local theatre, if you know where to look. I love Balagula Theatre in Lexington, and Woodford County Theatre Association.

Are you working on any plays that are not for the Historical Society?

I have no interest in writing beyond my job. I get to experiment with all of my ideas there, and don’t have the time to develop beyond that.

Do you have any desire to try a screenplay?

I have ideas, but no immediate desire to do so. Maybe some day. We have the potential of grant money to develop a video series around the Civil War, that is as close as I will come for a while.

I write and produce so much in conjunction with my job, that I really don’t have much of a need to express myself beyond that. I have other hobbies. Playwrighting and production is my job, when I get home I want to do other things.

What overall mission have you been given by your directors?

Well, I helped to define the mission of the Kentucky Historical Society, of the Education Department, and wrote the mission of the Museum Theatre program.

In short, our goal is to connect with the past, provide perspective on the present, and inspire thought for the future. There are tons of objectives, strategies and outcomes that branch out from there.

We are in the process of institutional strategic planning now for the next three years. It’s all interconnected from there.

What is one little known fact about Kentucky that you would like to have readers know?

It probably doesn’t mean “Dark and Bloody Ground,” it is the home to the cheeseburger, two guys name Cassius Clay (not related, and 100 years apart), Hopkinsville may have been visited by aliens, and may have had a great swiss silver mine.

Oh, and middle eastern explorers may have written grafitti on a rock in Clay Co. hundreds of years before Dr. Walker. Ain’t the study of history great? Well, if you believe all of that, then I’ll tell you about the blue people from Troublesome creek. True story!!! Really.

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Greg Hardison – Playwright and Director of Museum Theatre (Part 1 of 2)

By Admin | August 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

Greg Hardison is a playwright and the Director of Museum Theatre at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfurt, Kentucky. We visited with him recently.

Where are you from?

I was born in Alabama, lived from 6 months to 16 years in rural eastern North Carolina, and then moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for last two years of high school.

I guess I consider myself from North Carolina and Virginia, as they both hit me at particular developmental times.

Where did you go to school and what was your academic major?

I attended Old Dominion University, first as an engineering student, but hated math.

I changed to Elementary Education in my third year, but life offered opportunities that seemed more compelling and I left less than a year from completing my degree.

I will forever regret that decision, and have intentions of going back when time permits. Alas, isn’t that always so, we never seem to have time to do the things we know we should.

What has been your career path from college to your current position?

While in college, I paid for my own expenses by working for a family entertainment company. I learned to walk on stilts, juggle, perform magic, and I honed my performance and storytelling skills before a huge number of audience sizes and types.

Towards the end of my time at college, I was offered the opportunity to buy the business. It seemed like a good idea, and I did. I ran the business for about 5 years, learned alot about business, and that it wasn’t my favorite thing.

I sold the business and took a management position for a large indoor amusement park in northern Delaware. Worked there for several years, got married, and moved to Kentucky to be near my wife’s extended family, because we wanted kids.

The museum I now work for advertised in the paper the next week. I applied for a job as an actor/docent and got the job.

From there, I helped to define the concept of Museum Theatre for the Kentucky Historical Society and eventually even defined the goals and duties of my position here at KHS, as the Director of Museum Theatre.

When did you decide to become a playwright and what influenced your decision?

I began writing plays when I owned my own company. They were horrible, but it was the only way. I couldn’t afford to pay a playwright, and we needed material.

When I started here at KHS 10 years ago, the concept of Museum Theatre was still new. My director at the time didn’t really know what it was either, but he knew good theatre, and together we kept trying things, and we defined it for our institution.

I learned alot about what it took to both entertain and educate museum audiences. I am still learning how to develop and work within clear educational goals.

I still don’t think I am a great playwright, but I do understand Museum Theatre and how it is different from other types of plays. I think I am now producing programs that are defining new thought in the field.

We are challenging our audiences, actors, our institution and the field. Evaluations and audience feedback tell me that what we are doing is working, but I will never settle.

I will always work to better define what I do, and how I do it. I have found the career of a lifetime. I love what I do!

How many plays are you required to write a year for the Historical Society?

I am not required to write any number of plays really.

In the beginning we wrote about five a year, but we have learned alot, and what we do now is far more complex than what we used to do.

Now, we really try to develop pieces that work really hard to achieve our educational and institutional goals. We produce plays that require more research, and that seek to provide new insight on our topics.

It takes longer to produce the pieces now. I am in no rush these days. We have created over sixty pieces, and we just seek to add to our repetoire now. I pick these new pieces carefully to fill holes in our timeline, or missing themes, or upcoming inititives.

I now create about three plays a year, but I also develop video conference programs, assist with the creation of other education programs, and am working on a proposal for a new literary series, with actors doing dramatic readings of deceased Kentucky authors, and other proposals for summer art camps, evening programming, and day care programs.

We present several hundred school shows both in house and as outreach each year, and keep a steady schedule of weekly performances on our campus. I stay pretty busy.

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