West Tisbury Library Speakeasy Series presents Tony Horwitz

Author Tony Horwitz — Photo courtesy of Tony Horwitz

Best-selling author Tony Horwitz of West Tisbury will discuss his new book, “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War,” on Tuesday, November 29, at State Road Restaurant.

Starting at 5:30 pm, the event is a fundraiser for the expansion of the West Tisbury Library. The price per ticket is $125 per person. Space is limited and early booking is advised.

The evening will include a short talk by the author, followed by a chance to meet him and discuss his book further. Hors d’oeuvres will be passed and other refreshments will be available. Mr. Horwitz is second presenter in the library’s Speakeasy Series. Late last month, the series was inaugurated by his wife, Geraldine Brooks, who discussed her latest book, “Caleb’s Crossing,” a novel based on Gay Head (Aquinnah) Native-American Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk’s life here and at Harvard College where he became the first Native-American graduate in 1665.

The library was recently awarded a state grant of nearly $3 million for the expansion project. The West Tisbury Library Foundation seeks to raise another $1.5 million, which, with a similar amount from the town, will match the grant to fully underwrite the expansion work. For the past several years, the library has been judged a top ten library of its size in the nation by a Library Journal rating index.

“We are West Tisbury residents,” Mr. Horwitz said last Sunday, rejoicing at home after attending The Game, a harrowing 10-7 Vineyard win over Nantucket. Mr. Horwitz made the pilgrimage to Nantucket on Saturday with sons Nathaniel, 15, a Vineyarder stalwart, and Bizu, age 8. “We love our library and I’m happy to do what I can to help the [expansion] effort.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Horwitz will speak about his latest work, which chronicles the life and very trying times of John Brown, an abolitionist zealot who led a disastrous raid in 1859 on a U.S. arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The raid was seen by Mr. Brown as a way to arm the army of slaves he was convinced would rise up against their slave masters. (see In Print 10/25, MVTimes). While the raid has largely been an historical footnote to The Civil War, it has also been regarded as a proximate cause of this country’s deadliest conflict.

In researching a prior book, “Confederates in the Attic,” Mr. Horwitz became interested in the Harper’s Ferry raid. “I was familiar with John Brown and his raid,” he said. “Beyond that, it was pretty much a blank. I began poking around and saw how rich it was.

“I don’t particularly look for heroes and anti-heroes. I think, as Americans, we tend to do that too much. We love our myths, the black hats and the white hats. I’m interested in why we cling to myths. Though having said that, it’s impossible to write about the past and not hear echoes of the past in the present.”

Mr. Horwitz notes that literary history books have gained in popularity in recent years. “I think you could say it’s a good era for literary history. I think people crave good stories about the past and [the popularity] also reflects on what’s happened in scholarly circles — moving away from characters, what’s termed ‘great man’ history and toward micro-histories of movements.”

Mr. Horwitz said that the publishing shift to micro-history work in academia aligns with current scholarly publishing trends. “The (academics’) move away is corrective. Academics need tenure and so they tend to write for each other and that has created an opening for writers like me,” he said. “I don’t demean that work: their research is important. I did my own research, but like other authors, I also combed the scholarly footnotes. But I’m trying to do something different, to tell a story.”

Mr. Horwitz spent three years researching and breathing real life into the John Brown story. The tale has led its author on a promotional tour from Manhattan to Menlo Park. He’s not done yet. Mr. Horwitz will speak at four other Island venues over the next three weeks. His schedule:

Saturday, Dec. 10, 12 noon at Edgartown Books.

Sunday, Dec. 11, at 4 pm at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven. This event was originally scheduled for Dec. 17 at the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven. Admission is $10.

Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 5:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in conjunction with its year-long Civil War sesquicentennial exhibit. Admission is $8 for members and $12 for non-members. Books will be available for purchase and signing;

Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 4 pm at the Vineyard Haven library.