The Person Behind: The Adirondacks Series

Spanning over 6 million acres and harboring a history that reaches back two billion years, the Adirondack Mountains are nothing if not impressive. Once seen as tough and unwelcoming wilderness, this mountainous region eventually gained favor not just as a vacation spot for those in the cities below, but also as a home for people from all over America and the world. Logging and mining were two of the fastest growing industries that encouraged families to up sticks and travel into the unknown. Alice Green, activist, writer, and one of APL’s Literary Legends of the year, was in one such family, and she is the inspiration behind The Adirondacks Series.

The Adirondacks Series 

The Adirondacks Series includes three talks held at the Washington Ave Branch, each exploring a different aspect of life in the region. The idea for the program stems from Alice Green, who spent her formative years there. The first talk (Growing Up Black in the Adirondacks) took place on Sept 12th, and explored Alice Green’s experiences as a young, black woman in an ethnically diverse but predominantly white mining community. The second – held on on Sept 20th – addressed Mining in the Adirondacks and its impact on people and environment. Photographer Carl Heilman closes the series with Adirondacks: Season by Season on Nov 7th.

The Adirondacks Series is made possible with support from ADK (the Adirondack Mountain Club) and the Albany Public Library Foundation.

The Person Behind the Program 

Just like other programs funded by the APL Foundation, the.Adirondack Series was conceived and is presented by a member of the amazing staff at the Albany Public Library.  That person is Meg Maurer, a Reference Services Librarian at the Washington Ave Branch. She was kind enough to tell us more about The Adirondacks Series (and to be the first interview in our new The Person Behind the Program blog series!)

This series is all about the Adirondacks region, are you yourself local to the area?

No, I actually grew up in Southern NY state and haven’t even spent that much time in the Adirondacks! The series is kind of an exploration for me as well.

What do you think makes the Adirondacks special?

It’s a vast, beautiful, protected area full of history. There are just so many stories. It was a resort area a long time ago, and I find it amazing the distance and difficulties people would go through just so they could vacation there.

How long have you been a librarian?

For a long time now, almost 40 years! I’ve been really lucky in my work and I’ve gotten to do a lot of what I wanted, with this job in particular. Previous to this I worked in New Hampshire, but I’ve been here for most of my librarianship.

What inspired you to come up with this program?

Well I’d heard of Alice before because of her prominent social activism and community service. When it came to choosing our Literary Legends for the year, I put forward Alice and Frankie Bailey (co-author of ‘Wicked Albany: Lawlessness and Liquor in the Prohibition Era’ ) and they did a session for the library shortly after. It was during this time I found out she had grown up in the Adirondacks and had written about her experiences. I thought it would make a really interesting program; I’m fascinated by history, especially the personal aspects of it.

Alice Green speaking at the Albany Common Council Meeting

What do you think made Alice her a great candidate to lead the program?

She’s locally well-known and respected, and because of that people are interested in her. As she said herself, very few people know she grew up in the Adirondacks region. She’s also an excellent speakers and storyteller; I really feel fortunate to have heard her stories in person (the library also has copies of Alice’s essays available). Plus of course she’s one of our Literary Legends for this year, so it tied in nicely with that.

When she gave her talk, what moments held the most impact for you personally?

There were a lot of moments but I guess overall just how poorly she was treated. One story which really stuck with me was when Alice and her Caucasian friend went to work at an inn as teenagers. They figured they would be rooming together, but the owner of the inn let her friend stay in the house whilst Alice had to stay in the barn. She also wasn’t allowed to appear on the front porch in view of the guests. She confronted the owner and claimed discrimination (she was only 14 at the time) and was fired. I guess that was the start of her not standing for that type of behavior. Another part I found particularly poignant was when she was feeling low, she’d pick blackberries. Ironically she hated the taste, but she did it because she liked the peace and beauty of her surroundings. She did impress upon people was that it wasn’t all bad; she had a very close knit family who looked after each other. The fact that there was so few black families in the area made them closer due to them all facing similar struggles.

Alice has overcome a lot in her life; were there any moments in the talk that surprised you?

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but the prejudice and alienation she faced constantly. It’s just different hearing an individual’s personal experiences. One story I found very shocking was when she described how people used to rub her skin then wipe their hands afterwards.

If you could sum up Alice’s talk in a few words, what would they be?

An illuminating, personal, perspective.

What is the next talk in the series about and how does it relate to Alice?

It’s called Mining in the Adirondacks and is hosted by Laura Rice –  the chief curator of the ‘Adirondack Experience‘. She won’t just be talking about the industry and the environmental impact, but also about how people came from all over the world and the influence that had on the culture of the region.

Alice’s family were involved in the mining industry – it was the reason she came to the area. She mentioned in her talk how mining families were always walking on eggshells due to the dangerous nature of the job. Anytime someone got injured there was a whistle blown, and everyone would be terrified. It sounds unimaginable.

      Carl Heilman – Fall Landscape

The third and final talk in the series is a little different as it’s focused on photography. Why did you choose this to bookend the series?

I didn’t think of photography, I actually just thought of Carl Heilman! He’s well-known for his work in the region, so I thought it would be a great idea to speak with him. We have a few of his books in the library in case anyone wants to see more of his work. The talk he’s giving (The Adirondacks, Season by Season) is based on a book he released in which he captured the same spots in different seasons. He’s spent a great deal of time photographing the Adirondacks, so he immediately came to mind.

After such a successful project, do you have any ideas for future programs?

I’m doing a few different things; I do a lot of social service-type programs which I really enjoy. Coming up we have ‘Marketing your Work for Artists and Musicians’,Build your Personal and Professional Brand’, two on the topic of Linkedin (Basics and a Hands-On-Clinic),and a vision board workshop.  I’m really grateful to the library for constantly giving me the freedom and support to create all different types of programs.

Finally, what would you like people to gain from the Adirondacks series?

I’d just like for them to be entertained and educated – they can take away anything and everything they want from it.