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BOOK/AUTHOR TALKS: Authors Coming to Providence Public Library

Authors Coming to Providence Public Library, March – May

PROVIDENCE, RI — Providence Public Library welcomes the following visiting authors in conjunction with its ongoing HairBrained Exhibition & Program Series.  All programs are free and open and held at the Library, 150 Empire St., Providence, in the 3rd Floor Meeting Room. Visit for details and registration.

Monday, March 12   6—8 pm   

Historian Quincy Mills: Cutting Along the Color Line

Dr. Quincy Mills, Associate Professor of History and Director of Africana Studies at Vassar College, on his book Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (2013). Join us for a discussion of barbers and patrons; shaves and haircuts; identity formation and civic engagement; and hair, lots of hair. Black barber shops encompass these activities of labor, consumption, and racial politics. Barber shops are more than businesses in the service sector that tend to hair, they are also public spaces that illuminate the work of identity in daily life. Mills helps us explore the culture and commerce of black-owned barber shops during slavery and freedom in order to situate the larger politics of hair in both the public and private sphere.  


Monday, April 16  6—8 pm

Book Talk with Art Historian Author Suzanne Scanlon

Suzanne Scanlan, RISD lecturer in the History of Art + Visual Culture, on her new book Divine and Demonic Imagery: Religious Women and Art in 15th Century Rome. In the 15th Century, when a community of nuns dedicated to Saint Frances of Rome left their shared convent, they were mandated to cover their heads, “in such a way that nothing is visible beyond the forehead.” Properly dressed, the nuns worked in local hospitals and navigated the often dangerous streets of the city in pairs (never alone) to ensure their safety and to protect their good reputations. The virtues and vices of life in Renaissance Rome were graphically documented in two remarkable series of paintings commissioned by the nuns — most notably for their dining hall where terrifying scenes of muscular nude demons attacking Saint Frances covered an entire wall.  In this talk, we examine depictions of hair and head coverings in the convent paintings, at a time when a veil represented the line between the salvation of a woman’s soul or eternal damnation in Hell.  

Books available for sale and signing. 

Wednesday, May 2  6—8 pm

Artist Laura Anderson Barbata on “The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home”

Julia Pastrana (1834–1860), an indigenous woman born in Sinaloa, Mexico, was a gifted singer, musician, and dancer who could converse in English, Spanish, and French. From birth, Pastrana’s face and body were covered with thick hair, and her jaw was disproportionately large, all due to hypertrichosis terminalis. Throughout much of her life her American manager and husband Theodore Lent supervised Pastrana’s tours through North America and Europe, billing her as “the ugliest woman in the world.” Nonetheless, audiences found her affable and intelligent (though she met with very contradictory reactions).

After her death, her embalmed body continued to be exhibited for more than a century, until it disappeared from public view into the Schreiner Collection in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Oslo. In 2003 visual artist Laura Anderson Barbata learned of Julia Pastrana’s extraordinary history and set out to repatriate and bury her remains, a quest she accomplished in 2017. Pastrana’s story highlights deeply relevant human issues related to science and racism, the nature of attraction and exploitation, indigenous rights, memory, and cultural sensitivity. Barbata’s book, The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home brings together contributors from a wide variety of fields to explore these and other issues, providing the fullest account available of Pastrana’s remarkable life. 

Join us to hear the story of Pastrana and of Barbata’s quest to repatriate her.                                                                             

Books available for sale and signing.