MONTPELIER — The legend of a love affair between a young Abraham Lincoln and a tavern owner’s daughter will be the subject of a unique author reading event at Vermont College of Fine Arts on Sunday.
To be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Gary Library, the event focuses on “Abe and Ann,” a newly published novel by well-known playwright, poet and teacher Gary Moore, who has a home in Vermont.
The event will include a ballad written by Moore, set to music by Brooklyn bluegrass band Cricket Tell the Weather and performed by local musician Fred Wilbur. Published by Komatik Press in May, “Abe and Ann” is Moore’s first novel. Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre will be on hand with copies of the book for Moore to sign after his performance.
Moore’s account of the controversial love story between Lincoln and Ann Rutledge is based on historical accounts and blends fact and fiction to bring to life the awkward young rail splitter just off his father’s farm and the feisty and literate tavern owner’s daughter who enthralled him.
Biographers have traced Lincoln’s years in the frontier village of New Salem, Illinois, where he wooed the auburn-haired daughter of the man who founded the little town of 100 residents. Recreating the joys and woes of the village love story was Moore’s mission, and readers of his story said it is compelling, heartbreaking and insightful.
In her review of the book, New York Times bestselling author Robin Oliveira said: “I love this book about the young, poverty-stricken, backwoods Abraham Lincoln courting his first love Ann Rutledge…. To me, ‘Abe and Ann’ is quintessential historical fiction because it beautifully and eloquently upends our revered assumptions about a beloved historical figure.”
Moore noted that Lincoln “wasn’t always a bearded wise man saving democracy” and showed signs of his inexperience when the affair is said to have occurred.
“My Lincoln is young, timid, homely and hopelessly in love,” Moore said. “We keep hearing that Lincoln was a common man. Well, I wanted to show him that way, at a time when he was young and vulnerable and had — as common people do — a profound love that changed his life.”
In the spell of their feelings, Moore said, the lovers questioned the limits in their lives and boldly dream of a better future. But, sadly for Lincoln, it is not to be, for Ann is engaged to another man.
Is the story true?
“I wanted to know that too,” Moore said. “Historians have gone back and forth about it, but the current judgment is that, yes, we have evidence that they loved one another.
“I lay out some of that evidence in essays posted to my blog and available on my website (www.garymoore.news) as ‘The Elusive Ann Rutledge.’ But history can’t tell us about the insides of the relationship any more than it can tell us about the insides of Abe and Ann. That takes a storyteller.
“If it sounds risky, it is,” Moore added. “Especially when we have little information about the magnetic and elusive Ann Rutledge who enchanted and inspired the young Lincoln. But it was exciting getting to know Ann as she came to life before me, and in some ways she is the book’s true hero. I hope my readers will fall in love with her as Abe Lincoln and I did.”
Moore’s previous work as a playwright and poet has made creative use of Abraham Lincoln for more than 30 years. His bilingual musical in Shanghai, “The Great Emancipator Meets The Monkey King,” introduced rap music to the People’s Republic of China six months before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. His play based on that experience, “Burning in China,” sold out at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival after being featured in the New York Times and recommended by The New Yorker magazine.
In addition to lecturing and presenting Lincoln-themed performance pieces and other plays on three continents, Moore has published two poetry chapbooks, “The Little Dog Laughed” and “He Cures by Alliteration,” and had poems featured in Hunger Mountain, Green Mountains Review, Numero Cinq, Circus Maximus and other periodicals. Moore studied poetry with Elliott Coleman at Johns Hopkins University and Allen Tate at the University of North Carolina. “Heavenly Bodies,” his collection of poems about humanity’s romance with the stars, will be released by NFB Publications in the fall.
To learn more about Moore, visit www.garymoore.news