Katy Dara is currently an intern at the NYS Writers Institute. She is a UAlbany junior studying Communications and Journalism with a minor in theatre. She is also pursuing a Master's degree in interpersonal communication through a combined B.A./M.A. program. Katy is involved on-campus as a member of the Marching Great Danes marching band, a reporter for the Albany Student Press, and an on-air DJ for WCDB, the campus radio station. She is from Long Island, NY.
An experience like no other
By Katy Dara
When one thinks of a book festival, what comes to their mind is probably something like the Scholastic Book Fairs we had growing up; the most exciting day of elementary school, when a pop-up bookstore would appear for a day. We could buy any books we wanted, or at least that our lunch money allowed us to.
That’s what I pictured going into the Albany Book Festival. What met me instead was an event celebrating the written word like no other.
The second annual Albany Book Festival, held at the University at Albany on Saturday, Sept.14, 2019, featured countless books and nearly 100 authors, with a variety of speaking engagements for every kind of audience. I had the privilege of attending numerous panels and presentations given by authors throughout the day.
One panel that struck me was comprised of Young Adult genre authors. The three featured authors were L.M. Elliott, Stephanie Jimenez, and Hollis Seamon. They came from a variety of backgrounds, but they were united by the fact that they publish their works under the same genre. I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Laura (pen name L.M.) Elliott afterwards.
“It’s been great fun. That panel (YA) was particularly interesting because we all kind of come from different perspectives. There’s this new talented writer [Jimenez] who’s got her first novel out, which is so exciting for her. And Hollis of course has experience as an educator as well an an author. So it’s always great for me because I learn from other authors and kind of get re-energized about the craft and the delight of writing. It’s great for me.”
It is no surprise why I was drawn to Elliott. Like most people my age, I got caught in the Hamilton musical craze circa 2016. When I heard Elliott had published a YA historical fiction novel titled Hamilton and Peggy, how could I not want to learn more?
When asked about her novel, Elliott lit up. She dove passionately into the story of Peggy Schuyler, the history she dug up while writing the novel, and the erasure of a remarkable woman in the making of a Broadway musical.
L.M. Elliott. Photo by Mary Noble Ours
“She was just fascinating. There was just one thing after another that I discovered about her. Only tiny bits and pieces, but what a great character! She was easy to build once I started researching all of this.”
The subject matter resonates with several audiences. Young people like to read the story as part of their passion for Hamilton, which simultaneously teaches them more about American history. Additionally, the entire Schuyler family has close ties to Albany.
“Peggy’s father was George Washington’s right-hand man for spy-mastering, and Peggy stayed here in Albany. Eliza and Angelica were gone, but Peggy witnessed all of the most momentous events of the war that happened here, like the Battle of Saratoga.”
Elliott gave tidbits of information she found along her writing journey, mostly from letters between Peggy Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton, and their close associates. The musical that took Broadway by storm paints Peggy as a minor character, with less than 10 minutes of stage time and only 36 words in the script. History paints a very different picture of a brave, fiery woman ahead of her time.
“One of Hamilton’s best friends, James McHenry (of Fort McHenry), wrote him a letter criticizing Peggy as being a ‘Swift’s Vanessa,’ referring to a Jonathan Swift poem. It’s 18th century code for a woman being too smart, too articulate, and too keen on talking politics with men to be likable. McHenry said to Hamilton, ‘I’m sure she’ll put herself in her right place, tell her so.’ I don’t think Peggy ever did. I don’t think Hamilton ever told her.”
We sat talking for nearly 20 minutes, but it felt like 30 seconds. To see an author in-person, and one who is so passionate about their work, is an experience like no other. We are all united by stories, and the Albany Book Festival celebrated these stories in a unique way unmatched by anything else I have experienced.