American Inspiration, a best-selling author series by American Ancestors

Photos, left to right: Gail Collins talks to sold-out audience; the American Ancestors Research Center at 99 Newbury Street; the historic rotunda at start of an event.

American Stories, Inspiration Today

Spring and Summer 2020: To serve and inspire the Boston community – and curious readers everywhere – in this unprecedented at-home time, American Ancestors and the Boston Public Library have partnered to present virtual events featuring today’s celebrated authors and their new books. The series, called American Stories, Inspiration Today, is produced in partnership with the WGBH Forum and presents authors free to you online.

American Stories, Inspiration Today builds on the momentum of American Inspiration, our in-person author series launched in Fall 2019. See below our past presenters and their books exploring themes of personal identity, families and immigration, and social and cultural history.

Sign up for American Inspiration e-news to stay in the know about both virtual and in-person events taking place in our historic rotunda at 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

Upcoming Virtual Events:

Looking for enlightening activities?

Tune into our new series of virtual events. Enjoy our video archive of past author presentations, thanks to our partners at 89.7 WGBH. Engage in American Ancestors’ educational programs online. Chat with one of our genealogists about your family history research project. Our mission remains to educate, inspire, and connect.


American Stories, Inspiration Today

Authors presented by the Boston Public Library, American Ancestors, and the WGBH Forum

Gretchen Sorin with Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights

Tuesday, August 11, at 6pm

Guest Moderator: Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture

Soon the basis of a major PBS documentary by Ric Burns

Also in partnership with Museum of African American History

Hear from acclaimed historian Gretchen Sorin how the automobile fundamentally changed African American life. Through much of our country’s history, mobility has been limited for African Americans: first, by slavery and racism towards freed black people; then, little changed with Emancipation and Reconstruction. For most of the 20th century, many white Americans felt comfortable denying their black countrymen the right to travel freely on trains and buses. Driving While Black reveals how the car—the ultimate symbol of independence and possibility—allowed black families to evade the many dangers presented by an entrenched racist society. Automobiles spawned a parallel, unseen world of black motorists kept safe by black-only businesses, informal networks, and travel guides including the 1936 Green Book. Interweaving stories of Sorin’s own family history, Driving While Black opens up an entirely new view onto one of the most important issues of our time.

Gretchen Sorin is a distinguished professor and director of the Cooperstown Graduate Program of the State University of New York. She has curated innumerable exhibits—including with the Smithsonian, the Jewish Museum and the New York State Historical Association.

Susan Eisenhower with How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower's Biggest Decision

Thursday, August 20, at 6pm

Also in The Arc of History: Contested Perspectives series (Boston Public Library)

Join us to hear from Susan Eisenhower about her new book profiling her history-making grandfather, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. From D-Day to Little Rock, from the Korean War to Cold War crises, from the Red Scare to the Missile Gap controversies, few people have made decisions as momentous and varied as Eisenhower. How Ike Led sheds light on his principles and decision making, demonstrates how he led America through a transformational time, and shows what we can learn from today. Don’t miss learning more about Eisenhower and this illuminating work, heralded by Henry A. Kissinger, “A well-written reflection on one of the most significant American presidents. The compelling substance of How Ike Led is enhanced by the author’s sensitive style. It brings one of America’s most remarkable public figures into lasting focus.”

Susan Eisenhower, one of Ike's four grandchildren, is a consultant, author, and a Washington, DC-based policy strategist with many decades of work on national security issues. She lectures widely on such topics, including strategic leadership. She serves as a regular commentator on television and has provided analysis for CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Fox News, PBS, the BBC and all three network morning programs.

E. Dolores Johnson with Say I’m Dead : A Family Memory of Race, Secrets and Love

Tuesday, August 25, at 6pm

Also in partnership with State Library of Massachusetts and Museum of African American History

Dolores Johnson grew up in Buffalo, NY, the daughter of a white mother and an African-American father. After earning degrees from Howard University and Harvard Business School and starting a career in business, she began a search to understand her family’s history – and found the white half of the story missing. Say I’m Dead unwinds the secrets and explores the separation and transformations they experienced living as mixed race in America. Johnson identifies her family history in the larger American racial story, bringing readers to the present day. Now her African-American daughter can do what her white grandmother couldn’t: marry across the color line without fear. Don’t miss hearing about this remarkable book and family history.

E. Dolores Johnson has published essays on mixed race, racism and identity. Her work has appeared in, among other publications, Narratively, Buffalo News Writers of Color Anthology, and Hippocampus.

Pam Fessler with Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma, and the Fight for Justice

Thursday, September 10, at 6pm

Also in partnership with State Library of Massachusetts

Hear from this acclaimed broadcast journalist about the largely forgotten history of leprosy in the United States– its impact on patients and their families, doctors, and, particularly, the swampy bayou town of Carville, Louisiana, where a “leprosarium” was established in 1894. Carville evolved into a nexus for research and “treatment” that came at a huge personal cost to liberty as patients were stripped of their names, their rights, and their dignity. Understood today to be one of the least infectious diseases in the world, leprosy, now called Hansen’s disease, instilled a coronavirus-level of fear and an outsized reaction from public health authorities well into the 20th century. CARVILLE’S CURE chronicles in riveting detail how America treated, contained, and demonized its sufferers before wiser heads prevailed.

Pam Fessler is an award-winning correspondent with NPR News, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.

E.J. Dionne with Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country

Thursday, September 24, at 6pm

Also in The Arc of History: Contested Perspectives series (Boston Public Library)

Looking at recent U.S. history, its Presidents and politics, The New York Times bestselling author and Washington Post columnist provides insight into where we are today and where we could be headed in this election year. E.J. Dionne offers a blueprint for how progressives and moderates can come together to build a lasting political majority. He explores innovative ideas about the economy, identity politics, nationalism, and foreign policy to present a genuinely fresh take on America’s current political crisis. Don’t miss hearing from this celebrated thought-leader at this important time.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a columnist for The Washington Post, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, university professor at Georgetown University, and visiting professor at Harvard University.

Past Virtual Events

American Stories, Inspiration Today

Authors presented by the Boston Public Library, American Ancestors, and the WGBH Forum

TaraShea Nesbit

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Beheld: A Novel

Phuc Tran

Tuesday, April 28, at 6pm

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In

Stephen Puleo

Thursday, May 14, at 6pm

Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission

Moderator: Jean Maguire, Library Director, American Ancestors and NEHGS

Libby Copeland

Wednesday, May 20, at 6pm

The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are

Moderator: Amy Dockser Marcus, staff reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Honor Moore

Monday, June 8, at 6pm

Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Mid-Century

Moderator: Author Claire Messud

Also presented in partnership with State Library of Massachusetts

Rick Beyer

Wednesday, June 24

Rivals Unto Death: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr

Larry Tye

Thursday, July 23, at 6pm

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

In conversation with Boston Public Library President David Leonard and Margaret M. Talcott, Producer of the American Inspiration series

Past Events


March 6, 2020

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

Presented with the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center, Rachel King, Executive Director, in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive, Judith A. Rosenbaum, Executive Director. WGBH Forum coverage of the 50-min interview, with funding provided by the Lowell Institute.


December 10, 2019

Janis: Her Life and Music

Held at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library. Holly George-Warren was in dialogue with WGBH News Reporter Henry Santoro. Guest performers: Americana Singer-Songwriter Susan Cattanneo with Jamie Walker.


November 21, 2019

The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968

In addition to his rotunda presentation, the author was interviewed by WGBH News Reporter Esteban Bustillos at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library.


February 11, 2020

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

Guest Moderator: Leah Wright Rigueur of Harvard Kennedy School. WGBH Forum coverage coming soon, with funding provided by The Lowell Institute.

Additionally, that afternoon, Professor Chatelain discussed Franchise at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library with WGBH News Reporter Callie Crossley.


January 30, 2020

Honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at our Winter Dinner at the Lenox Hotel

In conversation with American Inspiration series Curator Margaret M. Talcott. WGBH Forum coverage of the 48-min interview, with funding provided by the Lowell Institute.

Additionally, that afternoon the celebrated NPR broadcaster discussed his new young adult book Sunnyside Plaza at the WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library with WGBH News Reporter Craig LeMoult.


October 18, 2019

No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History

In conversation with American Inspiration series Curator Margaret M. Talcott. WGBH Forum coverage of the 46-min interview, with funding provided by the Lowell Institute.

Additionally, at midday, Gail Collins appeared on the show “Boston Public Radio” with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan at WGBH Studio at the Boston Public Library.


February 26, 2020

The Season: A Social History of the Debutante


January 14, 2020

Bound For Gold: A Novel of the California Gold Rush


November 12, 2019

Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign that Broke the Confederacy

Guest Moderator: Cathal J. Nolan of Boston University


September 26, 2019

Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination


September 17, 2019

Condé Nast: The Man and His Empire

Photos, left to right: Holly George-Warren signs copies of Janis book at WGBH Studio the Newsfeed Café at the Boston Public Library; Audience at Gail Collins event in historic rotunda; Ms. George-Warren beside Fall 2019 author poster on Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

In-Person Events — Postponed

If you have reserved seats, we hope you’ll let us to move them to new dates to be announced in the weeks ahead. If the rescheduled dates are in conflict with your schedule, or if you decide not to attend, we will happily refund you at that time or, if you wish, receive your ticket as a charitable donation in support of the series. Any questions, reach out to us at or 617-226-1215 (Signature Events).

Jonathan Reckford with Our Better Angels: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World

POSTPONED - rescheduled dates and/or information will be shared in April.

The CEO of Habitat for Humanity will share stories and insights from his inspiring and insightful new book, Our Better Angels, which celebrates the shared principles that unite us. Picking up President Jimmy Carter where leaves off in the book’s foreword—“When the waters rise, so do our better angels”—Jonathan Reckford draws from his experience working with people from all walks of life to show how seven timeless virtues—kindness, community, empowerment, joy, respect, generosity, and service—can improve the quality of our lives, our families, and communities around the world.

Jonathan Reckford has led Habitat for Humanity International since 2005; under his leadership, the global housing organization has grown from serving 125,000 individuals a year to more than 8.7 million people in 2018 alone. Reckford’s March talk will be held at Trinity Church, in nearby Copley Square, and featured as part of their annual Price Lectures series.

Questions? Please email
or call 617-226-1215 or 888-296-3447.

Series Partners: 89.7 WGBH Boston and Porter Square Books