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.

Virtual Events featuring American and Family History

To serve and inspire the Boston community – and curious readers everywhere – in this unprecedented at-home time, the American Inspiration series has shifted to a virtual format. Furthering our mission to engage, inspire and connect, we present today’s celebrated authors and their new books free to you online. We often work in partnership Boston Public Library, GBH Forum, the State Library of Massachusetts, and other cultural organizations around the city.

Our newest series, American Stories, Inspiration Today, is co-produced with the BPL. Launched in April 2020, it built on the momentum of our in-person programs. See below for our past authors and their books across all series, virtual and in our historic rotunda at 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston’s Back Bay. Join us online anytime, or in person in 2021, to explore the themes of personal identity, families and immigration, and social and cultural history.

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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.


David Hill with The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice

Thursday, October 1, at 6pm

Moderator: Scott C. Steward, Editor in Chief, NEHGS

This “fascinating portrait of Hot Springs in its heyday covers 1931 through 1968.” – Wall Street Journal

Drawing on FBI transcripts, newspaper clippings, court documents, and interviews with family members, David Hill brings to life the once high-rolling and glamorous resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the mid-20th century; a city of sinful luxuries frequented by Duke Ellington, Mae West, Babe Ruth, and Al Capone, and where President Bill Clinton spent his formative years. This rich, character-driven work of true crime and Southern history reads like a novel, offering surprising historical details and insights. Presenting the story of Hill’s own grandmother, The Vapors is also a poignant work of family history.

David Hill is a writer from Hot Springs, Arkansas. His work has appeared regularly in Grantland and The Ringer, and has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, GQ, and New York magazine, as well as on This American Life.

David Michaelis with Eleanor

Thursday, October 8, at 6pm

Presented in partnership with the State Library of Massachusetts and Porter Square Books

A breakthrough portrait of America’s longest-serving First Lady, rich with family history.

This cradle-to-grave biography – the first single-volume portrait in six decades - rediscovers Eleanor Roosevelt’s life of transformation, from her Gilded Age childhood as the orphaned niece of President Theodore Roosevelt; to an irreconcilable marriage with her ambitious fifth cousin Franklin, with whom she became a New York “power couple”; to her life-culminating role as world-circling activist, diplomat, and chief architect of international human rights. Drawing on new research, Michaelis’s riveting portrait is rich with insight into Eleanor’s emotional life and relationships, her struggles with motherhood, and role as her husband’s surrogate in which she transformed the career-ending storm of polio into the sunrise of the U.S. president who brought the nation out of the Depression and on to victory in World War II. Don’t miss learning more about this major American figure, a role model for heartfelt and effective political engagement.

David Michaelis is the bestselling author of Schulz and Peanuts and N.C. Wyeth, which won the Ambassador Book Award for Biography.

Claire Messud with Kant's Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: An Autobiography in Essays

Thursday, October 20, at 6pm

Moderator: Dani Shapiro, novelist, memoirist, and creator and host of Family Secrets podcast
Presented in partnership with the Boston Public Library and GBH Forum Network

A glimpse into a beloved novelist’s inner world, shaped by family, art, and literature.

In her fiction, Claire Messud "has specialized in creating unusual female characters with ferocious, imaginative inner lives" (New York Times Magazine). Now, in twenty-six intimate, brilliant, and funny essays, she reflects on her own life and family: a childhood move from her Connecticut home to Australia; the complex relationship between her modern Canadian mother and a fiercely single French Catholic aunt; and a trip to Beirut, where her pied-noir father had once lived, while he was dying. She also meditates on contemporary classic works of literature and explores her own drive to write.

Claire Messud is the author of six works of fiction including the New York Times bestsellers The Emperor’s Children and The Burning Girl, which was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Tamara Payne with The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X

Thursday, November 5, at 6pm

Moderator: L’Merchie Frazier, Director of Education and Interpretation, Museum of African American History
Presented in partnership with the Boston Public Library and GBH Forum Network

This epic biography is the product of 30 years of research by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Les Payne

This comprehensive and historic biography paints an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, setting him against the larger backdrop of American history. Drawn from hundreds of hours of the interviews including with all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world, The Dead Are Arising traces his life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965. It provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher; and his mother, Louise, who instilled black pride in her children. Don’t miss hearing from Tamara Payne, the author’s daughter – who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography – about this penetrating and riveting work, which has been longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award, featured on numerous “best of” lists, and heralded by O, the Oprah Magazine.

Les Payne was a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist and a former editor at Newsday. A founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, he also wrote an award-winning syndicated column. Tamara Payne served as Les Payne’s principal researcher.

Nathaniel Philbrick, Baxter Lecture on Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War

Thursday, November 12, at 6 pm

Moderator: Ryan. J. Woods, COO and EVP of American Ancestors and NEHGS
Presented by the Boston Public Library in partnership with American Ancestors NEHGS, the State Library of Massachusetts, and GBH Forum Network

In commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower landing

The award-winning New England author will speak with Ryan J. Woods about his celebrated work Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War as part of the Boston Public Library’s Baxter Lecture series “promoting commemorative and public understanding of the history of the settlement of and immigration to New England.”

Past Virtual Events

TaraShea Nesbit

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Beheld: A Novel

Phuc Tran

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

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

Stephen Puleo

Thursday, May 14, 2020

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, 2020

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, 2020

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, 2020

Rivals Unto Death: Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr

Larry Tye

Thursday, July 23, 2020

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

Gretchen Sorin

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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

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

Also presented in partnership with Museum of African American History

Susan Eisenhower

Thursday, August 20, 2020

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

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

E. Dolores Johnson

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Say I’m Dead : A Family Memory of Race, Secrets and Love

Moderator: L’Merchie Frazier, Director of Education and Interpretation, Museum of African American History (Boston and Nantucket)

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

Pam Fessler

Thursday, September 10, 2020

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

Moderator: Dr. Laura Kolbe

Presented in partnership with the Boston Public Library, State Library of Massachusetts, and GBH Forum Network

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 krom 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