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 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.

POSTPONED: Because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, we’ll be selecting new in-person event dates for Jonathan Reckford (Our Better Angels).

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

TaraShea Nesbit with Beheld: A Novel

Thursday, April 16, at 6pm

From the bestselling author of The Wives of Los Alamos comes the riveting story of a stranger's arrival in the fledgling colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and a crime that shakes the divided community to its core. Ten years after the Mayflower pilgrims arrived on rocky, unfamiliar soil, Plymouth is not the land its residents had imagined, and it is not prepared for the arrival of an unfamiliar ship, bearing new colonists. With gripping, immersive details and exquisite prose, TaraShea Nesbit reframes the story of the pilgrims in the previously unheard voices of two women of very different status and means. Suspenseful and beautifully wrought, Beheld is about a murder and a trial, and the motivations-personal and political-that cause people to act in unsavory ways. It is also an intimate portrait of love, motherhood, and friendship that asks: Whose stories get told over time, who gets believed-and subsequently, who gets punished? Don’t miss hearing about this celebrated work which “captures a paradox of historical writing - that it's in the invention and improvisation” (New York Times); and one of the “Most Anticipated Books of 2020” (Vogue, Medium, and LitHub).

TaraShea Nesbit is an award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, and an assistant professor at Miami University in Ohio. Beheld is her second novel.

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

Tuesday, April 28, at 6pm

In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents. Sigh, Gone explores one man’s bewildering experiences of abuse, racism, and tragedy. Against the hairspray-and-synthesizer backdrop of the ‘80s, he finds solace and kinship in the wisdom of classic literature; and in the subculture of punk rock, he finds affirmation and echoes of his disaffection. In his journey for self-discovery, Tran ultimately finds refuge and inspiration in the art that shapes—and ultimately saves—him.

Phuc Tran has been a high school Latin teacher for more than twenty years while also simultaneously establishing himself as a highly sought-after tattooer in the Northeast. A graduate of Bard College, he has taught Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and German in New York City and Portland, Maine. His 2012 TEDx talk “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive” was featured on NPR’s Ted Radio Hour.

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

Thursday, May 14, at 6pm

Guest Moderator: Jean Maguire of American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society

The historian and author of American Treasures and Dark Tide returns with Voyage of Mercy, the remarkable true story of America’s first ever humanitarian mission—to Ireland in 1847 during the potato famine. In the early 1800s, the interactions between nations consisted of pure political strategy, warfare, and occasional trade. Then came one remarkable mission that inspired America to donate massive relief to Ireland that sparked America’s tradition of providing humanitarian aid around the world. Join us in the week of St. Patrick’s Day to learn more about the voyage of Boston sea captain Robert Bennet Forbes and the crew of the USS Jamestown—a little-known chapter of our home front history brought to life by one Boston’s best-loved historians.

Stephen Puleo is a historian, college teacher, public speaker, and the author of seven books, including Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History magazine, the Boston Globe, and other publications, he has taught at Suffolk University and UMass-Boston.

Jean Maguire is the Library Director at American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society. Her areas of research interest include digital library and archives collections, Irish genealogy, and Italian genealogy.

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

Wednesday, May 20, at 6pm

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

The Lost Family is a deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives. Journalist Libby Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story. Copeland delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests, sharing the stories of adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; some of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject. As headlined in the New York Times, “Before You Spit in That Vial, Read This Book.”

Libby Copeland is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Washington Post, New York magazine, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and many other publications. Copeland was a reporter and editor at the Post for eleven years, has been a media fellow and guest lecturer, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.

Amy Dockser Marcus is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering health and science; winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting. In 2019 she wrote a series on how the ubiquity of DNA testing is changing families. She holds degrees from Harvard University (A.B.) and Harvard Medical School (M.A., Bioethics).

Honor Moore with Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Mid-Century

Monday, June 8, at 6pm

Guest Moderator: Claire Messud, novelist and Senior Lecturer in English, Harvard University

Presented in Partnership with Boston Public Library and State Library of Massachusetts

Hear from this celebrated author about her new biography-memoir—the story of her mother and herself, their relationship and changing lives as 20th-Century women. In past acclaimed books, Honor Moore has presented her bishop father, Paul Moore, and her Boston painter grandmother, Margarett Sargent. Now, with the sweep of an epic novel, she introduces readers to Jenny McKean Moore, her charismatic and brilliant mother who was born into privilege on Boston’s North Shore, and whose life shifted dramatically as she engaged in the peace and social justice movements of the 1960s. After nine children, Jenny realized her ambition to become a writer. Don’t miss Moore’s conversation with Claire Messud about Our Revolution and the lives of American women then and now.

Honor Moore is the author of The Bishop’s Daughter, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The White Blackbird, a New York Times Notable Book, as well as three collections of poems.

Claire Messud is the author of such acclaimed works as The Burning Girl and The Emperor’s Children. She is Senior Lecturer in English at Harvard University.

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, 2020

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, 2020

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, 2020

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, 2020

Vicksburg: Grant’s Campaign that Broke the Confederacy

Guest Moderator: Cathal J. Nolan of Boston University


September 26, 2020

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


September 17, 2020

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