In the first of the Westport Country Playhouse’s new Literary Salon Series ‘Books Worth Talking About!’, I interviewed Nina Sankovitch, author of the memoir Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: A Year of Magical Reading about the use of memoir writing as a healing tool.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair was named an Outstanding Debut Novel of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and given a starred review. And Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us, Bombay Time, and The Weight of Heaven, said “Nina Sankovitch has crafted a dazzling memoir that reminds us of the most primal function of literature–to heal, to nurture and to connect us to our truest selves.”

New in 2012, the Playhouse’s Literary Salon series will include a pre-show salon with featured authors and lively discussion followed by a performance of a Playhouse production. This series will provide an opportunity to interact with prominent authors and explore ideas and themes which will enrich the theater-going experience.

The idea is the brain-child of Westport book publicist Meryl Moss and Playhouse managing director Michael Ross. For the past 19 years, Moss has run Meryl L. Moss Media Relations Inc. in Westport. Her roster includes many New York Times best-selling authors.

The salons are open to anyone with a ticket for the performance that follows and, in celebration of the Playhouse’ Literary Salon Series, here are some fascinating facts about the origin of the literary salon:

Literary salons in seventeenth-century France‘, the literary salon originated in France and whilst their salons were not without precedent – there were salons in sixteenth-century Italy – no other country had produced a tradition of such gatherings.

The salon tradition began in 1610 when the Italian-born marquise de Ramboulliet decided the French court was not sophisticated enough, so she created an alternate court in her townhouse near the Louvre.

While the tradition was alive, the word salon did not refer to the actual meetings, it referred only to the formal room in which the gatherings were held. During those early decades, however, the assemblies took place in more intimate settings. The marquise received her guests in an inner sanctum which could only be reached by going through the formal salons. The inner sanctum was the marquise’s bed chamber, known as la chambre bleu. There, she seated all her guests in the space between the bed and the wall while she remained in bed.

Salons flourished in France for nearly two centuries and, during that time, remained under the control of women. Salon literary criticism reflected that fact. Its volumes paid tribute to women’s writing with a seriousness that subsequently vanished from criticism and has only reappeared in recent decades.

The French revolution in 1789 brought the salon tradition to an abrupt halt, although it did re-surface in the nineteenth century.

Of course, there were salons in other European nations, most famously Virginia Woolf’s salon in her home in Bloomsbury, London in the early 1900’s, but these were preceded by an era of British salons from 1750 – 1790.

Those earlier salons, held by women known as the Bluestocking circle, were often hosted by Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Boscawen. Informed by French refugees and communications from France, these literate and often eccentric women viewed themselves as important intellectual sources and they banished activities such as playing cards in favor of intellectual exchange.

To learn more about the Westport Country Playhouse literary salons or to RSVP for one –Books Worth Talking About! through the Playhouse Box Office at 203.227.4177

Please continue to check the Playhouse website for more Books Worth Talking About events!

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