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Rye Arts Center Honors Ogden Nash

AE-NashThumbOn September 25, Rye honored Ogden Nash, “America’s poet laureate of light verse,” who was born in Rye, August 19, 1902. The Rye Arts Center hosted a standing-room-only crowd for the long-awaited literary arts event, “NASHIONAL TREASURE”.

 

By Maureen Mancini Amaturo

 

On September 25, Rye honored Ogden Nash, “America’s poet laureate of light verse,” who was born in Rye, August 19, 1902. The Rye Arts Center hosted a standing-room-only crowd for the long-awaited literary arts event, “NASHIONAL TREASURE”.

 

AE-NashinsideIn a program produced and presented by author and local resident Alan Beechey, an audience of all ages applauded readings of Nash poems; outstanding performances from the Broadway musical, “One Touch of Venus,” for which he wrote the lyrics; biography and history lessons on both Nash and Rye; and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a live interview with special guests Linell Nash Smith and Frances Smith, the poet’s daughter and granddaughter. The two women worked closely with Mr. Beechey the past few months, and came up from Baltimore for the occasion. They said they were “honored to be part of a wonderful program”.

 

In humorous and candid fashion, they shared intimate family stories and perspectives on growing up Nash. “My father read to us every night… Dickens, Shakespeare,” said Linell. “And he loved his family, the whole family, cousins, second cousins. He kept in touch with everyone.” She added, “He really loved my mother. His last words were to her, ‘I love you Frances.’” Her daughter said, “My grandfather was not only a gentleman, but a gentle man.” Each read poems they’d chosen.

 

Mayor Doug French presented a special proclamation to Linell and Frances Smith on behalf of the City of Rye.

 

AE-francesThe event was one surprise after another as a series of special guests, including Rye elementary school students, appeared on stage to read a Nash poem or share fascinating facts about our famous Rye son.

 

Among the esteemed guests were: Assemblyman George Latimer; Christine Siller, Director of the Rye Nature Center; Richard Hourahan, archivist of The Rye Historical Society; Mary Louise Cox, Poet Laureate of Mamaroneck; and John Brady, creator of the blog, “Blogden Nash”.

 

Between readings, live musical performances by JP Schlegel-milch, pianist, composer, and RAC teacher, and Daniele Hager, musical theatre soprano and voice teacher, filled the room with pure thrill. For one musical number, “Way Out West in New Jersey,” student singers Tara Irwin and Sasha Spitz joined Ms. Hager.

 

Touching hearts and humor, award-winning actors Frances Sternhagen and John Cunningham were truly the stars of the show, turning each reading of a Nash poem into a comedic performance. Mr. Cunningham’s reading of the final poem, “Preface to the Past”, was delivered with such power, some were moved to tears at its message.

 

“Although many of us know an Ogden Nash poem, perhaps even by heart, we can still be surprised to find that the author of the animal poems we loved as children was also the lyricist for classic Broadway songs,” said Mr. Beechey. “I hope our event made people aware of his range and virtuosity.”

 

AE-cunninghamMr. Beechey added, “We’ve only scratched the surface with this first celebration. Rye can be very proud of its most famous son.”

 

To promote Nash awareness among young artists and writers, the Arts Center offered a free workshop for children the week before the show. Students had the opportunity to hear his works and write their own poetry inspired by the master. Following the writing workshop, students created artwork inspired by both Nash’s poems and their own. These works were on display during the event.

 

“NASHIONAL TREASURE” was the kickoff of a community-wide effort to recognize our native son properly and encourage Rye to fully claim its fame as Nash’s birthplace. A proposal is in the works asking the Rye Landmarks Advisory Committee to name a local street, or even Rye Town Park, for the most famous comedic poet of the 20th century. If you’re interested in adding your voice to the cause or would like to know more the creation of an Ogden Nash memorial in Rye, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

 

The house where Ogden Nash was born belonged to Colonel William Preston Hix and stood on land near present day Hix Avenue. Although Nash’s house no longer stands, his legacy does.


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