If It’s Halloween, It’s Time for Frankenreads

The Tufts community will stage a full reading of Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic “Frankenstein” on October 31
line drawing of Frankenstein reading a book
Tufts is one of more than 500 institutions in more than forty countries marking the Frankenstein bicentennial with readings and other events. Photo: Courtesy of Frankenreads
October 9, 2018

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Move over trick or treat. This year Halloween belongs to one of the most enduring gothic tales, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

In honor of its first publication in 1818, institutions around the world are marking the 200th anniversary with marathon readings, or Frankenreads, sponsored in the U.S. by the Keats-Shelley Association of America.  

At Tufts, the English Department and the Tufts University Art Galleries are hosting the university’s own Frankenreads on October 31 in the Koppelman Gallery in the Aidekman Arts Center from 10:30 a.m. to about 9 p.m.

The reading will take place amidst an exhibition that dovetails with the Frankenstein bicentennial: States of Freedom: The Figure in Flux, which brings together material from the university’s archives and pieces by contemporary artists who explore and celebrate the human form as an unstable amalgamation of histories, technologies, and cultures.

Spearheading the Frankenreads endeavor is Sonia Hofkosh, an associate professor of English, who makes the original text required reading in her course Frankenstein’s Sisters, a comparative study of Jane Austen and Shelley.

Popular culture interpretations of the novel—especially movie adaptations—have tended to heighten the fantastic and science fiction elements of the book, but more rarely reflect the nuanced psychological horror of the 1818 masterpiece, written when Shelley was still a teenager, as Hofkosh told Tufts Now earlier this year.

The 200th anniversary, she said, is a chance to rediscover those nuances. She encourages both readers and visitors who simply want to sit and listen to mark Frankenreads on their calendars.

“I think it’s a more moving book than people might recall if they read it in high school of if they have only seen it portrayed in films,” said Hofkosh. “You might find that there are other things to call it other than a horror story.”

While her students, among others, have already filled some of the reading slots, Tufts staff, faculty, alumni and friends are invited to help fill open blocks from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Anyone interested in reading a three-page, ten-minute section should email Hofkosh by October 19, indicating a preferred time slot and being prepared for a half-hour commitment, given that start and stop times are not exact.

“I would love to get a variety of people to read,” said Hofkosh, adding that costumes are welcome. (Coincidentally, those sartorial splendors can also have a Tufts twist, as the Tufts Costume Shop will be holding a costume sale on October 23 and 24 from noon to 5 p.m. in Balch Arena Theater.)

Refreshments will be provided throughout the nine-hour event, Hofkosh said. To continue the Halloween celebration, there’s also the Halloween Midnight Organ Concert in Goddard Chapel, hosted by the University Chaplaincy, complete with spooky tunes, cider and donuts.

Art in the Mix

Jeanine Oleson, xallarap, 2017, plaster and acrylic paint, from the exhibition “States of Freedom: The Figure in Flux.” Photo: Courtesy of Jeanine OlesonThe art gallery and its current exhibition also provide an apt setting. Victor Frankenstein, of course, famously builds and reanimates a creature from human (and possibly non-human) scraps, convinced his self-made being is a breakthrough for modern science, only to be repelled by the horror of what he has created.

The exhibition in the art gallery, States of Freedom: The Figure in Flux, “looks at different modes of figuration across time in which the body appears in parts or as amalgamations,” said Dina Deitsch, director and chief curator of the Tufts University Art Galleries, who curated the show with Chiara Pidatella, academic research curator, and Elizabeth Kendrick, AG19.

As such, the Tufts Frankenreads is a “neat juxtaposition,” said Liz Canter, J98, gallery educator and academic programs coordinator. After learning about Hofkosh’s plans for Frankenreads in Tufts Now, she reached out and suggested they team up. “She was excited,” said Canter. “The exhibition connects so perfectly to the question of what it means to be human and what is human. I think it’s going to be really fun and a uniquely multi-sensory experience.”

And like Hofkosh, she hopes people will take time out to drop by, read, listen, browse the galleries—and be part of a global event. Tufts is one of more than 500 institutions in more than forty countries marking the Frankenstein bicentennial with readings and other events.

“It’s a Tufts community celebration,” Canter said, “but it’s also a part of a much larger community event going on simultaneously around the world. It’s amazing, to think of all these people reading the same book at the same moment in time.”

The Tufts homage to Shelley continues into November, appropriately, said Hofkosh, “as Frankenstein animated the creature on a ‘dreary night of November.’”

Abigail Child, independent filmmaker and former faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA), will visit campus on November 29 for a screening and discussion of her 2013 experimental film UNBOUND: Scenes from the Life of Mary Shelley in Tisch Library starting at 6pm.

In the end, Hofkosh hopes that the celebration reminds anyone who loves to read that books endure not only because they tell a good tale. If Mary Shelley stirs such a deep universal response today, she said, it’s because Shelley looked within herself and gave voice “to fundamental questions of what it means to be human,” Hofkosh said. “People everywhere continue to find meaning in those same questions.”

Frankenreads takes place on October 31 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Tisch Family Gallery and Koppelman Gallery at the Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Avenue, Medford. To participate in Frankenreads, email Sonia Hofkosh at sonia.hofkosh@tufts.edu.

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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