“Orla’s Canvas”

A book group especially for art enthusiasts.

September 21, 2023 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm At the Museum and virtually on Zoom

"Orla's Canvas" by Mary Donnarumma Sharnick

Welcome to Museum Reads, the Newport Art Museum’s Art-Themed book group for adults. We meet monthly, at the Museum and virtually, for discussion, and frequently are joined by the author.

Narrated by eleven-year-old Orla Gwen Gleason, Orla’s Canvas opens on Easter Sunday, in St. Suplice, Louisiana, a “misspelled town” north of New Orleans, and traces Orla’s dawning realization that all is not as it seems in her personal life or in the life of her community. The death of St. Suplice’s doyenne, Mrs. Bellefleur Dubois Castleberry, for whom Orla’s mother keeps house, reveals Orla’s true paternity, shatters her trust in her beloved mother, and exposes her to the harsh realities of class and race in the Civil Rights-era South. When the Klan learns of Mrs. Castleberry’s collaboration with the local Negro minister and Archbishop Rummel to integrate the parochial school, violence fractures St. Suplice’s vulnerable stability. The brutality Orla witnesses at summer’s end awakens her to life’s tenuous fragility. Like the South in which she lives, she suffers the turbulence of changing times. Smart, resilient, and fiercely determined to make sense of her pain, Orla paints chaos into beauty, documenting both horror and grace, discovering herself at last through her art.

“Taking as her canvas the Civil Rights era in Louisiana, Mary Donnarumma Sharnick tells the affecting story of Orla, a remarkable young heroine with the soul of an artist. The novel is both a gripping look into a historic moment in American culture and a poignant coming-of-age story readers won’t forget.” – Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels

Museum Reads Notes:
Be sure to register to receive email updates and Zoom links.
For last minute registrations, please call the front desk for the Zoom link at 401-848-8200.

About the Author

Mary Donnarumma Sharnick has been writing ever since the day she printed her long name on her first library card. A native of Connecticut, she graduated magna cum laude from Fairfield University with a degree in English and earned a master’s degree with distinction from Trinity College, Hartford. She has been awarded a scholarship from Wesleyan Writers’ Conference (2008), two Nigel Taplin Innovative Teaching grants (2008, 2011), and a fellowship from the Hartford Council for the Arts Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation (2010). A student of novelists Rachel Basch and Louis Bayard, Mary has participated in the 2014 Yale Writers’ Conference historical fiction workshop and has presented at Auburn University’s Writers’ Conference (2012), the Association for Writers and Writing Programs conference in Boston (2013), the Italian American Historical Association’s conference in Toronto (2014), and annually at Mark Twain Writers’ Conference in Hartford, as well as at the University of Connecticut’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Waterbury, CT (2015-2017). Her research has taken her to Venice, Italy, the Deep South, and monastic communities in Italy, Vermont, and Connecticut.

Mary has reviewed books for the New York Journal of Books, Southern Humanities Review, America, and other journals. Excerpts of her memoir-in-progress have appeared in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias, Italian Americana, and Healing Ministry, among others. Her short story, “The Rule,” appeared in Voices in Italian Americana.

With her husband, Wayne Sharnick, Mary leads her writing students and family and friend groups on slow travel tours of Italy, the country she considers her second home. At present, Mary is also advising three adult writers online and teaching hybrid classes of sophomore and junior writers enrolled at Sacred Heart High School, Waterbury, Connecticut.

This program is made possible by your support of the Annual Fund.