Sunday, March 30 at 4:00 pm

Sunday Speaker Series: Rachel Urquhart, Author of The Visionist


Join us as we welcome author Rachel Urquhart, who will discuss and read from her new book, The Visionist.  The novel is set in 1840s New England, in and around a fictional Shaker settlement that is in the throes of a religious revival. Teenage believers up and down the East coast are falling into trance states and speaking in tongues. Considered by their fellow Shakers to be holy messengers, the girls are christened “Visionists,” hence the title of the book.

It is winter, the landscape dark, cold and unforgiving. Inside a Shaker settlement—named The City of Hope—bizarre worship practices mix with a rigid system of rules, creating an atmosphere full of tension and suspicion. Meanwhile, in the poor farming towns that surround the community, life is primitive and cruel for outsiders who live on the margins.

The voices of three main characters tell the story. Polly Kimball, a traumatized 15-year-old farm girl who sets fire to her home, takes refuge with the Shakers, and is then mistaken for a Visionist. Charity, a young Shaker sister who has grown up since birth in the settlement and, in befriending Polly, gambles her faith on the honesty and purity of her new companion. And Simon Pryor, a cynical, small-town arson inspector and private detective who investigates the fire and finds himself increasingly drawn into the circumstances surrounding Polly’s predicament.


Photo by Sarah Shatz

Photo by Sarah Shatz

About the author: Though she has split her life (and her personality) living on a farm in Massachusetts and in an apartment in New York City, Rachel Urquhart was born in Manhattan and, at the ripe old age of 40, moved to Brooklyn. Since everyone in her new neighborhood had children and dogs and held close the fantasy of someday publishing a novel, she fit right in. She was fortunate enough to begin her magazine career at Spy—a job so singular that it would prove to ruin her desire to ever want to work full-time anywhere else. Lucky for her, Vogue stepped in and saved her from herself. She has spent her entire adult life as a writer, contributing pieces and the occasional snippet of fiction to a variety of publications, including SpyVogueAllure, The New YorkerThe New York Times, Tin HouseElleHarper’s BazaarFood & WineTravel & LeisureVanity Fair, Women’s Times and The Reader. She has also written three “lifestyle” books for the ChicSimple series (Knopf), and worked as an editor, at Vogue and, more recently, in service of college-bound teenagers and people in need of a decent toast. It took an abnormally long time for her to begin—and then complete—The Visionist, her first novel, and her heart goes out to anyone who finds him or herself in a similar predicament. She received her M.F.A. in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and lives with her husband, two sons, two dogs and two cats.

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