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Kauffman gives talk at HLOM on 'greatest political figure our region has ever produced'

By Howard B. Owens
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Local author Bill Kauffman spoke at the Holland Land Office Muesum last night about the life and accomplishments of Barber Conable, the former congressman who served his hometown Batavia and surrounding areas in Congress for 20 years.

One congressional historian said Conable was as highly and widely respected as any member of Congress in the last half of the 20th Century.

Kauffman, who was good friends with Conable, said Conable was "the greatest political figure our region has ever produced."

This month University Press of Kansas released The Congressional Journal of Barber B. Conable, Jr. 1968-1984 and Kauffman is the editor of the book.  

"To me he was kind of what James Madison and those guys had imagined what a congressman might be like and obviously, precious few have ever lived up to that kind of standard," Kauffman said.

HLOM's Guest Speaker for July is Bill Kauffman talking about 'The Congressional Journal of Barber Conable'

By Press Release

Press release:

On Wednesday, July 28th at 7 p.m. the Holland Land Office Museum is proud to welcome our next presenter for our Guest Speaker Series. The museum welcomes back local author Bill Kauffman as he debuts his latest work "The Congressional Journal of Barber Conable, 1968-1984."

Kauffman is the editor of the work, which is a compilation of entries from Congressman Barber Conable about the machinations of Congress and the American government at the highest level.

Admission is $3 per person or $2 for museum members. The presentation will also be available via Zoom, the links can be found at the museum’s Facebook page or website.

Copies of the book will also be available for sale.

Poetry Month: Bill Kauffman reads 'To a Siberian Woodsman' By Wendell Berry

By Howard B. Owens
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Elba resident Bill Kauffman reads 'To a Siberian Woodsman' by Wendell Berry for National Poetry Month.

Poetry Month: Bill Kauffman reads Wendell Berry

By Howard B. Owens
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For our continuing National Poetry Month series, Bill Kauffman reads "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," by Wendell Berry.

Reviews starting to come in for Bill Kauffman's 'Copperhead'

By Howard B. Owens

"Copperhead," the movie with the screenplay by local author Bill Kauffman, opens in theaters around the United States today and the film has received mostly positive reviews so far.

A screening in Gettysburg, billed as the world premiere, earned director Ron Maxwell a standing ovation.

Writer James Simpson, in a piece of PJ Media, takes a detailed look at the historical and political context of the movie and concludes,

This is a movie well worth seeing; both for its accurate depiction of the times, its rich narrative, and the unique, rarely discussed subject matter, which was in fact a major component of the days’ controversies. It is also completely family friendly – a rarity in Hollywood these days.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the L.A. Times critic comes off as a bit of a snob and calls the film "lugubrious."

Another Hollywood-based critic says the film is purely for history buffs (while too narrowly constricting the scope of the audience, may be a bit of a left-handed compliment -- this isn't "Fast & Furious 6").

That writer, John DeFore, seems to believe only "Tea Party" types care about the Constitution, writing, "Beech is a dairy farmer who's opposed to slavery but, in language that will resonate with Tea Party-affiliated viewers, argues that Lincoln's war is unconstitutional."

Apparently, one must not color outside of the lines in Mr. DeFore's world.

Though, one of the more favorable reviews has come from Katie Kieffer, writing for the conservative Web site Town Hall.

Copperhead is worth seeing because it re-tells American history with an intimate, engaging and non-textbook approach.

It will be interesting to watch the different reactions to the film from America's various political factions -- especially the simple-minded red state/blue state divide -- to a film that challenges pat answers to questions about the Civil War.

Kauffman has said the movie isn't intended to be preachy or a message movie, except maybe to reinvigorate the lost notion in America of the value of dissent.

In his own lengthy piece about the film for Front Porch Republic, Kauffman writes about the constricting nature of political debate in the country these days.

We live in a time and in a country which finds principled dissent of the sort exercised by Eugene V. Debs and Abner Beech almost incomprehensible. In one sense, freedom of expression knows no bounds: Internet pornography, snuff-game videos, libelous tweets – laissez faire, man. But with respect to politics, art, culture…seldom in American history have the limits of permissible speech been so narrow, so constricting. True, our Eugene Debses aren’t usually thrown into gaols, but nor do they become cause célèbres, like Debs. Their prison is the red state-blue state idiocy under which the limits of acceptable opinion are demarcated by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and writers live in the fear (which, I can tell you as one who has long worked with members of the DC punditocracy, absolutely paralyzes careerists) of saying the wrong thing and running afoul of the hall monitors and tattletales who police American discourse.

In media coverage closer to home, Jay Moran interviews Kauffman for WBFO.

"Copperhead" is playing in Pittsford and Williamsville.


'Copperhead' hits all of Kauffman's themes, and is a big hit with screening audience

By Howard B. Owens

If Bill Kauffman sat down to write a screenplay, the result would surely be the movie "Copperhead."

The ideal Kauffman film would take a look at a side of history that is little known and rarely discussed. The lead character would be a dissenter, the holder of unpopular opinions who won't bow to conformity. The major themes would be love of family, community before nation, and fealty to the Constitution. It would show how war rips asunder these values as brutally as it maims bodies and damages souls.

This is, indeed, the movie "Copperhead," based on the 1893 novel, "The Copperhead," by Utica-born Harold Frederic. The screenplay is by Batavia's (and Elba's) own Bill Kauffman.

A packed house at Genesee Community College's Stuart Steiner Theater of Kauffman partisans -- friends and family, mostly -- viewed a special screening Thursday night of "Copperhead." We applauded when Kauffman's first film credit rolled across the screen and clapped again for his daughter, Gretel, whose credit was for one of the two "giggling girls" at a barn dance.

We also all applauded in appreciation as the final scene faded to black and credits for all the grips and technicians and wardrobe staff rolled across the screen.

It is a very good movie.

The story line -- without trying to give away too much -- is about a small Upstate New York farm community in 1862. The town is largely Republican with a view of the war in line with the Lincoln Administration.

Abner Beech opposes the war. He's a Democrat. He's no "slaver" he says, but he considers Lincoln's war unlawful.

"It is Abraham Lincoln," Beech tells Avery (played by Peter Fonda), "and his Republicans tearing us apart, and the Constitution. Closing down newspapers, putting critics in prison, enlisting mere boys to fight in his unconstitutional war."

The scene is near the start of the film and Kauffman said during the Q&A after the screening that it's a critical scene. It sets the themes of the entire movie.

Avery's character wasn't included in Frederic's original novel, but Kauffman said one of the faults with the original story was it was rather one-sided in its point of view.

"He never gives the pro-Lincoln, the pro-war side a fair shake," Kauffman said. "It's only about Abner Beech and in the film we made the community more of a character, so I introduced the Fonda character to be an articulate advocate for that point of view."

Near the end of the exchange, Avery says, "The union, Abner, doesn't the union mean anything to you?"

Abner, played by Billy Campbell, looks at Avery with sad eyes, but also affection.

"It means something. It means more than something. But it doesn't mean everything. My family means more to me. The farm. The Corners means more. New York State means more to me. Though we disagree, Avery, ye mean more to me than any union."

A good portion of what Bill Kauffman has written in his nine books could be summed up in those eight sentences.

Asked how closely the Kauffman-esque polemic aligned with Frederic's own work, Kauffman laughed and said, "it's a seamless and harmonious melding."

Director Ron Maxwell, in Batavia for the screening, picked up the question.

"It's what we choose to do," said Maxwell, whose previous screen credits include "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals." "It's why this novel, instead of that novel.

"Having spent as much time as I have tilling these fields, going on 30 years of these Civil War movies, for myself, it was a completely different exploration. Where the previous two movies were, to generalize, they were cinematic meditations on what good, powerful, ethical men should be when they go to war. When you look at those films, you have a strong, full-throated point of view for the men who wore the blue or the men who wore the gray.

"Along the way," he continued, "the question is, what about the good, honorable, ethical men who chose not to go to war, and in fact, the very same war? This is one of the very few novels that raises that question about the Civil War."

Abner's opposition to the war is not without consequence. It becomes a wedge between him and his son. It leads to bitterness, hatred and violence among the townspeople.

The home front has rarely been portrayed by Hollywood, and certainly not from a dissenter's point of view during the commonly accepted "good wars" (the Civil War and World War II).

Maxwell and Kauffman have been friends since the mid-1990s and one day a few years ago they discovered they had both read "The Copperhead" and thought it an interesting and largely unexplored aspect of the Civil War. They agreed it might make a good movie, so Kauffman set about writing the screenplay.

It was no easy task -- and it never is -- getting the film funded, but eventually cast and crew were dispatched to a settlement town in New Brunswick, Canada, where all of the scenes take place.  It looks very much like Upstate New York.

Maxwell said in shooting a movie like this, you don't think about the politics of it. He doesn't like to make, he said, movies with overt political messages. He would rather explore questions and not give answers. When cast and crew are in production, they're in 1862. They're not even thinking about what happened in 1863, let alone 2013, but he knows others will apply today's current events to the issues raised in the movie.

Just the same day, he noted, President Obama has made a military commitment to Syria, so now the U.S. is involved in three wars.

"This movie is going to go into this world where we already have neighbors who are in Afghanistan," Maxwell said. "We all know military families who are suffering. This movie is to a large extent about the families who are home, worried about their relatives, so the context may be 1862, but it is relevant to our world and those kinds of inferences will be made and they probably should be made."

"Copperhead" opens nationwide June 28.

Top photo, Bill Kauffman; bottom, Ron Maxwell.

Screenwriter Bill Kauffman and film director Ron Maxwell discuss 'Copperhead'

By Daniel Crofts

Next week, Hollywood comes to Batavia.

GoArt!, in partnership with local author Bill Kauffman -- author of such books as "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette" and "Look Homeward America" -- and filmmaker Ronald F. Maxwell -- director of the Civil War epics "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals" -- will host a screening of the movie "Copperhead" on Thursday, June 13. 

This will give locals a chance to see the film before its official release in theaters on June 28.

"Copperhead" takes place in Upstate New York during the Civil War. Kauffman wrote the screenplay, based the novel "The Copperhead" by Harold Frederic, and Maxwell directed it.

Both men will be at the screening, and the movie will be followed by a short presentation by Kauffman and a Q&A session with Kauffman and Maxwell.

In anticipation of the screening, they spoke with The Batavian about the project itself, their collaboration over the years, among other things.

(To Ron): I understand you have been a longtime fan of Bill Kauffman. So this is a two-part question:

A. When and how did you first discover his work?
B. When and how did you two come into contact?

Ron: Actually the second thing happened first. We both attended an event in Washington, D.C. --- at which he spoke -- sometime in the mid-1990s. I was impressed with his wit, with his use of language, his sense of humor, and his insight, and that started a long friendship. I subsequently read his writings, and we stayed in touch over the years. 

Bill: “Copperhead” was actually my second screenplay. The first one was a project that Ron and I started developing several years ago. This was also an historical film, and it almost made it into development but didn't. We still hope it will someday. So "Copperhead" was my second screenplay, but it was the first to be produced.

(To both): What drew you to this material?

Bill: I probably first read the book 25 or more years ago. Harold Frederic was one of the great Upstate New York novelists. In fact his most well-known book, "The Damnation of Theron Ware," was hailed by F. Scott Fitzgerald as the best American novel before 1920.

Edmund Wilson, the great literary critic, praised Frederic's "Civil War Stories" for being unlike any other Civil War fiction. There's no Southern "moonlight and magnolias" romanticism, and there's no Northern "Battle Hymn of the Republic" righteousness; these are hard, unsentimental but very poignant stories of life in the North -- specifically Upstate New York -- on the home front during the war...the people left behind.

And this particular story, "The Copperhead," is about a farmer, a respected man, in a little hamlet in Upstate New York -- he's an old-fashioned Democrat who is against the war. And he is standing up, really, against his community on this. The community is torn apart, his family and the family of his chief rival are torn apart. So these people are casualties of the war in a different way.

The film is also, I think, about the resilience and resourcefulness of the people at home during wartime. It's a rich and complex story about our area, for one, and also about a fascinating time in American history.

Ron: As soon as I read it I thought, "Wow, this would be a terrific subject for a film." And I kind of ruminated for a while until about three and a half years ago, when it came up in conversation with Bill over dinner in Connecticut. I think he mentioned it first, but we both knew the novel and admired it. It was very interesting to me to explore the whole issue of the dissenters in society -- especially within the context of the Civil War, because I had already explored the reasons why good men chose to go to war in the other films, whether they wore blue or gray. Here was a film where you could explore why a good, ethical man chose not to go to war. It's the other side of the coin.

(To Bill): How was the screenwriting process different from the process of writing a book?

Bill: It’s a whole different style of writing. Writing a book is very much a solitary endeavor, although there is give-and-take with the editor. Movies are totally collaborative ventures. Even with the screenplay, Ron and I consulted throughout. Ron has a great sense for how to tell a story. So it was a very harmonious collaboration -- he's a great guy, and we work well together.

(To Ron): You wrote the scripts for both "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals." Why did you choose to have Bill write this one?

Ron: Well, as I said, it came up over a dinner, and by that time he and I had collaborated on the earlier project that he wrote. So I knew that he could do it. And I think part of the dynamic there is that when you write a screenplay, you need to focus big time and stop doing everything else.  At the time we started to talk about "Copperhead," I was totally immersed in something else, so I could not write the screenplay myself even if I wanted to. But I knew he could. So I worked with him, you know, in the way that a director-filmmaker works with a writer. We closely collaborated on it, but he in fact did the writing. A lot of times in Hollywood there are shared credits when a director works with the writer, but I'm a strong believer that the writer gets the credit. Because the writer is doing the work.

So, just as on the earlier screenplay, we collaborated but Bill adapted the novel. And I knew that his sensibilities would be very responsive to it. It takes place, as you know, in Upstate New York. And Bill was not only aware of this novel, but he had read other works of Harold Frederic.

In a sense, Bill is a regionalist. He's very aware of where he lives -- not just of how it is now, but of its history and literary traditions. So he was already connected to the history of this part of the world, and to Harold Frederic specifically. So of all the writers in the world, he was probably the most perfectly adapted to work out the screenplay.

If you know Bill's other work, one of his preoccupations is small town America. He has made the choice to live in small town America because he thinks that that's where American values are embodied and where the "simpler life" can be lived. That's a theme that runs through all of his nonfiction, and is certainly one of the themes of this particular story. One of the things ("Copperhead") explores is living in a rural community. I'm sure it was much more rural, with a much smaller population, back then than it is now. But again, Bill was predisposed to understanding and exploring the values of these people.

(To Bill): Were you a fan of Ron's films before this?

Oh yeah, absolutely. He's the great cinematic interpreter of the Civil War. This is his third Civil War film, but it's on a different scale. ("Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals") had scenes with thousands of extras colliding on the great battlefields -- they were Civil War films set behind the lines.

Were you intimidated by the prospect of writing a script for him after seeing the scope of his previous films?

Bill: Well, you know, I might have been, but we had known each other. We're friends, so in that sense it was comfortable. But it was a challenge. I like challenges, and I have over the years read a lot of screenplays in preparation for this film. I'd read a number of screenplays of films that I like very much -- everything from Paul Schrader's script for "Taxi Driver" to Graham Greene's screenplay for "The Third Man." So I had an idea of how to do it, and Ron was an invaluable guide to picking up the form and grammar of a screenplay.

(To Ron): Had you ever in your life heard of Batavia before meeting Bill?

Ron: No, and I wasn't even sure whether to say Bat-ah-via or Bat-ay-via. But I guess it's like that Cole Porter song, "You say tom-ay-to, I say tom-ah-to."

(To Bill): Are there any local connections in "Copperhead"?

Bill: There is one specifically Batavia reference -- it's a little bit of an inside joke -- early in the film. Some folks will pick up on it. But I can't tell you anymore.

Also, my daughter, Gretel, and the daughter of one of the producers have cameos in the film.  It's during the barn dance scene -- look for the "giggling girls."

(To Bill): Did you have chance to visit the location shoots in Canada? If so, what was this like?

Bill: I was there for about four to seven weeks. I went up a couple different times. I got a real kick out of watching these characters that existed on paper become real. And it's funny, because some of the characters ended up looking very different from how I thought they'd look. But I think the actors really brought to life and enriched the story with their own contributions. They did a lot of studying, put a lot of thought into the roles, and I think it shows on the screen.

(On Ron as a director): You hear stories of these tyrannical, dictatorial directors, but Ron is nothing at all like that. He's very much in control, and the production is well run. But he listens to people, everyone gets along, and it's very harmonious. He does a lot of planning (before production), and that shows in that there's a real efficiency about it. It was shot over about seven weeks, and there were no wasted days. They worked from sunup to sundown. It was very impressive.

(To Bill): I understand the actors were instructed to study your Western New York accent.  What was that experience like?

Bill: (Laughs) Yes, they had a dialect coach from Canada who did a great job with them. We don't have any tapes of what people in Upstate New York sounded like in 1862, so one of the things she did -- unbeknownst to me -- was send them videotapes of speeches of mine. So it was kind of fun on the set when actors would come up to me and ask, "How do you say 'apple'? How do you say 'orange'?" Of course, we're not aware of our accents. To us, we speak normally and everyone else has an accent. And when someone asks you to pronounce something, inevitably a little bit of self-consciousness creeps into you, you know? You exaggerate whatever little accent you might have. But yeah, that was a lot of fun. And fortunately, they do not all sound like me (laughs). They develop their own accents and styles of speaking.

(To Ron): Many of the actors in "Copperhead" are a bit less well-known than a lot of movie stars out there. Was this an artistic decision on your part?

Ron: Yes, very much so, insofar as you want (as a filmmaker) to be able to have the creative freedom to cast the way you want. We made a decision early on that we were not going to chase the movie stars. Because then you're always at the mercy of their schedules, their price tags, and competing for their time with the major studios. So suddenly you're not in control of your own movie. And I've played that game, so I know that game. We wanted to be independent and just cast the movie the best way we knew we could, make the movie we wanted to make, hope that it would stand on its own merits, and get it to the public. 

The reason people get the big stars is because those stars will get the movie financed and distributed. It's a simple formula. So if you think you can have alternate ways of getting the movie financed and distributed, then that allows you artistic freedom.

(To both): How did the upcoming screening/fundraiser come about?

Ron: We thought, as part of our marketing and promotion of the movie, that it would behoove us to do a number of screenings across the country to help generate word of mouth and grassroots support of the film. And we thought, "What better way than to ally with charitable organizations?" So we looked for charitable organizations that we could feel comfortable supporting, and we have about 18 or 19 of these all across the country.

Bill: The producers asked me about having one of the screenings in Batavia, and I of course jumped at the chance. And I thought GoArt! would be a great organization (to support), and they were enthusiastic about sponsoring.

(To Ron): What interests you about the Civil War Era as a filmmaker?

RM: Well, you know, I was drawn to it so many years ago took me 15 years from the time I read (Michael Shaara's) "The Killer Angels" (the book on which "Gettysburg" is based) until the time "Gettysburg" was released in the theaters. I didn't know it was going to take 15 years, and I certainly didn't know I would spend another 10 years making "God and Generals," and then another 10 years before I could make "Copperhead." That's a lot of years altogether -- it's a big chunk of anyone's life to spend on one historical period. It's not like I set out to do that, it just kind of happened that way.

But along the way I came to realize that it has been a deep and abiding interest. It's just endlessly fascinating, and these are stories that have been very compelling to me. I have other kinds of projects I've been working on -- I have a Western I've been working on, a project on Joan of Arc, contemporary films...I'm always juggling them and trying to get them financed like other filmmakers. But it's just kind of worked out that "Gettysburg" led to "Gods and Generals," which led to "Copperhead." A lot of that is my own focus and my own energy, but some of it is serendipitous.

(To Bill): What draws you to writing about small town America?

BK: Well, it's where I've spent most of my life -- it's where I am now. To me, Batavia was always a source of fascination. Every story you could tell was on its streets and in its buildings. 

It's not that people in small towns are better than people in big cities. But I think because of the smallness and intimacy of the scale, it's a place where the individual can matter. In the anonymity of the big cities and suburbs, sometimes the individual can get lost in the crowd. To me, life in a small town seems more real, more immediate. I also think that small towns get the short shrift, both culturally and politically. It's unexplored territory.

(To both): Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for readers who might be aspiring toward successful careers in writing or filmmaking?

Bill: Words of advice for aspiring writers? I guess I'd say Read Read Read Read Read. Persevere. And don't get discouraged.

Ron: Well the most important thing is for aspiring filmmakers to develop and protect their own voice -- and not kind of mimic, copy, cater, pander or be what they think someone else wants them to be, what Hollywood wants them to be, or what any third party wants them to be.  Because then they are wasting their own time and everyone else's. If they can hold onto that little voice inside them that is their unique voice, that's the most important thing. That's what we want to hear and watch.

The screening of "Copperhead" will take place at Genesee Community College's Stuart Steiner Theatre, at 1 College Road in Batavia, and start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for GoArt! members and $25 for non-members.

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to or call 343-9313.

Supplemental: "Copperhead" trailer

Photo of Ronald F. Maxwell directing courtesy of George Nicholis.

GO ART! to host special screening of 'Copperhead' at GCC in June

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council (aka GO ART!) is honored to be working together with local author Bill Kauffman to host a preview screening of "Copperhead," the third film in director Ron Maxwell’s ("Gettysburg," "Gods & Generals") American Civil War anthology. Kauffman wrote the screenplay.

The film, starring Billy Campbell and Peter Fonda, will be released in theaters on June 28. This special preview screening takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, at the Stuart Steiner Theatre, Genesee Community College, Batavia. Following the screening is a short presentation by Screenwriter Kauffman along with a Q&A with Kauffman and Director Maxwell, who will be in attendance.

Trailer for Bill Kauffman's 'Copperhead' released, film opens June 28

By Howard B. Owens

A screenplay by local author Bill Kauffman has been turned into a major motion picture and today the official trailer was released by the studio.

"Copperhead," set in Civil War-era Upstate New York, deals with the wars effects on people far removed from the battlefields.

The film opens nationally in theaters June 28.

The subject matter of the film -- a seldom portrayed aspect of Civil War America -- may be well-timed following the box office and critical success of the movie "Lincoln."

Copperhead stars Billy Campbell, Peter Fonda, Augustus Prew and Angus Macfadyen and is directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. The screenplay is an adaptation of a novel by Harold Frederic. Frederic, of Utica, wrote "The Copperhead" in 1893.

Kauffman, born in Batavia and a resident of Elba, is the author of "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette" and eight other books.

Dedicated to education and to community, Lynn Browne honored in dedication ceremony at GCC

By Howard B. Owens

In the Lynn E. Browne Library Instruction Room, students at Genesee Community College not only learn skills that will help them successfully complete their education, but they receive lessons that will last them a lifetime.

That was the legacy Lynn Browne wanted, according to Rick Ensman, who said that when Browne was asked which room he wanted his name on in the Conable Technology Center while it was under construction, he insisted his name go on the little room in the library.

The room, named after Browne, who died in 2011, was officially dedicated Friday afternoon.

Browne was born and raised in Batavia, but college and a business career took him away from his native soil. He made his fortune in the button business, but returned to his hometown in retirement. He became a fixture in Batavia, involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors and volunteering with several community groups.

Browne's service included 14 years as a member of the Genesee Community College Foundation Board of Directors (1996-2010), 12 of those as treasurer. He was instrumental in overseeing substantial growth in the foundation's assets, its endowment fund, and had an unwavering commitment to student housing at College Village.

A contingent of Kiwanis members attended the ceremony because Browne was a dedicated Kiwanian who gave generously to the Batavia club both of his time and money. One member remembered how Browne used to randomly pass out silver dollars to fellow members. Browne was also a big supporter of the annual Kiwanis law enforcement awards.

Bill Kauffman (inset, left), local author and screenwriter, was the keynote speaker and recalled Browne as a friend and a tireless advocate for his hometown.

"Lynn told me that he’d never wanted to leave town in the first place," Kauffman said. "He wished to commute to the University of Rochester, but his mother insisted he attend the University of Pennsylvania. She rode the train to Philadelphia with him because she was afraid he’d get off at one of the stops and come back."

Kauffman served with Browne on the Holland Land Office Museum Board of Directors.

"He took up these responsibilities with a sense of duty but also with a real joy: these weren’t grim obligations to him; they were opportunities to express his love of his community," Kauffman said. "He served as our treasurer, as he served as treasurer for other organizations, and it was a fitting title in more ways than one: he really treasured these groups, treasured his neighbors. Lynn brightened his little corner of the world; he left it a richer place, and I don’t mean monetarily. He was a citizen of his place. He was a man to be emulated."

Screenplay by Bill Kauffman being turned into feature film

By Howard B. Owens

It's now official -- local author, historian and localist advocate Bill Kauffman is now a screenwriter, too.

Kauffman wrote a script based on a novel by Harold Frederic, a 19th Century resident of Utica.

The movie, titled "Cooperhead" and set in the Civil War, recently started production in King’s Landing, New Brunswick, Canada.

Actors Jason Patric and Angus MacFadyen are take starring roles and the movie is being directed by Ron Maxwell.

The story centers around a family torn apart by the war between the states.

Kauffman is a native Batavian and currently resides in Elba. No word on when his book about Batavia, "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette," will be turned into a major Hollywood production.

Local author Bill Kauffman to speak at Stafford Historical Society

By Daniel Crofts

The Stafford Historical Society invites the public to attend a presentation by local author Bill Kauffman -- father of Batavian correspondent Gretel Kauffman -- who will be giving a talk on "The Demise of the One Room Schoolhouse." Kauffman's presentation will begin at 7 p.m. and last about an hour on Thursday, Aug. 26.

Event Date and Time

The time for regular visits with friends at Dwyer is quickly approaching

By Howard B. Owens

When you attend a Batavia Muckdogs game at Dwyer Stadium, if you think you're there to watch a baseball game, you've missed at least 65 percent of the reason to be there on a warm summer night.

The main reason to be at Dwyer is the people the stands -- your neighbors, friends and family -- and if you don't know anybody, just start talking, you'll soon make a new friend.

Bill Kauffman writes a lovely tribute to his friend Dennis Bowler for the Front Porch Republic, St. Dennis of the Bleachers.

The home opener for the Muckdogs is Saturday.  I hope to see you there.

The grass isn't always greener in the big city

By Howard B. Owens

Why do a small town's best and brightest young people relocate to big cities?

The common assumption is that they leave to seek better opportunities or more excitement.

Bill Kauffman has a different theory -- our teachers, civic leaders, parents and American culture try to convince rural young people that to be an achiever, you have to go elsewhere. There's little thought to the notion that you can achieve right where you're rooted.

Kauffman discusses this idea in a book review for the Wall Street Journal:

The sharpest insight in "Hollowing Out the Middle" is that "small towns play an unwitting role in their own decline" by inculcating, in school and too often at home, the belief that fulfilling one's promise means leaving for the city lights or the manicured suburbs. The purpose of education today, as Kentucky poet-farmer Wendell Berry argues, is to train young people to leave home. And so, the authors note, "the investment the community has made in them becomes a boon for someplace else."

Batavia is full of bright, young people who have decided to stay, or who have come back. I've met them. Batavia's future would be even brighter if we could convince more of them to stay and help build new businesses and invest in the community that nurtured them.

Read the whole thing.

Bill Kauffman speaks in Alfred on localism

By Howard B. Owens

Yesterday, Sunday, I rode with Batavia native, Elba resident, nationally known author, Bill Kauffman and WNED reporter and Darien resident Jay Moran down to Alfred to hear Bill deliver a speech on localism to a Green Party gathering at the university there. The video is broken into three parts because of YouTube's upload limits. The total runtime is less than 20 minutes.

Next two parts after the jump:

Batavia's Bill Kauffman finds new home for his localist writing

By Howard B. Owens

An interesting new Web site passed over my desk today -- Front Porch Republic.

The site promotes the kind of localist, libertarian, decentralist philosophy that appeals to me.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that Batavia's resident (well, Elba, now, really) historical writer Bill Kauffman is a contributing editor.

Chief among the founders is Bill's friend Jeremy Beer, whom I met at a Muckdog's game last year. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

"The site doesn't really hit the left or right straight jacket," Bill told me today. "It's about exploring alternatives to empire and biggness."

He described the site's contributors as people of various backgrounds interested in localism, decentralization and "restoring human scale."

I asked him if this meant he's now blogging, knowing he hates the word.

"Technology people have given us such great words," he said. "Blog sounds like some unpleasant body function."

Blogging or not, it's always a treat to find another outlet to read Bill's vivid and insightful writing.

Kauffman talks up the virtues of home and immobility down south in Atlanta

By Philip Anselmo

Author Bill Kauffman was recently invited to Emory University in Atlanta by a fledgling student group known as the Young Americans for Liberty. The group had organized an event on the theme of "the importance of traditional American values in the 21st century."

Kauffman, it turned out, fit that bill quite well.

From an article in the Emory Wheel:

“I always felt an intense homesickness no matter where I was,” Kauffman said. “I knew that where I was from mattered.”

Kauffman said that those who are immobile and choose to remain in a specific region are overlooked in modern society.

“Love’s truest, greatest expression as I’ve come to believe is immobility,” he said.

Kauffman gives vent to the rootlessness of American politicians, such as President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, and he speaks of the divide between "televised America" and the rest of us. But all is not lost, he says.

Despite the problems that have arisen due to the lack of connection between Americans and their hometowns, Kauffman said he believes the situation can be fixed.

“Our country is lost, adrift, but there are sign posts pointing us home,” he said. “We have to rediscover the places in which we live. It is our task to find the sacred in the everyday.”

There's an especially poignant bell struck here... for me, at least. With little seeming compunction, Kauffman digs trenches—between the nomadic and the sedentary, "the televised" and "the rest of us" (which latter are also equated with the sedentary), and the various subdivisions of the rooted and the rootless—and he takes sides. At least since Cain and Abel, and especially during the Exodus, the nomadic and the sedentary have been set at odds with one another. Be it divine or secular, judgment pronounced on the nomad is often fueled by the prejudice and derision of the sedentary—witness the gypsies of Europe. A person or people are exiled as a means of protecting the homeland, as a preservation of the sanctity of the species, as it were. Yet the nomad is no such simple fiend. The Wandering Jew is both cast out and yet forever among us: at home in his homelessness. Nomadism, itself, is both a curse and the mark of blessedness in the Old Testament.

It's fascinating to hear Kauffman take up this ancient dialectic, which for sure is a prominent theme in his writings, if I'm allowed to comment on the little that I have so far read. Yet, it's also unsettling that the author is so decisive on adopting the directives of one to the exclusion of the other. I'm all for the shades of grey, myself. I see the extremes and opposites more as determiners of one another than exclusive entities. If I were to adopt Kauffman's language, I would have to call myself "rooted-rootless"—home is a plural: I have the one made by my family, several made by friends, even a few I notched out myself on the headboard of my own lonesome living in distant geographies...

But back to what's poignant here... despite Kauffman's own trench-digging, he is an incurable champion of the particular. Listen to what he says: "It is our task to find the sacred in the everyday." While I shy away from the language of the sacrosanct, I follow the same sort of maxim. It's why I call myself "a voracious pursuer of the idiosyncratic," which amounts to the same thing: a belief that the individual things, if they can be found—like so much else in this world of ours, they, too, have become rare and endangered—will speak the most to us about ourselves and the general things we only purport to understand.

So... really, all this to ask: Where do you fall? Are you an inveterate caster of deep and permanent roots? Are you a nomad? Do you feel like me: a "rooted-rootless" believer in the pluralism of home? Do you distrust one side or the other? What of the everyday? Is it sacred or does it just get in the way?

Batavia Daily News for Wednesday: Daily News nearly ready to launch Web site

By Philip Anselmo

Congratulations to the Daily News, which announced in the paper today that the publication will go online sometime "within the next few weeks." Keep an eye on the print version to find out when the site will be ready for viewing. Folks can log on at once the site is up and running.

In other news, reporter Joanne Beck wrote an article on the fire last night at an Oak Street home. That news was featured early this morning on WBTA and picked up a little while later by The Batavian.

Fire hydrants will be flushed starting at 9:30am, Tuesday, in the area of Pearl Street, Meadowcrest Drive, River Street and Ellicott Street.

Author Bill Kauffman was honored with the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award in nonfiction for his book Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals. The award is given out by the University of Rochester. For more on the award, visit the University of Rochester Web site.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

Kauffman on Gardner night

By Howard B. Owens

Bill Kauffman's latest column for The American Conservative magazine is about the annual reading of John Gardner's works at the Pok-A-Dot, or as he spells it, the Pokadot (The Batavian may need to change its stylebook).

The piece is titled Gardening at Night (registration required for PDF version).

Our literary-culinary venue is the Pokadot, Gardner’s favorite diner, the unselfconsciously funky eatery at the epicenter of the Italian-Polish southside. (Gardner, a Welsh Presbyterian, frequently teased his people for their anti-Italian-Catholic prejudices while sharing them: a neat way to have your tortaand eat it too.)


Pokadot readers have included Gardner’s family and friends and people mentioned in his books, but most of us—teachers, a dairy salesman, our independent bookseller, and my wife, daughter, and I—know him only through the stories he wrote and the stories that are told about him still. (My dad, a few years behind him in school, said that Gardner was “weird.”)

A few regulars sit at the counter and sip coffee, bemused by the proceedings —maybe even edified, I like to kid myself.

Darrick Coleman covered this year's reading for The Batavian. His post and video are here.

While on the topic of Bill Kauffman, we recently found a video of a lecture he gave two years ago on Restoring American Regionalism. On the same site is a more recent lecture on Wendell Berry on War and Peace.

Batavia: Not just a place to pass through

By Howard B. Owens

After 18 months of living in Batavia, local blogger Martin Szinger is getting settled into life in his new home town.

I was born and raised the Town of Tonawanda, a first-ring suburb of Buffalo. As an adult, I moved out to the "country" in Genesee County, Town of Batavia. Always Buffalo-facing, I never gave much thought to the City of Batavia, five miles to the east, other than it being the shopping destination of choice for most of life's daily needs. I came to understand that most of Genesee County is more likely to be Rochester-facing - we got the 585 area code with them, bland pollsters operating from a half a world away assume we watch the Rochester TV stations, and so on. But I never gave much consideration to the idea that any significant number of people could be Batavia-facing.

Great way of putting it: That you can live in Batavia and not look to Buffalo or to Rochester, but actually be Batavia-facing.

It's probably no surprise that Martin getting knee deep in appreciation for Batavia coincides with his reading Bill Kauffman's book.

Slowly, I've become more interested in the history of the place. I've just finished reading Bill Kauffman's Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette, in which the author's classic experience of the Native Son returning to his small hometown is set in the very same Batavia. It's his vehicle for bemoaning so much of what's been lost in Small Town America and also celebrating the good in What Remains There, but it's also very much about Batavia. Literate (probably to a fault) and witty (to compensate), Kauffman produces a veritable parade of references that shed light on Batavia so as to almost move it from the Real to the Mythic. You can feel the love, and it's contagious.

And we're gratified to know that Martin reads The Batavian and that he is considering taking our advice to subscribe to the home town newspaper. We also encourage him to make a habit of WBTA.

You can enrich your life when you turn to your own home town and make it not just a place where you watch TV and sleep at night, but where you actually live.

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