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Poe Party 

With magic, music and scary scribes, the Poe Museum celebrates a century of Edgar.

click to enlarge The Poe Museum's collection got "even bigger and more important with a gift last April from longtime museum board member, Susan Tane, a treasure trove of personal items from the gothic master, including his pocket watch and the engagement ring that he gave his muse, Sarah Elmira Shelton, shortly before his death in 1849."

The Poe Museum's collection got "even bigger and more important with a gift last April from longtime museum board member, Susan Tane, a treasure trove of personal items from the gothic master, including his pocket watch and the engagement ring that he gave his muse, Sarah Elmira Shelton, shortly before his death in 1849."

R.L. Stine and Nnedi Okorafor, two of the leading voices in contemporary fantasy and horror, are coming to town to honor Edgar Allan Poe, the favored Richmond son known as the master of the macabre.

The two authors will speak about Poe's work and influence at the Carpenter Theater on Jan. 23, and will participate in a Q&A discussion, capping off a three-day, birthday bash celebration that also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Poe Museum.

"The goal is to honor all aspects of his storied career," says Maeve Jones, the Poe Museum's executive director. "When we were conceptualizing what this capstone would look like, we were thinking about who could come and talk about Poe's legacy, it was an impossible task because Poe himself delved into so many genres. He wrote horror but also early crime fiction and even science fiction."

Specializing in scary stories for young readers, R.L Stine has sold more than 500 million books, the most famous being "Goosebumps." "Stine made sense to invite because he's one of the modern masters of horror," says Jones. "So many of us grew up with Goosebumps." In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ohio native Stine listed Poe's 1843 short story, "The Black Cat," as one of his top five scariest reads.

click to enlarge Author R.L. Stine has sold more than 500 million books.
  • Author R.L. Stine has sold more than 500 million books.

Nigerian-American Okorafor, the Hugo award-winning writer of both adult and children's science fiction, will speak about Poe's ability to bend literary forms. "Her approach to writing science fiction and delving into Afrofuturism represent really creative approaches to genres," the executive director says. "Like Poe, she takes a set genre and does something completely unexpected with it."

click to enlarge Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor will speak on Poe's ability to bend literary forms.
  • Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor will speak on Poe's ability to bend literary forms.

The author event, and the silent auction at Dominion Energy Center's Rhythm Hall that precedes it, will conclude a long centennial weekend of music, readings and family activities held at the Poe Museum to celebrate the writer's 214th birthday.

On Saturday, Sara Crocoll Smith, the author of "The Haunting of Orchard Hill," and editor of several "Love Letters to Poe" anthologies, will speak in the museum garden, and a two-person musical, "Edgar Allan," will be presented by Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan, a.k.a. the Coldharts, who will also perform a set of songs inspired by Poe. There will also be musical sets by Cassidy Snider and the Wranglers and the Embalmers, and a special screening of short films based on the author's works.

On Sunday, the offerings will include readings from children's book scribe Phillip Hilliker and poet Adele Gardener, a magic show by magician Hunter Rhodes, and "Living History with Eliza Poe," which will showcase historical reenactor Debbie Phillips as Poe's actress mother. Haunts of Richmond will also be conducting ghost tours in and around the museum.

Founded in 1922, the Poe Museum, housed in Shockoe Bottom, boasts the most extensive collection of EAP artifacts, manuscripts, and memorabilia in the world. That collection got even bigger and more important with a gift last April from longtime museum board member, Susan Tane, a treasure trove of personal items from the gothic master, including his pocket watch and the engagement ring that he gave his muse, Sarah Elmira Shelton, shortly before his death in 1849.

click to enlarge The engagement ring given by Poe to his  muse, Sarah Elmira Shelton, shortly before his death in 1849.
  • The engagement ring given by Poe to his muse, Sarah Elmira Shelton, shortly before his death in 1849.

Jones says that this unprecedented collection will help to expand the museum's future focus, and that a revamping of the institution's exhibit spaces is in the works, as well as virtual online tours of its offerings. "We are a small museum, we can't have too many people at once," she says. "In the future, you'll be able to log in and take a live tour or attend a live program."

The museum's century of operation, and the author's lasting legacy, begs the question. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe's work -- and his life -- that has resonated so profoundly with generations of readers?

"It's the question of the museum," Jones says. "To my thinking, and what I've learned, we love Poe because he wrote about the most universal subjects: horror and fear. And his works are universal but also versatile. He was the first among his peers to write about the psyche, the mechanical functions of the mind experiencing horror."

She adds that most of their visitors, "whether diehard or just people who have read him casually, remember the beating of the Tell-Tale Heart. He conjured images that have pervaded the culture in a way that other writers' works haven't."

The fact that he's the ultimate tortured artist, an icon who experienced a mysterious death, also resonates, she says. "People come to the museum and leave tokens at his shrine, they leave notes, cigarettes, they put on lipstick and kiss his bust. There's a really personal connection that people have with Poe."

R.L Stine and Nnedi Okorafor will speak at the Carpenter Theatre in the Dominion Energy Center on Monday, Jan. 23. 7 p.m. Tickets: $38.50 and up, available at poemuseum.org. Before the event, a silent auction will also be held in the Center's Rhythm Hall with proceeds benefiting the Poe Museum.

Poe Birthday Bash events on Saturday, Jan. 21 at the Poe Museum include:

4 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Opening Speaker, Sara Crocoll Smith

4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 'Edgar Allan' The Coldharts

5:30 p.m. -7 p.m. Cassidy Snider and the Wranglers

7 p.m. - 8 p.m. The Coldharts

8 p.m.-10 p.m. The Embalmers

Tickets: $15, available at poemuseum.org

Poe Birthday Bash events on Sunday, Jan. 22 at the Poe Museum include:

12 p.m. -1 p.m. Poetry reading and workshop with author Adele Gardener

1 p.m. -2 p.m. Storytime by Emma Clark

2 p.m. -3 p.m. Magic! with Hunter Rhodes

3 p.m. -4 p.m. Eliza Poe performance

4 p.m. -5 p.m. Readings with author Phillip Hilliker

Tickets: $10 adult, $7 youth, available at poemuseum.org

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