Nevermore? Not quite.

Rob Velella reanimates Edgar Allen Poe in a one-man show coming to Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — Edgar Allan Poe is coming back to life this May in Brattleboro.

Portrayed by literary historian and playwright Rob Velella, the famed 19th century New England author will appear at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., on Tuesday, May 14, at 7 p.m.

In a theatrical performance entitled “Edgar Allan Poe: Love and Death,” Velella as Poe discusses his intertwining themes of love and death.

“I portray Edgar A. Poe as if the writer/editor/critic had just risen from the dead,” Velella says. “In addition to reading from both his trademark and lesser-known works, as Poe I explain the process of writing and the meaning behind his tales and poems.”

A more casual reading is scheduled for the Rutland Free Library on May 13. Together, these are Velella's first appearances in Vermont.

“I do single-person literary history, but do it in several ways,” Velella explains. “One is heavily scripted, more like a play actually. The other is much less formal, when I basically appear dressed as Poe and do a few readings. In all my appearances, however, I take questions and answers, which I respond to in character, and these, as you might imagine, can never be scripted. I answer as I thought Poe would.”

At the Hooker-Dunham, Velella will present a more formal theatrical performance.

“It is my most scripted show,” Velella says, “Poe once wrote that the death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic in the world. Works that best display that thin line between love and death - including 'Annabel Lee' and 'The Raven' - often feature a beautiful woman dying tragically, often violently.”

In addition to reading a selection from these works, Velella will have Poe explain his reasoning for his macabre themes.

Audience participation will be encouraged. Admission to “Love and Death” is $8, and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

“Age consideration is important,” says Velella. “Beware: this is a violent show; people are going to die.”

Velella admits that he has been influenced by the historical figure impersonations of people like Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, and Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson, but he believes what he does is substantially different from what those thespians do.

“While they are basically acting occasions, I see my mission more as a literary critic,” he says.

Velella has been called the “Prometheus of American literary scholarship.”

“My strong interest in 19th century American literature began with an interest in Edgar Allan Poe, which was rekindled in college,” he says. “I have come to appreciate both the works and the biography of many authors. I am not myself a creative writer, but I'm a pretty good reader. My favorite activity is probably visiting author homes and burial places. I have proudly paid my personal respects at the graves of dozens of deceased authors - and the list keeps growing,” he says.

Not affiliated with an academic institution, Velella considers himself an independent scholar.

“In the past few years, I have made it my goal to do nothing less than bring 19th century writers 'back from the dead' by presenting lectures and dramatic readings, organizing exhibits, leading tours, and by blogging.”

Velella maintains the American Literary Blog (, an “almost-daily celebration of important (and not-so-important) dates in 19th-century American literary history.”

The American Literary Blog focuses on American literature of the 19th century, ranging from classic authors to lesser-known or forgotten figures. Each entry is inspired by an anniversary of sorts, such as a birthday, death, a letter written, or the publication date of a literary work.

“My hope is to inspire an interest in our classic writers among the general population of readers,” Velella says. “I have a particular interest in writers from the period who were once famous but now forgotten, as well as popular writers who represent a more widespread movement or genre which has not reached 'classic' status such as Chivers, [Fitz-Greene] Halleck, Sprague, and [Henry] Timrod.”

Taking his research on 19th century American writing outside of academia by lecturing at various historical sites, libraries, and colleges from Pennsylvania to Maine in his ongoing efforts to bring the writers of yesterday back to the readers of today, he has dramatically brought to life several literary figures, including the young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

“When I began impersonating literary figures,” he says, “the whole scope of what I was doing radically changed. I was suddenly able to reach a much larger and more accepting audience than I ever had before.”

He says, “My favorite (and most formal) presentation is 'The Poet and His Songs,' which features Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a young man explaining his woes as a harried professor and up-and-coming poet. The presentation takes him to about 1854, when his prospects in poetry suddenly mature.”

More rarely, Vella also impersonates a young Nathaniel Hawthorne making the rounds of his old haunts in New England.

Velella says that Hawthorne was a reclusive writer who did not enjoy public appearances, preferring reading his works instead of making presentations. “His short tales are well-suited to various audiences, but I also present an abridged version of his famous novel, 'The Scarlet Letter,'” Velella adds.

But his impersonation of Edgar Allen Poe has been his most popular. He has to book October almost a year in advance as so many people want to hear from him during the witching season.

“But I think Poe's popularity is fitting because it was through my reintroduction of him in college that I began what I do,” says Valella. “And I am grateful that I can dedicate myself to celebrating the culture of 19th century American literature. I was told that the way to happiness is to find what you love and make a living off it. And, by spreading the gospel of American literature, that is what I am able to do.”

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