For Immediate Release – September 24, 2004


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516


Deborah Larsen’s Novel Based on Life of Mary Jemison

GENESEO, N.Y. – The author of "The White," a riveting novel about the life of Mary Jemison – known as "The white woman of the Genesee" – will deliver a lecture Oct. 21 at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Deborah Larsen, who also is an English professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, will talk and read from her novel at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21 in 204 Newton Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

"The White," published in 2002 by Random House, was selected for the college’s first Summer Reading Program, in which all new students read the same book before arriving on campus. Students were provided with copies of the book and attended dinner conversations about the novel their first weekend on campus.

Written through a combination of third-person description and poetic self-reflection in first person narration, the novel fictionally explores Jemison’s experiences as she is captured in 1758 by Shawnee Indians and given to a Seneca family. After learning the Seneca language, marrying and having a family, Jemison made her home permanently among the Seneca, declining to return to white culture even when given the opportunity.

SUNY Geneseo selected the novel to open dialogue with new students about how they made the cultural transition from high school to college, said Celia Easton, associate dean of students and director of orientation and first year programs for the college.

"Deborah Larsen’s visit to SUNY Geneseo will be a highlight of students’ co-curricular lives this fall, as well as an opportunity to share the educational resources of the college with residents from surrounding communities. After lively discussions about "The White" during the college’s opening weekend, students will now have the opportunity to meet the author of the book they have read in common and critically discuss her creative translation of Mary Jemison’s life," said Easton. "In addition, many of the college’s neighbors who grew up in Livingston County, surrounded by the monuments, markers, gravesites and stories that have kept Mary Jemison’s history alive, will enjoy Larsen’s public visit and the opportunity to share their own interests in Jemison’s life and Native American culture in this region."

The New York Times Book Review called the novel "a lyrical excursion on a deep historical sea." The San Francisco Chronicle characterized the book as "the old world of the New World, both a dream and our shared history, for our reading pleasure and our thoughtful consideration of what we have all lost and gained."

Jemison left Ohio in her 20s and settled in the Genesee Valley with her children and Seneca sisters. Her first husband died, and she married another Seneca warrior. Descendants continue to live in this area. Her grave was moved to Letchworth Park in 1874, topped with a statue at the new gravesite (just up from the park’s museum) in 1910. A longhouse and cabin that Mary lived in at one time with family members also have been moved near the grave and carefully preserved by park employees.

Jemison’s story has been recounted many times by historians, as well as fiction writers. Larsen’s account of Jemison’s story includes a number of local references familiar to residents in Livingston County, including the Torture Tree in Cuylerville, put to use during the Sullivan Expedition, and the Whaley House in Castile. During her lecture at SUNY Geneseo, Larsen will answer questions about her work.

This event is funded in part by Poets & Writers Inc., through a grant it received from the New York State Council on the Arts. Additional funding comes from the Division of Student and Campus Life at SUNY Geneseo.

For more information on Larsen’s visit, contact Easton by e-mail at or call the Center for Community at (585) 245-5706.

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Photo Credit: Lawrence Kinneman