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The Folger Spotlight

'Beheld' by TaraShea Nesbit

Folger Book Club returns on Thursday, November 9 with a discussion of Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this unique look at the Plymouth colony.

What is Beheld about?

From the bestselling author of The Wives of Los Alamos comes the riveting story of a stranger’s arrival in the fledgling colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts—and a crime that shakes the divided community to its core.

Ten years after the Mayflower pilgrims arrived on rocky, unfamiliar soil, Plymouth is not the land its residents had imagined. Seemingly established on a dream of religious freedom, in reality the town is led by fervent puritans who prohibit the residents from living, trading, and worshipping as they choose. By the time an unfamiliar ship, bearing new colonists, appears on the horizon one summer morning, Anglican outsiders have had enough.

With gripping, immersive details and exquisite prose, TaraShea Nesbit reframes the story of the pilgrims in the previously unheard voices of two women of very different status and means. She evokes a vivid, ominous Plymouth, populated by famous and unknown characters alike, each with conflicting desires and questionable behavior.

Suspenseful and beautifully wrought, Beheld is about a murder and a trial, and the motivations—personal and political—that cause people to act in unsavory ways. It is also an intimate portrait of love, motherhood, and friendship that asks: Whose stories get told over time, who gets believed—and subsequently, who gets punished?

Critical Reception

Nesbit is brilliant . . . and captures a paradox of historical writing — that it’s in the invention and improvisation that the past feels most pressing and most real.” – The New York Times

“‘Beheld’ successfully evokes what happens in this society strained by inequality, especially for the women, who are allowed little to no voice in matters of life and death.” – US Today

“. . . Nesbit’s lush prose adds texture to stories of the colony’s women, and her deep immersion in primary sources adds complexity to the historical record. “ – Publisher’s Weekly

Why did we choose this book?

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

As November brings with it the celebration of Thanksgiving, Beheld offers a different exploration of the Plymouth colony. The story of the colony’s first recorded murder, Nesbit’s novel explores how the truth can be affected by perspective through the interwoven narratives of two women from contrasting social classes.

About the author: TaraShea Nesbit

Adapted from the author’s website

TaraShea’s bestselling first novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, about the making of the atomic bomb from the wives’ perspective, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, an Indies Choice Debut Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and winner of two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

Her writing has been featured in GrantaLit HubThe GuardianNinth LetterSalonFourth GenreQuarterly WestThe Collagist,  Iowa ReviewNecessary FictionThe Los Angeles Review of Books Fiction Issue, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Miami University and lives in Cincinnati with her family.

Content Transparency

Beheld includes references to potentially sensitive subjects. Expand below for a list of content.

November’s Bookstore Partner

This month, we are excited to partner with Lost City Books, an independent bookstore in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC, offering used, new, and rare book selections as part of DC’s thriving book-loving community.

Owned by Adam, a veteran and dog-lover, a long-time resident of DC, and an enthusiastic disseminator of books. Our small team is a collection of some of DC’s coolest kids: artists, educators, musicians, writers, and—of course—avid readers all coming together to create this unique environment.

Order online, by phone (202.232.4774), or come in person and browse the shelves. Front door pickup and shipping options are available. For questions, email oracle@lostcitybookstore.com.

Learn more at lostcitybookstore.com.

Purchase your copy of Beheld

We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program

Capitol Hill Community Foundation
Junior League of Washington

Join us for an upcoming event

Sneak Peek of the "New" Folger Shakespeare Library

Sneak Peek of the "New" Folger Shakespeare Library

Teachers are invited to join this free Folger Education professional development session.
Mon, Jun 17, 2024, 8pm ET
Imprints in Time

Imprints in Time

This special exhibition at the Folger features rare books from the collection of Stuart and Mimi Rose that present literary, cultural, and historical high points.
Fri, Jun 21, 2024 – Sun, Jan 5, 2025
Rose Exhibition Hall
Into the Vault: Books of the 1620s

Into the Vault: Books of the 1620s

See books from the Folger collection that were printed in European cities in the decade from which the Shakespeare First Folio emerged.
Opening Fri, Jun 21, 2024
Rose Exhibition Hall