A local author is scheduled to discuss the inspiration and research of her first book, “Shipwreck of Hopes,” throughout the coming week. Her work at the Fire Island Lighthouse exposed her to the wreck of the Elizabeth off Fire Island in 1850.
A local author is scheduled to discuss the inspiration and research of her first book, “Shipwreck of Hopes,” throughout the coming week.
Angela Reich recalled her childhood in East Rockaway—lying on her bed, reading on those hot summer afternoons and being “swept away into places and experiences” that opened up her world. “Since then, I always wanted to write fiction, but it was my work at the Fire Island Lighthouse that exposed me to this phenomenal shipwreck story,” she said, referring to the wreck of the Elizabeth off Fire Island in 1850.
Reich became a docent at the famous lighthouse shortly before retiring, in 2014, from the Syosset School District, where she taught high school English.
The Brightwaters resident said the lighthouse was an “immediate draw” because it pulled together everything she is passionate about: research and writing, Long Island history and the “magic of the seashore.” Reich added that while she is officially retired from teaching, she is still a teacher. “There’s nothing more fulfilling than to turn people on to knowledge that can light up their interest and excitement… and that’s what I get to do as a docent,” she said. “So, in a sense, I am still teaching.”
Reich explained that the inspiration for her book, which was published in September, came in her early days as a docent while researching the Elizabeth, which slammed into a sandbar less than 100 yards from Fire Island on July 19, 1850.
“The process started with research on the local history: the towns, the people, their livelihoods, and their involvement in the aftermath of the wreck,” Reich said. “Then there was the question of the Elizabeth’s famous passenger, Margaret Fuller, which opened up another whole biographical study of her life, and why she was on that ship returning from Europe at the time.”
Reich said “Shipwreck of Hopes,” a work of historical fiction, was five years in the making. “I am a big fan of historical fiction… if the research is meticulous,” she said. “It’s a great way to learn about people, places and times gone by in an entertaining way.”
Reich was first turned on to historical fiction by her college history professor at St. Joseph’s College. They were teaching a course in World War II and recommended the class read Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” and its sequel, “War and Remembrance.” “My interest in and respect for the genre started there,” Reich said.
Fuller, the Elizabeth’s famous passenger, worked for a number of prominent publications at the time, including The Dial and The New-York Tribune. Reich first heard of Fuller during her Ph.D. studies at Stony Brook University. “However, I had not delved into her life until my research for the novel,” Reich said.
Reich describes the journalist and women’s rights advocate as a “groundbreaker.”
“She was remarkable,” Reich said, noting her admiration for Fuller’s personal commitment to becoming a voice for those who had none. “[Fuller] worked to abolish slavery, [improve] conditions for those incarcerated in jails and asylums, and advocated for higher education and voting rights for women. And she did all this while facing a very challenging personal life.”
In her time, Fuller was known for her bad temper and being – what some considered – overly self-confident. The Massachusetts native is also regarded as the inspiration for Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” published in 1850.
Fuller was traveling onboard the ill-fated ship from Rome with her husband, Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, an Italian revolutionary, and their son, Angelino. Fuller’s and Ossoli’s bodies were never recovered, but their son’s was. He is buried under a cenotaph to his parents in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.
“I wanted people to know who [Fuller] was as a human being,” Reich said. “This story has allowed me to do that.” She also plans to write a sequel to her first novel.
Reich will first speak about her book on Saturday, April 13 at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Public Library at 2 p.m. Reich’s next stop on Wednesday, April 17 is the West Islip Public Library at 7 p.m. A question-and-answer session and book signing will follow both speeches.
“Shipwreck of Hopes” is available on Amazon.com.