ASHLAND -- An Ashland Chautauqua favorite, Karen Vuranch will share insights with local folks in January by means of a virtual book discussion.

Fans will remember her recent performances as the fiery union organizer Mother Jones (2017), the swashbuckling 16th century pirate Grace O’Malley (2018), and Civil War nurse Clara Barton, the performance which she memorably took on with less than a week’s notice in 2016.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, Vuranch will be part of the Ashland Chautauqua Conversations series of virtual events. She will lead a discussion of a book about Gertrude Bell, a British archaeologist, mountaineer, army officer, diplomat, and spy in World War I. 

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The book is entitled Queen of the Desert:  A Biography of the Female Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell, written by Fergus Mason.

It is not necessary to read the book to attend the event, but for those seeking winter reading, the book can be found online at various bookseller websites and is also available in Kindle format.

“Gertrude Bell was truly a visionary in her day," Vuranch said. 

Bell’s fascination for the Middle East began when she visited her uncle, who was the British Ambassador in Iran. She learned the Persian language, Farsi, as well as Arabic.

For many years, Gertrude traversed the deserts of the Middle East, meeting with tribal leaders and completing dangerous desert crossings, mapping the deserts, and studying archaeological ruins.

When World War I began, she was clearly the most knowledgeable British person about the Arabic countries. 

Thus, she came to the attention of the British Army during World War I and found herself assigned to Army Intelligence Headquarters to work as a spy and led the British troops through the desert, along with her good friend, T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Gertrude was officially inducted into the British Army and was the only female British Army officer in the Middle East in World War I. 

The Vuranch/Bell book discussion is free, but registration is necessary for entrance into the event.

Register through Eventbrite with this link:

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The Ashland Chautauqua Conversations series of virtual events was made possible with support from the Ohio Humanities, Ohio Arts Council, Ashland Main Street, and Explore Ashland.

Vuranch will return to Ashland to perform as Gertrude Bell in July 2021, along with four other scholars portraying characters whose lives fit into the Ashland Chautauqua theme, “In Times of War.”

The other scholars and characters are: John Anderson as Ernest Hemingway, George Frein as Erich Maria Remarque, James Armstead as General Benjamin O. Davis, and Kevin Radaker as Winston Churchill. 

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