Around the Island

Shelter Island Library presents ‘Skin in the Game,” by Jenifer Maxson

Join popular Island writer and performer, Jenifer Maxson, on Zoom at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5 for “More Skin in the Game,” the latest in a conversation on racism that she began in this newspaper in 2015 with “The Little White Lie,” a Prose & Comments essay she wrote in response to a column by Michael White, “Catching a Break or Catching Hell.” 

“I was gratified that someone had opened up this crucial conversation,” she wrote in her introduction. “These conversations are 150 years late in coming, but might be encouraged if they can begin, finally, with one little white truth.”

Jenifer Maxson wrote and first performed “Skin in the Game” a year ago.  She described it as “irreverent but respectful — relevant, real and at least 51% funny.” 

Noting that it backtracks some 15 years to a “rude awakening,” the piece chronicles her shocking discovery that “I was saturated with white privilege and therefore ‘accidentally complicit’ in perpetuating the racism that has been slowly — and now faster and faster — killing our democracy.”  

Her unconscious embrace of that doctrine, she said, led to the recognition that “I probably had to do something about it. ‘Skin in the Game’ is what I’ve done,” she told RiverheadLOCAL prior to her performance in Jamesport.

“More Skin in the Game” continues her exploration of the hotly resonant topic — and ups the stakes: “Turns out equality seems to be a function of truth,” she said, “without which no democracy can survive — and truth in America right now is in dangerously short supply. That’s what ‘More Skin in the Game’ is all about,” adding with typical Maxson wit, “and if there’s “truth in jest,” there’s likely “jest in truth.”

Jenifer Maxson, who grew up on Long Island, was a toddler when she first came to Shelter Island, spent childhood summers here and moved to the Island as a single mom with her own children, daughters Johanna and Karena, a decision prompted by a birthday visit in 1981 to her brother, James Eklund, who had just bought the Ram’s Head Inn.

In 1984, with her sister-in-law, Linda Eklund, she started a theater program, the success of which can be measured by the Town’s financing and building a new auditorium, as well as by two dozen or so productions that originated with her — from the works of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde to musicals like “Oliver,” “The Sound of Music” and “Guys and Dolls,” as well as plays she wrote, such as “Coming of Age” and “Boomerology.”  She taught school full-time here from 1995 to 2012, including in the Gifted and Talented program.

She told Richard Lomuscio in a 2019 profile in this newspaper that “what I’d like to do [now] is get hold of a bus and offer tours during the summer to Island visitors, but while I was pointing out the sites of interest, I would also do stand-up comedy. I’d call it ‘Motor Mouth Tours.’”

And so she does, sort of, as writing and performing fills the days of her so-called retirement. She has done a variety of readings and performances on the East End, the most recent being the sexy, sassy lady in “Hill of Beans” at the Shelter Island Historical Society.

In addition to “Jenifer’s Journal,” her regular column in this newspaper, among her most popular creations are one-woman shows — “Coming of Age;” a staged reading of “Love, Loss & What I Wore,” by Nora and Delia Ephron; “Red Hot Patriot,” based on the life of intrepid Texas journalist, Molly Ivins;  “Confessions of an Early Boomer;” and “Writing Wrongs” as well as the “Skin…”  and “More Skin…” performances.

Like all Library programs, “Jenifer Maxson: More Skin in the Game” is free while donations are gratefully accepted. Visit silibrary.org to register for the program, or contact the library, 631-749-0042.