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Presume Competence

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Breck Suite, Wright Hall, Longmeadow Campus
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Marianne Leone is an actress (The Sopranos), screenwriter and author of Ma Speaks Up: And a First-Generation Daughter Talks Back and Jesse: A Mother’s Story.

When their son developed cerebral palsy after premature birth, she became a special needs advocate, along with her husband (Oscar-winner Chris Cooper). Jesse was a nonverbal quadriplegic with a seizure disorder. He was also an honor roll student and a poet who got straight A’s in Latin. Her memoir honors her son’s memory and chronicles the two-year struggle to get Jesse his fundamental civil right: a free and appropriate public education. She will discuss becoming a “warrior mother” and deliver her message to “presume competence” when meeting differently-abled people. Inclusion works. Jesse’s life was proof of that.

From Our Speaker

Cover of the book Jesse written by Marianne LeoneI grew up seven miles outside of Boston, in the Lake, a small blue-collar enclave of a larger city, Newton. Lake dwellers were pretty evenly divided between Italian and Irish-Americans, with a soupcon of French-Canadians. There was no actual Lake in the Lake. The original had dried up and all that remained during my childhood was a green-slicked puddle on the site of a factory. All the Italians in the Lake had migrated from the same southern mountain village, San Donato Val di Comino. My mother and father were both Italian immigrants, but my mom was an outsider, from Sulmona, Abruzzo. My dad owned a small workingman’s bar, Leone’s Café. I went to Catholic school for twelve years. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a saint, a reporter, and a cowboy. I didn’t become a saint, but I married a cowboy and sometimes I write for The Boston Globe. I’ve written a bunch of screenplays and sold some of them, but I’m unproduced. I think it’s because none of them have explosions (but all of them have women in the lead roles). I was also lucky enough to play Joanne Moltisanti, Christopher’s mother, on HBO’s The Sopranos for four seasons. I live in a small town on the south shore of Massachusetts with my husband, Chris Cooper, and two rescue dogs, Lucky and Frenchy. KNOWING JESSE is about my son, whose luminous presence expanded and transformed everything else in my universe. I wrote the book to celebrate his life, to deal with his death, and to share him with others.

The Jesse Cooper Foundation funds inclusion and adapted sports for children with special needs, and supports disabled orphans in Romania.