Suzanne Stempek Shea with readers at a recent event.
My home in the Western Massachusetts valley is rich with writers living and dead. I regularly park my car at the meter below Emily Dickinson’s bedroom window. Errands and events take me past the Eric Carle museum, and also the house that belonged to one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The only positive aspect of going to an oral surgeon during childhood was that his office was on the same street where Dr. Seuss grew up. Opening the door to a local bookstore, I once nearly smashed into the poet James Tate and a group of his students. Recently waiting to pay for a futon cover at a furniture store, I found Jonathan Harr in line front of me in line.
Around here it’s hard to swing a laptop without whacking into any local ink-stained wretches – or successes including enough whose mantels heft Pulitzers or Caldecotts or National Book Awards. So it would be natural to think we scribes of all sorts socialize, that we attend a writers’ club much like the Elks or the Moose or the AMVETS clubs that dot the landscape. But there isn’t one. Or maybe they’re just not telling me about it.
In my line of work, I spend a lot of time talking to people. A few weeks ago, I spent a day with a guy who restores BSA M20 vintage motorcycles in his garage. Last Monday, I rode a snowmobile for about 200 miles along the Canadian border with a hardcore libertarian bear hunting guide. Earlier in the winter, I spent several afternoons in an old church in Portland, talking to Reverend Jeanette Good about the role of faith in the least religious state in America (Maine).
The most interesting interview of the year: speaking Spanish with a Cuban man who makes transatlantic voyages on 600 ft. barges loaded down with shipping containers full of pregnant cows. He’d been up since 3am, had just flown in from Turkey the night before. We drank coffee, in a diner, in the easternmost town in America. In his former life, he told me that he’d been a “doctor pediatrico.” I mean, you just can’t make this shit up.
So now it’s your turn to share your thoughts. As readers of the Stonecoast Faculty blog, what are the topics you would like discussed? What insights would you like to read about from faculty? Are there any specific questions you would like to have answered? Do you have thoughts on the posts we’ve shared thus far and/or direction for future posts?
In the comments below, please share your thoughts and opinions about anything and everything related to the Stonecoast Faculty Blog. We look forward to hearing from you!
When I went out into the publishing market four years ago, I had a newfound agent and two book manuscripts for sale: a China memoir about the years my young boys and husband and I lived in Beijing, and a novel manuscript about a woman finding love in Paris. I’d had the good luck to sign an agent who believed in both my books. Not every agent who was interested in my memoir was interested in my novel. One agent was keen on the novel and not so much on the memoir. But I believed in both books. Deeply. I couldn’t forego one at the expense of the other. So I needed to trust myself to find an agent who would stand behind both projects. I kept talking to agents—I reached out to a dozen and talked to a half-dozen and then I found the fit—a woman who understood both my book projects and was behind them entirely.
Ellen Meeropol and Ruthie Rohde leading the Social Change seminar at the Stonecoast summer residency.
In describing her own commitment to activism, Stonecoast alumna and author Ellen Meeropol quotes Alice Walker: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.”
Fellow SC alumna Ruthie Rohde has spent years helping homeless and other disenfranchised people tell their stories. Ruthie quotes author Pat Schneider to explain that not knowing how to put stories together can be a “learned disability.” Ruthie says she helps her students realize that they all have “treasures waiting to be brought to the surface.”
Elli and Ruthie have both stepped up to the plate this summer to lead a seminar about uniting Stonecoast students, faculty, and alumni who are interested in writing and working for social change.
Once upon a time there was a troll, the most evil troll of them all; he was called the devil. One day he was particularly pleased with himself, for he had invented a mirror which had the strange power of being able to make anything good or beautiful that it reflected appear horrid; and all that was evil and worthless seem attractive and worthwhile.
This is the first paragraph of “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson who embedded moral lessons in fairy tales and other short works, many of which do not end happily ever after. Anderson created his characters using the rules of polarity: good and evil, beautiful and ugly, greedy and generous. He recognized that people universally think in terms of opposites, that it pervades our physical environment: north and south, night and day, dark and light, hot and cold. Anderson kept his characters deceptively basic, a flat land of generic stereotype. There is the wicked witch and the beautiful princess, the conniving hag and unsuspecting king, and their differences create conflict. It’s as simple as yes and no, as right and wrong.
When I was a child I would crawl under my bed, with my gilt-edged copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and a flashlight, to read. I felt adventurous hidden from the world behind the counterpane, snug as if I were in cave as I pored over stories illustrated with toothpick fairies and anthropomorphic animals. My mother would be practicing the piano, indefatigably repeating bars, mostly by Mozart, whom she found divine.