Writer news

Home Site Develops

Posted in Writer news on December 16th, 2018 by admin – Be the first to comment

A broad website initiative is now in-process to deepen resources for teachers, students, and interested readers on some of the projects in which I am engaged:

  • Emily Dickinson & her multicultural world at home with servants – Maid as Muse
  • The Garden State’s KKK - The Ku Klux Klan at Home in Hillsdale
  • After Brown: school desegregation in New England – We Bused in New Haven
  • Come back for a visit in Summer 2019

Are there books after death?

Posted in Writer news on November 10th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

labyrinth nyc

from “Bound & Stitched”

When you’re on a nonfiction reading streak, you somehow don’t question it. For me it started with Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth. I was fascinated by Fox’s resuscitation of Alice Kober, the little-known linguist who laid the painstaking groundwork for the decipherment of Linear B. Margalit Fox’s vocation is the “rescuing of lost souls” like Kober, as lead obituary writer for The New York Times.

That’s an occupation I’ve harbored as secret desire, and in my own way I practiced it, when I exhumed stories of the household staff who once worked for Emily Dickinson. At this moment, though, with my small tower of nonfiction deliciously perched on the round copper table in the living room, I was the one who needed to get lost. I demanded rescue from souls going missing. I picked up Labyrinth and was happily captured from page one.

Allan” I said when he walked in on Sunday morning with his book bag slung over his bony right shoulder. He stood on my living room rug in his stocking feet, his army-green t-shirt hanging loose from his shoulders like drying laundry pinned to a line. “Well, then” he said, smiling in that slant way that meant what have you got new, his hand out, palm up, urging me to say more or put a book in it….

Spintale - Daniella Woolf

He eyed my stack of books, most of them covered by thin cellophane with which the library wraps its cloth-bound books. These were titles I couldn’t hang onto if I grew attached. I liked it that way. The anonymous sharing. Turning a page to find the slipped in photograph of a Bulgarian man in traditional hat, slightly blurry, or the previous reader’s check-out list topped by The Merry Misogynist by Colin Coterill. “How could you?” I thought, speaking to my predecessor. “And the new J. K. Rowling,” I said reprovingly. I scolded in my head, but I was excited by these traces of someone else in “my books.” I suppose it was much the same way men felt at the baths, before the city closed them down, when bodies were shared, anonymously, and traces lingered from someone else’s pleasure….

Read more of “Bound & Stitched” in the summer issue of Catamaran Literary Reader illustrated by the evocative work of Daniella Woolf.

To the question of books after death, “Bound & Stitched” says yes.

What Would Emily Eat?

Posted in Writer news on January 4th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

If Ms. Dickinson were making a jaunt to Seattle, would she have lunch at Cafe Presse on Capitol Hill?

How about that special elixir Seattle thinks it invented?

Would she drink espresso strong enough to “feel physically as if the top of her head were taken off?”

What do they put in that stuff she’s drinking?

How about those buttery dripping crumpets at the Crumpet Shop? Locavore tendencies? Terra Plata?

Emphatically yes.

My plan is to tour Seattle eateries and drinkeries where a poet would find inspiration of one kind or another.

My excuse is a talk I’m giving. So if you find yourself in Seattle on Friday, January 6, come hear me talk about the invisible but not the inaudible.

My illustrated presentation – “Warm in her Hand these accents lie” – is about the impact of her servants’ speech on Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

I’ll be in Room 303 of the Washington State Convention Center at noon describing how this poet was an auditory sponge who freely admitted to having a “vice for voices.”

As an artist she pulled language from every available palette including the speech of family, neighbors, friends, and servants.

We know she listened deeply because she seized the inner workings of other varieties of English heard in the intimacy of her own gardens and kitchen where she spent much of her time.

Emily Dickinson appears to have been strongly influenced by the Hiberno-English of Irish immigrant maids and laborers and the African American Vernacular English spoken by gardeners and stablemen who were descended from slaves.

Like all great artists, Emily Dickinson synthesized and improvised with the varieties of English which were her fortune. From her deep reading and listening, this home-centered writer forged a decidedly American poetic idiom.

Even when a maid freed her to run upstairs to write, though, she still gravitated back to the kitchen.

The good conversation, no doubt, and that’s where the food is.

Emily would definitely maximize a trip to Seattle by getting caffeine intoxicated and tucking into some great food. I plan to with or without her.

WWEE? And what will we eat? Le Pichet anyone? Matt’s in the Market?

There Will Be -No- Miracles Here

Posted in Writer news on July 27th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

After three weeks at Hawthornden, I finally took a day off, at the encouragement of the other writing fellows, and went to the modern art galleries of the Scottish National Museum.

The rain was intermittent-deluge that day as I made my way beyond Edinburgh’s city center to two large villas that hold the modern art collection.

I had a great urge to see large scale canvases with abstract art, preferably something 1960s bold. “Olded-out, are you?” quipped Castle Administrator Hamish Robinson as I set off that morning.

Once there, I discovered that the museum had just taken down two large exhibitions and had not yet mounted their next shows. Because there were fewer pieces to see, there wasn’t the typical museum anxiety about racing through in order to not miss a thing. Thus, the paintings and sculpture I did see, I observed closely (and enjoyed immensely especially Howard Hodgkin and Hamish Fulton & taking my cappuccino opposite Joan Eardly’s Catterline in Winter at a table set between the towering legs of an Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture).

One of the conceptual pieces I was most taken with was an installation (above) by Nathan Coley set up on the lawn. Originally part of a series, erected in and around the town of Stirling, it stands six meters high, with old style theater lighting, proclaiming:

There Will Be

No Miracles


This amusing piece, set deep in the green lawns of the Dean Gallery was inspired by a 17th century royal proclamation made in a French town – the site of frequent miracles. I’ve made my own installations and was drawn to and energized by this simple and evocative piece.

“The more I walk

the more I write”

During my month-long writing fellowship, I sometimes walked (courtesy of lifts from Mr. Robinson) the rib of the Pentland Hills to “see” the spine of the story; to unearth it – as the grazing sheep were exposing the contours of the land.

Mostly, I stayed closer to home and walked the Tyne Esk trail or sat on a stone bench of the Castle Walk with my note book scribbling furiously or in the wing chair set before the window in Milosz, lost in 1920s New Jersey even as I saw a falcon dive through the Esk gorge.

On my last morning at Hawthornden Castle, after my bags were packed and waiting in the front hall, I stood in the doorway of the empty room – the world I had inhabited for a month – staring at the wing chair faced out over the river, pointing toward the Hewan and Maidan Castle.

I was rooted to the spot, even as the hands of the clock swept round and it was nearly time to be whisked to the airport. Something extraordinarily powerful and surprising had taken place.

What was most astonishing is that at the bottom of the tartan staircase, packed in my bags, were 27,000 new words to my next book. Equally astonishing is this feeling of being “in the chute” – that I can hardly write fast enough. There will be miracles here.

Stevenson – Burns – Murray

Posted in Writer news on June 20th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Off to the south banks of the River North Esk that flows below Hawthornden – pictured – in Lasswade, Midlothian, Kingdom of Scotland.

I’ll be working in a cave or tower of the Hawthornden Castle - once the home of poet William Drummond (1585-1649) – thanks to a writing fellowship supported by Drue Heinz.

Hoping to catch a spark from the Scots-Lallan (Burns) or the music of RL Stevenson, CA Duffy, or Don Paterson.

If not, perhaps something of Suhayl Saadi or Trainspotting will rub off.

Not Glasgow, but it will do. Haggis: here I come.