Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 21, 2015

Peeks into May Alcott’s Paris

During the years of writing Little Woman in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott, I was delighted to catch sight of May wherever I could. Most often this was in biographies that focused on her sister Louisa May Alcott and sometimes their parents, Abigail and Bronson. I also came to know May from memoirs of nineteenth century neighbors, such as novelist Julian Hawthorne and sculptor Daniel Chester French. I was delighted to find May in two novels by contemporary women that feature Mary Cassatt. Both May Alcott and Mary Cassatt were expatriate painters in Paris at the same time and became friends. I liked to imagine walking in on one of the Thursday night soirées at the Cassatt family home in Montmartre, or listening in as May and Mary rode in a horse-drawn carriage through an elegant park.

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One book that gives a fictional peek into their lives in 1870’s Paris is Harriet Scott Chessman’s Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper. This spare and lyrical novel shines with reflections on art, family, the nature of memory, and mortality. Like my novel, there are sketches of sisterhood, but the relationship here is gentler. Lydia Cassatt has Bright’s disease that she knows will cut her life short, and seems mostly resolved to her role as model and muse for her hugely talented sister. Such a role would never have contented May Alcott, who was blessed with good health and felt determined to make her own mark. But I like the theme of the person who finds the courage to contend with the limits illness forces upon her and to find grace in the milestones of an inner life. It’s not easy to live in the shadow of someone famous, and Lydia does so with affection and courage. The story is told in her voice and in present tense, and as seems befitting with someone who struggles with pain and for whom energy is at a premium, the narrative is written in vignettes with pauses in between. It’s structured in five sections related to five of Mary Cassatt’s paintings, which are reproduced here, and show Lydia’s observant eye and an artistic sensibility that only Mary, and then we the lucky readers, can share. We see Lydia with embroidery hoops or at a loom. “I yearn to be simply present in this day, filled for the moment with color and shape, my own hand urging the needle through the silk.”

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I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira is told as if by Mary Cassatt, framed with the mention of letters found after the death of Edgar Degas, when Mary helped clean his studio and hunted for these souvenirs of their deep friendship. The nature of love between them is not as direct as the title suggests, but complicated, ambiguous, and shifting, as both Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas put much of their time and passion into painting. We get to know the confident woman from Philadelphia and the gruff Frenchmen. Mary is shown as a prudent businesswoman, but did more than tally “coin and admiration,” caring more about “the moment, the breath, the seeing.”

The novel focuses on Mary’s relationship with Degas, but we also get to know her sister, her parents who were more conservative than she was, and other artists, including Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet. Perhaps most interesting for me was the way the novel opens with a scene of Mary Cassatt and May Alcott. To avoid the potential awkwardness of dialogue between Mary and the similarly sounding May, Robin Oliveria wisely chose to call her Abigail, which was May’s given name (as a young woman, May chose to use her middle name, since it was prettier, and her mother’s maiden name, passed along to her two most creative daughters.) The friendship of Mary and May is full of warmth and trust, a refuge as Mary contends with much and comes to question Degas’s statement that “Only paint was honest.”

I enjoyed both these novels for the depiction of Mary Cassatt’s struggles and successes, and the enticing glimpses I got of May. With Little Women in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott I give May a stage of her own. I hear the novel is in from the printers and starting to be stocked, so you kind people who’ve pre-ordered may get copies soon. I’m excited!

Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 17, 2015

The Isles of Shoals

Slathered in sunscreen, with hats we needed but sweaters we didn’t, my sister, two of her daughters and I set aboard the Thomas Laighton at The Isle of Shoals Steamship Company in Portsmouth, NH yesterday. I wanted to set foot on one of the nine islands that I spend a lot of time looking at from the coast of Maine. I learned that some of the islands are in Maine and some in New Hampshire, and from them you can see Massachusetts, too.

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Above is White Island where I’ve read about Celia Thaxter spending some years of her childhood. Her father, Thomas Laighton, was the lighthouse keeper. He also helped develop the islands, including see that an inn was built on Star Island, which Celia would later help run. In the nineteenth century, many well-to-do guests came to escape the heat and horsey smell of Boston, including poet Longfellow and novelist Hawthorne. Celia was also a respected poet and writer at the time, as well as a talented china painter.

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The big inn on Star Island, where we landed and walked, is now used as a retreat center for UU and UCC groups and families. I love how they nod to this history with a room with a view and photos of notables from yore.

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This picture is of Celia Thaxter’s brother, Oscar, who lived on the small island for about ninety years.

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We walked around and saw scenes like this.

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Here’s a picture of the tallest grave in New Hampshire taken from inside the small stone church.

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Across the water on Appledore Island, marine labs are operated by Cornell and UNH and Celia Thaxter’s gardens have been revived. I want to go back and see those, as well as sit on the rocks and spend some time in that welcoming writing room at the inn. Or maybe just to look at one the lonelier islands.

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Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 7, 2015

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings a Memoir by Margarita Engle

Flight and sky are images that recur through this verse memoir of the first fourteen years of the author’s life. We see Margarita Engle find a home in Cuba, where her mother was born, and California and Oregon, where she lives most of the time with Mami, her sister, and Dad. Highlights from early years were visits to Cuba, where Margarita’s soul was shaped by the dances and stories of her mother’s family, and the songbirds, bright parrots, orchids, mimosas, and coconut palms that she’s earlier evoked in verse novels including The Surrender Tree and Tropical Secrets. Memories such as of a river that “shimmers like a humming bird/all the dangerous crocodiles/ and gentle manatees/already hidden beneath/quiet water” sustain her as travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States are set. As she becomes a young teenager, the sense of isolation she already felt as a person who loved books and animals more than her peers did deepened due to her questioning and apprehension as she heard newscasts about the Cold War.

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Her family is regarded by neighbors with some cruel suspicion, but Margarita finds her own courage as her mother finds hers. They both struggle with homesickness, finding their places between two lands and languages. Neither can forget the island where women work by windows where moths and birds fly in and out, enjoying the fresh air, while also fearing aires, a word that can be “a whoosh/ of refreshing sky-breath, or it can mean/dangerous/spirits.” Fear and love shape the book, along with thoughts on flights of mythical horses and real butterflies. The last poem of Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings is titled “Hope,” and a timeline shows public events between Cuba and the United States. One girl’s story shows a joy shared by many as, after so many years, lands that were once friendly can be so again.

Here’s a great interview with Margarita done by verse novelist Holly Thompson at Poetry for Children. Margarita Engle: “I studied botany, and became an agronomist. I remembered family, and became a poet.”

For more Poetry Friday reading please visit Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 5, 2015

Celebrating Baba Yaga’s Assistant

It was a happy night at the Odyssey Bookshop, with Marika McCoola, who not so long ago directed the children’s department, back to talk about her first book, the graphic novel Baby Yaga’s Assistant. Former colleagues praised Marika’s wit and intelligence and former Simmons classmates and critique group members were excited to see what had come from early drafts. Marika used slides to show us her early notes, some comments from first readers, and how some of these found their way into the final book, which was illustrated by Emily Carroll. We followed the evolution of a sample two-page spread, from thumbnail sketches, then the inks, the black line work and final version. Marika showed places where the illustrator deviated, tweaked, or moved things around for design issues or to give more emotional weight, often expressed with color.

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Someone asked why, being an artist, Marika hadn’t illustrated the book herself. She explained that the style she had in mind for the story wasn’t her own, and that as an illustrator she’d also trained as an art director, knowing how to give some directions then be open to what came. Will she illustrate another graphic novel down the line? Possibly. She noted that often her art is three dimensional and multi media, which would mean a lot of sewing and sculpting to make characters for the many scenes a graphic novel requires. She said also that with some emotionally demanding works she wouldn’t want to spend another two years beyond the writing. And she’s simply interested in collaboration and to see what another does with the text. She observed that sometimes Emily Carroll found things in the script she didn’t know were there. At other times the spreads were just what she visualized.

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She spoke of liking the graphic novel form, just as she loved picture books since as a child being enchanted with Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen with its dialogue bubbles. As a teen she adored The Sandman and found everyone reading graphic novels in art school, where she was particularly moved by Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Graphic novels, like picture books, bring together Marika’s passion for both words and pictures, often with pictures telling more of the story.

Baba Yaga’s Assistant has been lauded, including a starred review from Kirkus calling it “a magnificent and must read for all fairy tale fans” and an NEIBA book award. I’ve just started reading, but so far love the tests and adventures, the combination of humor, depth, spookiness, realism, and magic.

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Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 30, 2015

The Art of Revision, and Learning from Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss

These days some students learn about revision in third grade, which is fine as long as it’s presented as the creative fun it can be. I grew up in an age of penmanship classes, being asked to check for spelling, but never to revise. I moved on to crossing out sentences or paragraphs as I completed high school papers, but didn’t really revise until college, when I was writing stories of my own that began as many fragments of scenes. I bought a blue typewriter at a garage sale, and learned to white out words or type over paper slips that were chalky on one side and meant to cover up errant letters. The first word processor my husband and I bought was a marvel, even if its printer sounded like a truck. It opened me to more chances for revision, which I would have resisted if it meant retyping entire pages or chapters. I might never have learned that if you’re only looking at what’s already on the paper, you’re doing revision wrong.

I’m currently revising a collection of narrative verse about girls and science called Finding Wonders. There were lots of drafts before it landed on my editor’s desk, including some in which members of my writing group wrote “Huh?” beside some lines. I cleaned up most of those lines, but a few got through, and my editor wrote things like: “Possible to make your meaning clearer?” The courtesy makes me smile, though I’m also fine with my writing group’s directness: we’ve built trust over twenty-five years. My editor thought the pacing of the first section was a bit slow, and suggested taking out one poem and merging two. But “slow” is not what I want to hear about a beginning, though I’ll never be speedy. So I’ve torn apart the first fifteen pages, to tighten and add small walls my character must bump into or vault. I’ve written some good new lines.

Revision is a major part of my process now, though I wish it had a more glamorous name. I like the “vision” within the word, but that “re,” drags the concept of “again” in a way it’s hard not to see as boring. Of course we’re not exactly beginning here, but there’s an element of its thrill, anxiety, and muscle. There can still be surprises. Revision is sort of like trying on clothes for a big occasion, though maybe you don’t know just what will happen. It’s useless to consider scanning the closet or even laying out the clothes. You must try them all on and see how one choice affects the next. Everything gets pulled out of the closet. We can’t think about details or accessories until we have down the general look.

We also can’t think much about structure and pacing in the abstract. It’s an experience. The time to tidy will come, but you’re not really ready until clothes are piled around your ankles. Then at last it’s time to attend to details. Coco Chanel advised women pulling together outfits to take off one thing before they left their houses, and usually we can find some words to snip.

Revising is not just taking away, but includes making a bigger mess, circling back, cutting and adding. Every time I add to a character, even if I scrape off most of what I layered on, I know her better. Our friendship deepens. I move things on and off a character’s table, and also break some open, turn them around. It’s good to take time for things to reveal themselves as possible metaphors. Just because we made this draft doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold some mystery. We should treat that with tender respect.

Sometimes revising looks a lot like research. I find a few new images and information, and replace with some of the old.

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Most writers know this sort of everything-out-of-the-closet revision, turning everything inside out. Recent reviews suggest that “newly discovered” work of Harper Lee and Dr. Seuss seem likely to have been drafts of what would become classics that were set aside. It does seem likely the authors didn’t entirely forget or lose these manuscripts, but used them as maps toward something better. In a New York Times Op-Ed column, Joe Nocera suggests Go Set a Watchman could be an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, pulled out to make money that the author, now ill and in a nursing home, isn’t asking for. He calls this “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” For Harper Lee’s beloved classic, working alone and with editor, Tay Hohoff, she may have turned some autobiographical details into the more universal truths of fiction, letting characters take on lives of their own. Joe Nocera quotes Harper Lee from one of her last interviews, speaking of the need to love language, to sit down and work “a good idea into a gem of an idea.” Maybe there’s more to this recently published novel, but it sounds like it doesn’t offer an Atticus or Scout I want to know, or the exquisite sentences in To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Another recently found book was featured a few days ago on the cover of the Sunday Book Review. Maria Russo writes about What Pet Should I Get, admiring some lines, but notes its theme of two children surveying a variety of pets and trying to make up their minds is less compelling than other works of Dr. Seuss. She sees this book with the same sibling protagonists as somewhat similar to, but lesser than, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, “a kind of warm-up for the more freewheeling and imaginatively rich — the slightly more classically Seussian — book.” The backstory to this isn’t as creepy or seemingly lawyer-ridden as that of Harper Lee’s just-published book, and I don’t think readers are as likely to feel betrayed as those who’ve been waiting and hoping for decades for one more book from Harper Lee. The finding of this picture book seems more about going through boxes and pulling up something that perhaps isn’t fabulous, but will do. Comparing the two as Maria Russo does shows another way that revision may be taking the plot and adding a layer, with the author finding and claiming his own truth by deepening his dedication to imagination and whimsy.

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Dr. Seuss was famous for revision. He sometimes said it took him nine months, and sometimes eighteen, to write the 236 words of The Cat and the Hat. The variation in months may be due to myth-making, or it may be that few of us count our drafts or can measure the time we spend, as we’re not sitting at a desk for eight hours five days a week. Time gets blurry. But we know the words that can be read fast didn’t come quickly.

Publishers are supposed to be gatekeepers, choosing what’s worthy; at least they tell that to those of us who choose         forms of self or partnership publishing. It’s one thing to publish junky books for those who want light summer reading, but to publish less than the best of brilliant writers may lose readers who should be cultivated with trust. Everyone needs to make money, but what matters most is to offer readers books that come from long spells of writing, working with good editors, then taking another look. Every day, every hour, writers might remind ourselves that we may like a page, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t throw it away. Something may be good, but there could be a way to make it better.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 27, 2015

Boston: Children’s Books, Art, and History

I had a great weekend catching up a bit with my daughter, then with former students and colleagues at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature Summer Institute. The theme was homecoming. Novelist Elaine Dimopoulos discussed the pull of stories to shape themselves in the form of home-away-home, or perhaps home-away in literature for teens. Laura Vaccaro Seeger spoke of her journal as a home. Both Jack Gantos and M.T. Anderson brought up maps and the tug between what’s known, even boring, and adventure. E. Lockhart (Emily Jenkins) described her itinerant childhood, but called home a place where you keep your books. She also spoke of home as the place you’re making now versus a place you go back to, truth versus nostalgia.

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There were discussions of homes that are safe, homes that are not, and complicated homes. Shadra Strickland spoke of illustrating Zetta Elliot’s Bird, and drawing one man based on her uncle. “Every time I drew him, it felt like home.” Illustrating Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, she was glad to show whimsy and hope, which she said is important to her as a black illustrator, feeling that we need relief from the rhetoric of pain. She showed scenes of cutting paper and pretending, things she did with her grandmother as a child. (In the panel picture above, Shadra Strickland is to the right of Cathryn Mercier, director of the Center of the Study for Children’s Literature, and illustrators David Costello and Hyewon Yum, and to left of moderator Vicky Smith.)

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I loved The Crossover, Kwame Alexander’s novel in verse, so it was a thrill to hear him speak, read, and remember. He said that he wrote the book as a love story to his father, after coming to understand the quiet form his father’s love took. His process for the book was to write about 200 pages of story with some line breaks, rhythm, and figurative language: then go back and rework each passage more fully into a poem. He said that in verse novels, neither the verse nor the narrative should be sacrificed to each other.

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I spoke about “Beyond Broken Lines: Finding the Lyric Home in Verse Narratives.” The audience was great, and I thank my friend, Deb, for liking what she heard in the morning enough to come again in the afternoon when I repeated the seminar about a “form where writers can say something while hinting that the opposite could have happened, and maybe will happen off the page. Here’s where we are and the road not taken, showing what’s humble and what’s magnificent all in one line.”

There were more thought-provoking talks, ending with Megan Dowd Lambert and Cathryn Mercier, who both put so much brilliant organizing into the weekend, giving a talk that pulled together threads. Then I walked a few blocks to the MFA. The exhibit “Yours Sincerely, John S. Sargent” was in a room with deep red walls and red carpets. I didn’t have the patience that afternoon to peer through glass cases and try to decipher bad handwriting, but I liked the tribute to these newly donated letters, which feature a recurring topic of Sargent’s work and how it should be displayed. I loved seeing photographs of some of his workspaces and sketches alongside finished paintings. Another room is devoted to his oils and watercolors. I picked up “Searching for Sargent,” a guide that shows other of his work in Boston. I admired the murals in the Boston Public Library, up the marble staircase past the grand lions, then walked through the newly renovated section on the other wing. Here is just one shot of the fabulous new Children’s Department.

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At the Museum of African American History. I saw the current exhibit, “Freedom Rising: Reading, Writing, and Publishing Black Books.” Glad to see lots of poetry! I went next door to the African Meeting House, recently restored to how it looked in 1855, when notables such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth preached here against slavery. The meetinghouse was built in 1806 mainly by African American artisans and is now the oldest black church still standing in the United States. A docent relayed the history with a passion as if he’d been in that pulpit long ago, and as if all those pews were filled, instead of just me, taking pictures with my cell phone. I was so grateful.

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That conference theme of home stayed with me in John Singer Sargent’s letters to friends and paintings of people in rooms, in the new cozy nooks and full shelves in the big library, and this church where people came to be together, pray, sing, and feel safe in the sometimes dangerous world.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 23, 2015

Roz Chast at the Norman Rockwell Museum

My husband gave me Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant when I thought I wasn’t in the mood. His mother was then very sick and requiring care. But the brave truth, humor, and poignance Roz Chast put into her illustrated memoir about the last years of her parents’ lives kept me reading into the night. So much seemed familiar, though her family is different from ours in many ways. The memoir’s acclaim includes being a National Book Award finalist and gasps of recognition from many of my friends.

Many original pages of this moving book, framed one above another, currently take up a big room in the Norman Rockwell Museum. I was glad I’d already read it, as I didn’t have to be so riveted to following the story, but could return to favorite parts. It was cool to see some “old fashioned” techniques looking close: lettering done with a rapidiograph pen, which I remembered an art student friend using back when we were in college, and cut and scotch-taped words and pictures arranging panels on the pages.

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Other rooms show additional art of Roz Chast, who was raised by two educators and earned her degree at the University of Rhode Island, though she didn’t focus on cartooning there. After graduating, she moved back with her parents for a while and didn’t feel called to do anything besides using a mix of words and pictures to capture what she saw around her. She says she draws from small moments when she finds herself starting to smile. While she’s most known for her cartoons that have appeared regularly in the New Yorker, the exhibit also features picture books she wrote and illustrated, eggs painted like those for Ukrainian Easters, but in her own style, and handhooked rugs with more of her signature faces. Roz Chast says she thinks of “each loop as a pixel in a highly magnified computer image,” and in an effort to keep up elements of surprise, saves old wool strips of color to “toss into the mix.”

The exhibit celebrating work of thirty-seven years is open until October 26, so makes a great summer or leaf-peeping-season trip. And don’t forget to see the contemporary sculpture on gorgeous old lawns pretty much across the road at Chesterwood, where you can visit the studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French. Or drive a little further north and visit the Van Gogh and Nature exhibit (to Sept. 16) at the newly restored Clark museum, where the water lilies on the pond are blooming. It’s interesting to see what Van Gogh saw when he was outside of houses, not looking at neighbors or in mirrors. We get an overview from the dark paintings of his early years in Holland, to the bright days in Provence, and finally crows over cornfields.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 16, 2015

Stones at Sleepy Hollow

“I can’t believe I just asked a stranger for a ride,” the woman walking beside me said, while pausing to take a picture of a sign for “Alcott Road.”

“And I can’t believe I said yes,” I replied, turning to see if she might get a shot from the other direction that would include Orchard House. But we knew it was all right. We’d both left behind wonderful people at the Summer Conversational Series, and by the time we reached my car I knew about the book about Margaret Fuller she’d bought at the gift shop, her work teaching English to high school students in Appalachia, the blisters on her feet from touring transcendentalist landmarks, what she’d do with the spruce cones she picked up as we walked, and her two children, including one who was almost ten and showed little sign of ever reading and “What a gift to us children are as they show us their own ways of reading the world.”

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I dropped her off in town and drove on remembering how a few hours ago I’d been drinking coffee with a new friend named Joan when we were joined by Laurel. I said, “We ran into each other while wandering around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery before breakfast.”

“As we do.” Joan nodded. We’d been talking about historical houses and desires to peer into old windows, which we mostly restrain.

Near Author’s Ridge, Laurel and I had walked around discussing people we’d read about such as the Emerson family, Margaret Sidney, Elizabeth Peabody, Frank Sanborn, and others. Here’s a stone for Louisa May Alcott beside May Alcott Nierieker’s (M.A.N.), though May was buried in Paris. We wondered about the lime – was an admirer hoping Louisa would have a cocktail, or was it a tribute to the pickled limes in Little Women?

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Nearby is a stone for Henry David Thoreau, with a blue jay feather and Bic pen offering.

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Here is one of Daniel Chester French’s masterpieces, a tribute to three brothers from Concord who died in the Civil War.

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It took us a bit of hunting to find the grave Daniel Chester French shares with his wife, Mary. “A Heritage of Beauty,” it says under that sun-dappling. We were first puzzled about the coins left; then realized the Lincoln profiles honored the sculptor’s Lincoln Memorial.

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Before he sculpted the Minuteman, displayed since 1876 by the Concord River, Dan had been a student of May Alcott. At his beautiful studio in the Berkshires, Chesterwood, now open to the public, his gratitude to his first sculpture teacher is mentioned on a plaque near a tool May give him, now under plexiglass.

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Memorials large and small enlarge the world. And stories continue. The day before I had a lovely conversation with Jaimee at the Barrow Book Store, with bright flowers by the door and just inside perhaps five shelves of Alcott-related books. Jaimee mentioned having worked before in historic houses where people try to stick to facts, but some may blur into legend at least in back room conversations. She laughed as she gave the example of someone intoning “and Dan French used that exact same sculpting tool from May to create the Lincoln Memorial.” We can’t entirely help the way stories shift, which is why I love historical fiction as one way to revere and keep the past.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 10, 2015

Painting a Way Home: Talk at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

I played Little Women, dressing up in my grandmother’s old clothes, before I read the novel from the bookshelf my sister and I shared. We watched the Katherine Hepburn movie on TV, and I loved the drama of deep hope found in the ordinary lives of girls. I remember standing outside of Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House with my family and cousins when I was about ten, and quietly freaking out at being so close to the place where one of my favorite stories began. I don’t remember going inside. Maybe we got there too late, or maybe our parents decided not to spend the money on a tour. If I’d seen Louisa’s half-moon-shaped desk where she wrote Little Women I might have fainted. Louisa May Alcott made me feel that one day I could become a writer, too.

It’s beyond thrilling – but I won’t faint! — that next Wednesday I’ll be speaking not in Orchard House, but just next door, at the Summer Conversational Series. I’ll always adore Louisa, but as many of you know, I’ve spent much of the past years obsessed with her artistic sister, May, the subject of my forthcoming novel, Little Woman in Blue. My talk is “May Alcott: Painting a Way Home.” I’ll discuss the spirit of place in nineteenth century Concord, and May’s connections to rivers, ponds, houses, and watercolors. Check out registration information at the link, and come if you can!

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And thanks to my daughter, Emily, for taking this picture of me at Orchard House just past lilac season.

Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 5, 2015

Maine Botanical Gardens

Last week, just before the nick of July, my friend Sue got me to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, a wonder she’s been telling me about for years. We got a second spring, where, this far north, we could smell lilacs. It was great to wander with a friend who I’ve known since she passed me origami-folded notes in high school English, illustrated with lots of intertwined stars that she must have drawn while the more vocal among us offered thoughts on Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Joyce’s Dubliners, and Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.

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Now we wandered, smelled, sighed happily, and gawked, taking a picture now and then. I loved the foxgloves and peonies, and walking along stone paths and by the shore. We headed back into the woods where children (of all ages, as they say) were welcome to make fairy huts or set tables on flat rocks for wood nymphs. Inside, there was a display on Myth, Magic, and Medicine of Plants.

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I was pulled into this library lined with guidebooks and adorned with cut paper artwork. The gardens are open year round. I look forward to going back for new colors. Maybe I’ll bring a pen and notebook.

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