Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 19, 2011

The Brattleboro Literary Festival

I wish I could have gotten to more of the event-packed Brattleboro Literary Festival last weekend, but I enjoyed two talks in the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center  on a lovely Sunday in Vermont.

Salley Mavor showed us the first picture book she made when she was eight (her mother, an artist and art teacher, saved her work), with scraps of fabric stapled onto paper. Later at Rhode Island School of Design, she started a business making pins, work which caused a teacher to suggest that she might put away her paintbrushes and forge ahead with needle and thread. Salley didn’t want to make realistic art, but wanted something real in it. She went on to make three dimensional objects and designs for magazines. She stitched dolls, which she put in frames and called fabric reliefs, developing them with more motion and a sense of engagement in a world of stylized trees, animals, and houses. The Way Home, her first book for children, took about eight years – which Salley said might be average for a first book — and was published twenty years ago.

I love Pocketful of Posies, which recently won awards from the Horn Book and elsewhere (and I blogged about here, but one of my favorite books remains her Mary Had a Little Lamb. Besides stitching the characters, Salley used real straw, stones, and a bit of an old shingle. The latches are hooks and eyes, and she did the knitting that’s on Mary’s mother’s lap. When she told us that the lamb was all made of French knots, an appreciative gasp rose from the craft loving audience.

We also got a preview of the cover Salley made for the January issue of the Horn Book. Here’s just one of the little people you can expect to see (and use the link above to see more on Salley’s blog, along with the pretty silver bowl she was given as a prize). I can’t wait!

While people lined up to buy books, museum staff got ready for the next speakers. Ken Burnswho has produced and directed award-winning documentaries including The Civil War and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea was talking with his friend, David Blistein. They’d met about forty years ago when Ken was at Hampshire College and David at Amherst. The talk titled Waking the Dead celebrated their friendship as it was founded around many conversations about how the power of the past influences who we are now. Ken Burns said that most of us have heard that because we don’t know history, we repeat the past. Yet members of Congress and others know history, yet still repeat it.

David Blistein, who read from his contemporary novel peopled with characters from history, posited that the problem is more that we don’t truly feel our history, which condemns us to repeat it. Ken asked him about his writing process. Did he read and then the characters seem to take on or over the story? Or did he read, then engage in life, and find the characters coming back? Of course there was no short answer, or if there was I missed it, while asking the question of myself. And finding quite a hodgepodge.

What an inspiring afternoon.

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