Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 12, 2015

Washington DC: A Quick Visit

So lovely to walk down the Mall and see one of my favorite memorials for my favorite president.

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An email from my intrepid publicist, Caitlin Hamilton Summie, led to hasty travel plans and a fast visit to the Capitol to record a short passage of me reading Little Woman in Blue: A Novel of May Alcott for public radio. This was the first time I’ve had my title considered in the seconds it takes to say. I’d chosen five little passages, then the producer picked two. I had practiced reading to keep my pace brisk but understandable. But I felt like the amateur when going through multiple readings, trying to make each one sound fresher than the last. Some words have so many syllables! I pretty much got down enunciation, but was asked for emotion. Without hands to wave! Producer Peter Johnson reminded me that on radio, you may have a few seconds to capture someone before they change the channel. But no pressure.

I LOVE my characters. I DO. But putting depth and height into my voice without sounding false was a challenge, and I’m thankful for Peter’s wise and patient coaching – while realizing no one has coached me in anything for a while. It was humbling. I did my best to pronounce Little Women as if I’d never spoken that title before. I mustered as much passion as I could for muskrat and heron, while Peter reminded me that Walden Pond is not any old mud puddle. I tried to put a sense of glorious history into my reading.

In the end, we were both satisfied, and I’ll post a link when it’s on The Author’s Corner, and perhaps on its way to public radio stations. Meanwhile, you can listen to other readers on the link, including President Jimmy Carter. I expect he needed less practice and prompting, plus that accent goes a long way.

I was happy to get back to my less studied way of talking as I met poet/writer/friend Sara Lewis Holmes at the gorgeous Library of Congress. We walked around amazed by the marble pillars, mosaic ceilings, and Thomas Jefferson’s library.

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Since Maria Sibylla Merian is one of the subjects of my forthcoming Finding Wonders, it was thrilling to find her books of botanical drawings encased under glass, like the Gutenberg Bible, though this in a section honoring explorers.

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It was also fun to go to the children’s room and spot Borrowed Names on the poetry shelf. Of course the library holds over 36 million books, so it’s not alone: but I was happy to see it displayed. Then Sara and I had tapas and wine and talked poetry.

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It was great to meet my cousin Eileen and laugh and see more art  before flying home. Earlier I managed a run-through of a few halls in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I saw Louisa May Alcott as I got lost in the adjoining National Portrait Gallery.

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Fortunately I learned from my organized daughter about planning museum trips with specific works in mind, so had researched which Edmonia Lewis sculptures would be on display. Readers of my last blog will know how I’d found, sort of, this sculptor in Rome.  Perhaps ten years ago I’d seen Edmonia Lewis’s Death of Cleopatra, which got lots of attention at the 1876 World’s Fair, at the Smithsonian in a smaller room, but I like the casual company she keeps here down from desks where some people studied.

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Other of her smaller sculptures were behind glass in the Luce Foundation Center, where you happily get to see work that otherwise would be kept in storage. What a great museum in a beautiful city!

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Responses

  1. NPR is lucky to have you! It sounds like a wonderful trip, and I’m envious of your travels!

    • If only you were there, too. Sara and I were scheming a way of trying to get together some poetic sorts. Not easy, but an excellent dream.

  2. Loved this literary tour of DC with you as tour guide, Jeannine. Looking forward to hearing your voice on the radio, too!

  3. Looking forward both to the interview, and to your latest book. I loved Becoming Little Women, and recommended it as a read aloud when my daughter was in 3rd grade (she’s now in 8th). It was a great backdrop for their field trip to Fruitlands back then too 🙂

    • I’m so happy to hear you liked Becoming Little Women, and that it gave some background for Fruitlands. Writing that book only made me more fascinated by the Alcotts, and led my way to writing about that youngest sister, then called Baby, once May was grown up.


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