Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 20, 2015

Art and Archives: Reading with Anne Emerson at Porter Square Books

This Friday October 23 at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books I’ll be discussing Little Woman in Blue, showing slides of some of May Alcott’s artwork, and reading a bit from my novel.

I’ll be joined by Anne Emerson, who will speak about Letters from Erastus: Field Notes on Grace, a memoir that explores how she came to look back at the life of her great-great-grandfather, through letters Erastus Hopkins wrote in Northampton, MA shortly before the Civil War. She shows the ways his letters to his children came to seem like letters to her as the past and present merged, with themes recurring through generations. Her family is a big one, full of reunions with aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins, some of whom have poignant struggles. A recurring motif in Anne’s present is her cautious and kind attempt to connect with a young man who’s like a nephew and in solitary confinement in prison.


She also writes of traveling in Italy or around New England and New York. Art as well as history and family are often what calls her from home. Anne brings up her husband’s involvement with music and the role of painting in the lives of her children and herself as she paints landscapes after a fifty year hiatus. This will be good company for May Alcott as an artist. Anne and I also share a love of archives. I liked her description of approaching the collections of Historic Northampton: “I walk up the curved brick pathway planted with early spring perennials. The sun is beating down, the bees are drowsily feeding and I feel time unwinding. I am being anointed with that slow spirit of patience that is required in the deciphering of handwriting and old letters.”

Her ancestors seem so alive to her as she reads old letters that she dreads reaching the end of the collection. Yet neither the letters nor the book seem to entirely close, but keep inviting, with final notes of continuing quests. I like the way Anne resists summing up, but lets conversations or descriptions stand, meeting the next, as happens in real life. Often beauty shows in this simplicity and lack of conclusions.

I look forward to hearing more on Friday at Porter Square Books 25 White Street Cambridge, MA. I hope to see some friends there or at a panel put together by the Women’s National Book Association, where I’ll join three other fiction writers to talk about inspiration and challenges, at Brookline Booksmith, at 7 p.m. on October 27. It’s a busy-for-me month of gallivanting, but I’m doing my best to spend time on foot and admire every leaf I can.

oct18leaves onmhcpond


  1. What a wonderful pairing, Jeannine!

    • Thanks, Sarah. The gentle investigatory tone, the reverence for letters from the past, reminded me of Helen Marie Casey’s in My Dear Girl: The Art of Florence Hosmer.

  2. Such a thoughtful program – so looking forward to hearing from you about these evens, Jeannine.

  3. I so wish I could be there. It sounds like an absolutely lovely evening!

    • That is so kind! (I expect I’ll be reporting here!)

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