a conversation, and a medley reading of my books, with Carla Spataro

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Yesterday, as part of this week-long teaching at the Rosemont College Writers & Readers Retreat, Carla Spataro asked me questions about themes (and food) and then invited me to read. I chose to share what I think of as postcards from my books—the opening words from stories—Small Damages, Going Over, One Thing Stolen, This Is the Story of You, Flow—that take place around the world.

The video captures some of that. I am grateful for the conversation.


Juncture has a new web site (and our next newsletter is launching soon)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Juncture Workshops has a new web site to accommodate our growing number of offerings. (We've added a Cape May, NJ, workshop; we'll be conducting a one-day workshop in a major garden next fall; and we'll be offering videos and online instruction by year's end. The new site makes room for all of this.)

I share the link here.

And: Those of you interested in joining the conversation are welcome to sign up for our newsletter (through the Juncture web site). The fourth edition features thoughts on the place of poetry in life stories, brilliant commentary by poet/memoirist Brian Turner, new "homework," a reader response, and memoir commentary and critique. It's free. 

Existing subscribers, please look for the next issue within the coming 24 hours.


to sit and watch the sea

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Not long ago, in Cape May, I came upon this scene. Two dear friends talking up in the abandoned lifeguard chair. Side by side, and then some.

This is friendship. This is conversation. This is what we hope for, even when we sometimes disagree. To return again, to lift our feet again, to sit with another and watch the sea.


my parents' wedding album—found in the final cleaning of my father's house

Thursday, June 16, 2016

This afternoon I joined my father at the family home for one more clean out. It was the attic this time, my sister's things, the leftover tools in the furnace room. Enough to fill the garage, once again, with bags and boxes and mountains of trash.

Every cleaning has offered its reward. This time the reward was gigantic, and unexpected. My parents' wedding album. Stuffed on a shelf in an attic beside an old microscope and beneath a box of bleached sand dollars.

I snapped these photos quickly.

Aren't they beautiful? And didn't my grandparents have style? And look at the kiss my grandmother gives my mother.



it is time to be among friends

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Yesterday I met my dear friend Debbie Levy (our friendship tracing back to a happy pairing at an Alexandria, VA, bookstore) at Longwood Gardens and, over lunch with one of her good friends, celebrated the good news in Debbie's life.

Last week, I walked Valley Forge Park with my dear friend Nazie Dana (our friendship tracing back to early young adulthood and a crazy/lovely architectural magazine venture) and, through paths carved out of tall grasses, reflected on much that has happened since we saw each other last.

Today I will walk the Radnor Trail with my dear friend Ellen Brackett (our friendship tracing back to our college days), and, as we pass the signposts of history, we will speak of sons and ideas and homes.

This is how I spend these days. In mourning since Orlando, absolutely. In celebration of the love there very much still is.


everything I am, in a single window

Sunday, June 12, 2016

If I were to name the single window in my living room, I would name it "self portrait."

"self portrait," lowercase, because we can't take ourselves that seriously, but still, here, is the microcosm of me. A lamp my mother gave me. A skull I bought for my husband. Growing things, courtesy of my father. A polymer bowl, bought from the shop that now features the clay of this skull-loving ceramics genius. Up above, a ring box from when I was a kid, a glass hummingbird, a glass sea horse, a pair of ornamental ice skates because I could once land a double lutz. A car carved by a friend of my son. Art from Krakow. A small bit of porcelain that I'd given my mother and then gave back to myself, in the long year of cleaning her house. A fan from Spain.

The world beyond. The neighbors with whom I've become friends again.

Sometimes the living takes long.


CE Morgan on beauty, evil, lack, and not asking permission

Saturday, June 11, 2016

In 2009, CE Morgan's All the Living showed up on my doorstep for review. I didn't know who this writer was. I had no expectations. But, as I wrote then, I was very quickly awed:

But here was a first novel so self-assured and unto itself, so unswerving in its purpose, so strummed through with a peculiar, particular, electrifying sound, that I found myself reading in a state of highest perplexion, and also gratitude and awe.  Maybe the gratitude came first, for All the Living is a novel about the hardest things—about grief and lonesomeness, about desiring much and staying true, about loving through and forgiveness.  It’s a novel that makes you think on all of that newly, and that spares nothing and no one in the process.  

Recently Morgan published her second novel, The Sport of Kings, and it is getting the kind of attention a writer of this caliber should. I plan to read it. I have not yet. The purpose of this post is to share an interview CE Morgan conducted with Commonweal magazine. She's not one to talk too much about her process. This interview provides a rare glimpse. I highly recommend that the interview be read in its entirety, here. But for now, I share some of the fragments of the conversation that have me thinking on this day—and will keep me thinking for a very long time.

On moral beauty and evil: "I think of moral beauty as what is the good and the just—terms perhaps best defined by their opposite: evil. Evil is the willingness to do damage to the other; its maximal expression is murder, but it includes a great deal of subtle and not-so-subtle injuries as it advances to that extreme. Evil acts reduce the other to an object, a being to its component parts, and obliterate subjectivity. Evil’s breeding ground is a lack of empathy. So I locate moral beauty in an other-regarding ethic. Or perhaps it’s better to say it’s not located anywhere, because it’s not a static entity. It’s love, and love is not a feeling but an action."

On the power of lack:  "I often think there are three primary responses to suffering—rage, intoxication, or growth. We either want revenge for our pain, or we numb ourselves with the endless array of intoxicants available to us, from drugs to overwork, or we grow in empathy. Emptiness can transform into spaciousness; lack can become an agent of social action. But I think many of us struggle to remain on that third path without backsliding into the other two. I do."

On writing the other: "The injunction to justify race-writing, while ostensibly considerate of marginalized groups, actually stifles transracial imagination and is inextricable from those codes of silence and repression, now normalized, which have contributed to the rise of the racist right in our country. When you leave good people afraid to speak on behalf of justice, however awkwardly or insensitively, those unafraid to speak will rise to power."


At the 120th Radnor High Commencement

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Last evening, at the 120th commencement of Radnor High School, I watched 293 beautiful students cross the stage at the Villanova Pavilion. Listened to families and friends roar for them. Admired the teachers and administrators, librarians and coaches, band leaders and artisans who have helped lead them to now. There was Adam Thomson, a young man who grew up in my church. There was Morganne Boulden, whose father, Tom, was (back in our own Radnor day) and still is a deeply appreciated friend. There were the builders of non-profit foundations, the athletes, the painters, philosophers, mathematicians, the seekers and doers—each one special.

Principal Dan Bechtold, Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Kelly, and students Andrew Ciatto and Katie Wakiyama—thank you for making last night so entirely memorable for me. A condensed version of my remarks will run in this Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, on the front page of the Currents section. For now, this, below. For always, congratulations.

The sky was on fire when I rose to write these words. A swell of orange. A streak of flax. Mad and wonderful cinnamon reds. The sky was on fire, but there was also, oddly, rain, and the comfort of bird talk, and the huff of an old bus traveling the road just beyond. A school bus, in its end-of-school-year rounds.

I sat on my couch and I thought about you. I thought about your journey to now, to this place beneath this famous dome. Your classmates beside you. Your admirers in the stands. Your teachers and coaches and administrators near.

Your mortarboards crushing your coifs.

Your tassels eager for the toss.


morning sun on books and clay (the art of simplifying)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On Sunday afternoon, my husband and I sorted through the last of the tools in my father's house, leaving that beautiful home virtually empty—a year-long odyssey of epic proportions.

Once back at my own house, I began to do what had long needed to be done. There had been books in piles everywhere. Books in bins. Stories I couldn't write because of all the mental and physical clutter. The quantities of things were overwhelming. Simplifying meant taking some 450 books from this little house—driving many bags of them straight to The Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk, an independent that specializes in books both new and old and that is run by the generous Ann Tetreault.

While my husband built our new bookcase, I carried the remaining books—these books, oh these books—from room to room. I decided: Novels and nonfiction on one wall in the family room. Picture books, middle grade books, young adult novels, and all things Horace Kephart and Daniel D'Imperio (my great grandfather and beloved uncle) on the other family room wall. Poems and journals in the case to the left in my office. Grammar, reference, and natural history books in the case to the right. My own stuff (the books, the anthologies, the literary magazines, and a few favorite corporate projects) in the shelves to the left of my desk, overseen by my muse, the giraffe, who came all the way from Africa to be with me and whose name is She. She has been worried about me lately. She's more at peace now.

And then, in the new bookshelves in the room we have officially christened the "Juncture Workshop" room, the memoirs, the essay collections, the hybrid novels/memoirs, my Tin House collection, and those novels by authors whose work I have collected in multiples. A few pieces of clay that Bill and I have jointly made (he throws the shapes, I glaze). My four bright binders stuffed with teachable memoir excerpts and essays—all the material that will inspire those five-day workshops on a farm and by the sea. And room for the many books yet to come.

I feel lighter, less bundled up inside my own head, more ready for whatever is next, anticipatorily efficient. Just a few days ago, I had to dig through triple-stacked shelves or those heavy, bottomless bins to find the book I needed. Over the past year, I bought multiple copies of books I already had, because I could never find the original source. I bought way too many e-books (I'm not the biggest fan of e-books) because the boats of books had swelled.

I'm breathing now.


on teaching memoir (the Juncture Workshop files)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

It occurs to me that you might have noticed that I'm posting less frequently on the blog these days. In part, that is to spare you.

(You're welcome.)

In part it's because I'm devoting so much time to reading and planning the Juncture memoir newsletter, which is sent out to our list once a month. Juncture Notes is free, and you can sign up here to read my interviews with memoirists, my reflections on the form, and the work that our readers send in, among other things. (Juncture Notes also features the original work of my multi-media artist husband. His clay. His photographs. His 3-D images.)

But much of my absence here on the blog can be directly tied to the image above. I call these the Juncture Workshop files. It is a long-ongoing project—a massive effort to cull, save, sort the memoir thoughts I have, the excerpts I love, the exercises that occur to me in the middle of each night—all so that I can teach most effectively both at Penn and at the five-day Juncture memoir workshops we're conducting in McClure, PA, in September, and in Cape May, NJ, in November. (More details on both here.)

I'm not close to done. I'll never be done. I've just ordered eight more books—and a new bookcase. In fact, within two weeks one room out of the seven rooms in my house will be devoted solely to memoir—to the hundreds of memoirs that I own, to the files I am building, to the essays of those who are joining our workshops.

Call me obsessed.

It's all right.

I get that all the time.


stop and notice when something beautiful happens

At the gym where I Body Combat on Saturday mornings and sneak in thirty-minute-CNN enhanced workouts two or three additional days each week, I qualify as the most poorly dressed. I have one pair of work-out pants. Four T-shirts, two of them now dryer-reduced to ten-year-old-girl status. Having been recently reminded of my poor fashion sense by a far-better heeled friend (it was suggested, firmly and more than once, that I would highly benefit from a stylist who would tell me with emphatic speed that black turtlenecks are out), it seemed time to get new T-shirts. Yesterday, as I waited for what turned out to be a beautiful conversation with Melissa Jensen and Cordelia Jensen (and the fabulous Ashley) at the Penn Book Center, I headed over to the Penn Bookstore to buy two replacement alum shirts.

And then I was stopped—completely stopped—by this. Story, center stage, in the window.

I need to thank someone, I whispered, to the young man at the information desk inside.

I am not a writer you'll find at many of the big shows. I'm not on the traveling circuit. Infinitely more interested in writing the next, in writing it better, in reading the work of others, in sharing what I find out, I don't do what most writers do to advance my personal career. And so I feel particularly blessed when the utterly unexpected happens. When those who read the books I write take the time to tell me about the experience. When my love for my city is acknowledged in humbling ways. When my high school invites me to speak to the graduating seniors on commencement day. When my alma mater (and employer) turns a book I wrote into window art. When people I respect—Melissa, Cordelia, Ashley—share fragments of their worlds.

There are so many measures in a writer's life—indeed, in any life. The trick, I think, is to stop and notice when something beautiful happens—however unquantifiable. And then, of course, to say thank you.


fascinators and fascinations at the Devon Grand Prix (final photographs)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Grand Prix night at the Devon Horse Show. The hats and fascinators are out in force. The speed demons get the sand to churn. The reverend waits to sing the national anthem, and the bugler checks the time. The horses fly. The crowd is electrified.

Leaving, I see a Radnor High School friend. "Are you ready for next week?" he asks me.

"Yes," I said, with rare confidence. "I am."


This Is the Story of You, Blog Tour, Begins Today

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

With thanks to the bloggers who have made room for This Is the Story of You, I share the blog tour schedule, below. I've answered deep and not always easy questions. I've written of writing the eruptive, about the place of environmental concerns inside the current crop of novels, and about the importance of settings in the novels we write. I've thought (again) about why I love the sea.

I invite you to travel along, blog to blog, to find out more—and to win a copy of the book. With thanks to Lara Starr, for organizing the tour.

Actin' Up with Books

Cracking the Cover

Stuck In YA Books

Eli to the nth

Middle Grade Mafioso

Read Now Sleep Later

The Reading Date

Emilie's Book World


Juncture Writing Workshops is bringing memoir to Cape May, NJ, in November. Join us?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cape May, NJ
November 1 – 6, 2016

Cape May, NJ. It’s an island, actually, a National Historic Landmark City that was home to Colonial Era whalers and fishermen before it became a favorite retreat for sea-breeze-seeking Philadelphians. Today the town is famous for its multi-hued “painted lady” houses, its wrap-around porches and rocking chairs, its original boutiques and restaurants, and the trees that canopy its streets. Beyond the white sands, dolphins slice the waves. In the wildlife preserves, bogs, and salt marshes, birds sing, turtles crawl, and muskrats build their funny houses.

I grew up visiting Cape May; my favorite uncle lived there. When Bill and I recently discovered a capacious, newly renovated circa-1872 painted lady just blocks from the beach and the town, we knew we’d found the perfect setting for our November Juncture workshop. A private room for each writer who comes to stay. A sunny gathering place. A wrap-around porch. The sea. The birds.

We’ll learn from some of the greatest memoirs ever written—and write our own. Through a combination of readings, guided exercises, and critiques, we will acquire a firm understanding of what memoir is (and what it isn’t) and work toward the development of meaningful themes and sustaining scenes. We will generate and refine new pages, craft a prologue, and share our work in evening readings. We will walk the beach, find the birds, take photographs, meet formally and informally.

A beautifully designed book featuring the images and words of the week will commemorate our time together.

If you are interested, please do let us know by sending us a message through this Juncture Writing Workshops site.


Quintessential Devon Horse Show, Memorial Day

Memorial Day Monday. My father and I head down my street for the Devon Horse Show. My neighbor's dog performs its tricks on the way. Sarah Beth's young sons show off their cuteness. By the time we reach the admissions booth, we're told that my father—who served two years during the Korean War—is invited into the fairground for free, with seats in the stand no less. I, as his chaperone, can join him.

And so we play Skee Ball. We go in and out of the booths. We watch the adult jumpers in the stands and the Shetland pony races by the fence. We walk in and out of the stables, past the girls with lemon sticks. We sit with cookies. We talk.

My father, wearing a pin, is thanked for his service.

I thank him—and all those who serve—as well.


Devon Horse Show 2016 (so far)

The fairground rattle. The stable stills. The noise and the direction of gallop. Every year we wait. Every year the wait is answered. The horses come.

My favorite part is the neighborhood stuff. It's my friend Jane and her family and friends, which Jane shares with unilateral generosity. I stand or sit beneath the shade of her trees and conversation happens. Once-a-year conversation, which I miss the minute it is done.

Later, I will write about the horses. Put them into the novels I write (The Heart Is Not a Size) or the occasional Philadelphia Inquirer story. Or I won't write anything at all. It won't be necessary.

Some photos from the show. So far.


William Sulit Ceramics, Show Opens This Friday

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The show opens this Friday.


a teen reads STORY. she makes my day.

The kind of review that makes your Memorial Day weekend. By teen reader Maedbh McEvoy, on the extremely beautiful teen review site, Gobblefunked.

Thank you, Maedbh, for this (the full review is here).

You know that feeling when you finish the last page of a book and you’re in denial that it’s finished. Well, it seems like our Teenfunked reviewer experienced just that sense of loss when finishing this book. Maedbh McEvoy absolutely loved This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart. It’s hot off the presses and certainly one for your summer reading lists.


a third star for STORY, thank you so much, VOYA

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

We were returning from the very briefest of escapades to the beach—two hours, business—when Taylor Norman wrote with the news that VOYA had given THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU its third star.

I'm so happy about that. So happy for this tribute to the sea, to storms, to the communities that form in the aftermath of catastrophe.

From VOYA:

“A moving epic of a super storm and how it unravels the lives of those caught in the midst.”—VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, starred review

Kephart creates a moving epic of a super storm and how it unravels the lives of those caught in the midst. Anyone who has ever lived through a hurricane or any other life-changing event in which his or her home is totally destroyed will recognize the bleakness and struggle one must overcome to survive and rebuild. Seventeen-year-old Mira Banul lives with her mother, Mickey, and her brother, Jasper, on Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile wide stretch of barrier island in New Jersey. Jasper Lee suffers from Hunter Syndrome, a rare disease in which he is missing an enzyme. When the storm hits, Mira is alone while her mother and brother are on the mainland. Mira finds the strength to carry on, relying on strangers to help her survive. Mira finds hope in the face of tragedy and learns how to survive despite the odds against her.

Kephart writes in short, lyrical sentences similar to Patricia McCormick’s style in Sold (Hyperion, 2008/VOYA December 2007). Her words read like poetry, creating strong images. Many of the sentences can be interpreted on two levels. For example, in the discussion of how sand is formed, Jasper Lee says, “the heavier the wave, the more powerful the crystal,” which can be interpreted as an analogy for life. There is advice here for everyone, “first rule when you feel afraid is to act.” This book is a quick read, but the memories will linger with readers.



edit yourself toward boldness; words from The Argonauts

In the midst of these strange times, I read greedily, insatiable for news from the lives of others.

A few days ago, reading Maggie Nelson's award-winning, New York Times bestselling The Argonauts, I found myself in the company of one who, like me, allows tremble in as part of her process—and relies on editing to discover her own boldness.

My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have not excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later and slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.


Sweetbitter/Stephanie Danler: New York Journal of Books review

Monday, May 23, 2016

When Nina Friend, one of my thesis students, decided to embark on a work of narrative nonfiction about the art of waiting, I recalled reading a story about Stephanie Danler, a young waitress who had scored big in the book world with the sale of her waitressing-infused novel, Sweetbitter.

Seeking an early copy of the book for Nina, I asked the New York Journal of Books if I might review it. The kind editors there said yes. I got the book, read the first intriguing pages, carried it to Penn on a Tuesday and handed it to Nina, who read—with Nina-style care. Then Nina (who, by the way, is headed to Columbia University's J school) Skyped with Danler herself. Nina thought. She pondered. She ultimately percolated her wonderful restaurant narrative with scenes from Sweetbitter and insights from the author.

Ultimately Sweetbitter found its way back to me, and I now share my thoughts on that novel here, with you.


Juncture Notes 03, our memoir newsletter, has launched

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Juncture Notes 03, featuring Diana Abu-Jaber (her work, her thoughts), Jenny Diski, Sallie Tisdale, and our reader Tina Hudak, is now out in the world.

Each issue features the original art of my partner, William Sulit. This time, in honor of our food theme, Bill took images from our kitchen, including this cup of gorgeous loose tea.

If you would like to get on our subscription list, you can do that here


Juncture Notes and News

Saturday, May 21, 2016

With our September memoir workshop (on a working farm) now just one person shy of full, we've set out to find a new location for those who have expressed interest in working with us.

(If you're interested in that one last September spot—the chance to work with what has turned out to be a most remarkable gathering of writers, please let us know.)

We're now a few days away from announcing the details of our second workshop, tentatively slated for early November, and if you're interested in writing, reading, and knowing at a place that may be sandy, say, and alive with sea air and wild birds, send us a note at Juncture.

In the meantime, we'll be releasing Juncture Notes 3, our free memoir newsletter, early next week. In this issue, we'll be talking about Diana Abu-Jaber's new memoir (and hearing directly from her), among other things. If you're not on our list but would like to be, please sign up through our Juncture Writing Workshops site.


looking ahead to the Radnor High Commencement Keynote (so blessed)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

News that I can now share. I'll be giving the keynote address at the Radnor High Commencement on June 8.

The details are here

I have been at work on these words for a while now.

It matters to me—so deeply—that I get this right.

Blessed to be invited by the students and the administration.

Blessed beyond measure.


my deep thanks to Cleaver Magazine and Rachael Tague, for these words on STORY

Sometimes you are kindly, wholly received.

This just happened with This Is the Story of You.

Cleaver Magazine, the wildly popular on-line lit spot co-created by Karen Rile and featured here, in newest issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, made room for Story. Melissa Sarno, novelist, critic, and Cleaver YA book review editor, assigned Story. Rachael Tague, an incredibly generous reviewer, gave Story her heart.

You can read the full review here. Once you are inside Cleaver, take a look around. Click through to all the content that awaits you.

(You won't regret a single click.)

Manymanymanymany thanks.


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