the Us of Us at Writers Resist

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Friday the Thirteenth," was written in 1970 by Allen Ginsberg. Hillary Clinton made her remarks for the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in 1995. Jameson Fitzpatrick wrote "I Woke Up" in 2016, and Toni Morrison published Beloved in 1987, and Octavius V. Catto and others prepared the Address of the Colored State Convention to the People of Pennsylvania in 1865, and James Baldwin released The Fire Next Time in 1963, and Che Guevera offered his thoughts in Socialism and Man in Cuba in 1963, and Mia Mingus wrote "Wherever You Are is Where I Want to Be: Crip Solidarity," and then there was Langston Hughes in 1936, with "Let America Be America Again."

You put your heart down on a page, the long excursion of your worries, your cracked skies of hope, your insistence, your chides, and then you put your name beneath those words, and finally you say: Here. This is for you. Take.

Yesterday at the National Museum of American Jewish History, in my city of often raucous love, as part of the worldwide #Writers Resist initiative, the words crafted by others became the words of Us, and by Us I mean the three dozen writers and producers and musicians and editors who took the stage. I mean the Us who crowded that standing-room-only auditorium, breathless and leaned into and moved. I mean the Us who came wrapped in the arms of parents and those who strolled or wheeled in and those who didn't know what they were getting into and those who had no idea who might come. Would anybody come? We were Us yesterday, and the words we shared belong to Us, and we claimed them, not for our own individual advancement, not to be a lit star, not to curry praise for our inspired performance, our own ingenious orchestrations of words, but because Us is the legacy we share, the legacy we must carry forward if we are to be decent and good and wide thinking and effective and, yes, that word again, inclined toward hope.

Forgive me, writers, but at times, is this not true?: We take the stage, we stand beneath the lights, and we want outcomes for ourselves. We want to be remembered for and as ourselves, taken seriously for and as ourselves, asked, for and as ourselves, to sign the books waiting in the lobby. Our books. With our names right there on the pretty covers. But that wasn't writers yesterday. Yesterday we remembered that our first job, always, is empathy. Our first responsibility is to slide inside the wrappings of others and imagine ourselves to be them, and so we did, and I will never forget the feeling that I had, the feeling that you gave me yesterday, of sitting there and briefly standing there, and transcending.

Thank you, all of you. Thank you, Nathaniel Popkin and Stephanie Feldman and Alicia Askenase, for bringing us together. Thank you, PEN America and Erin Belieu, for bringing the power of the word to the people.

Now we continue on.

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Dear Mr. Springsteen:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Later today I'll be joining with three dozen other writers and artists and editors and lovers of language in my city, Philadelphia, to read your words on behalf of Writers Resist. I'll invoke the authentic, there's only one of you you, I promise. Thank you for giving us words to hold onto.

When the way is dark and the night is cold
One sunny mornin' we'll rise I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road.....

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"Original Philadelphian": an indepth interview with Joe Glantz

Monday, January 9, 2017

I've spent time talking with Joe Glantz through the years. Reading his funny, history-fueled quips. Remarking on his range of quotable thoughts. And so I was happy to sit and answer these beautiful questions on books that span the whole of my career—memoir, essays, novels for young readers, a corporate fable, that autobiography of a river, teaching. We talk about process, hope, and the young people who inspire me. We talk about silence and its opposite.

It's all here, with thanks to Joe Glantz. Check out the whole series here.

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Writers Resist: To Speak for all Americans, with Compassion

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Many of us are wondering how to speak. How to gracefully and meaningfully, with sincere compassion, express our concerns about rising hate crimes, disingenuous distortions, and threatened curtailments of First Amendment rights.

Recently, PEN America, under the leadership of Erin Belieu, crafted an initiative called Writers Resist, an event that will bring writers and artists from across the country together on a single Sunday afternoon in cities across America. In New York, American poets Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove will kick off an event featuring writers ranging from Colum McCann and Rick Moody to Jason Reynolds, Esmeralda Santiago, Andrew Solomon, Jacqueline Woodson, Meg Wolitzer, and many more. In Philadelphia, thanks to the leadership of Nathaniel Popkin, Stephanie Feldman, and Alicia Askenase, a group of remarkable writers will likewise lend their voices to this cause.

I am very honored to be among those writers. To share the literature of our beautifully diverse nation alongside Ron Silliman, Lauren Grodstein, Liz Moore, Thomas Devaney, Jon McGoran, Carmen Machado, Dan Biddle, Lorene Carey, Lise Funderburg, Nic Esposito, the three organizers, and so many others.

I know I will learn a lot that day. I plan to listen, closely. We hope that you will share word of this event, whatever city you are in, and join us, if you can.

Philadelphia Writers Resist
National Museum, American-Jewish History
5th and Market Streets
January 15, 2017
2:30 - 5:00 PM

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STORY OF YOU a Top Ten NJ Book (alongside Bruce Springsteen)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Okay. It's my blog, so I get to do this. It's a new year and I will try to behave, posting things of general interest far more than I post about myself. But friends, I must take a minute and present unto you this:

My name is in a Top Ten Books list alongside the name of the Boss.

You don't believe me? I hardly believe myself. But here is This Is the Story of You so generously included in a top NJ books list at NJ.Com. I've got a link and everything.

Thank you, New Jersey. Thank you. And thank you, Lara Starr of Chronicle for letting me know.

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"Nobody reads" and book excellence (beware: multiple titles are herein celebrated)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I shall get to the end of this story momentarily, but I will begin with this: The other day, while running on one of those machines at the gym, I was accompanied by a young friend with whom I most often disagree. We sit on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Her tendency is to yell (she'd be the first to admit this; she's adorable when she admits this), while my tendency is to ask questions and listen. She is smart, fierce, interesting, and I don't mind. In her advocacy for the positions that will soon represent the U.S., I listen for facts I might not have otherwise encountered.

We were fifteen minutes into our workout when the conversation escalated. "You're what's wrong with America," she said, loud enough for the entire gym (okay, maybe only our section) to hear. "Nobody in this country reads."

"Are you suggesting I don't read?" I said, and for the first time in any of our conversations, I heard defensiveness creep into my tone. I thought of the hours upon hours, every day, that I spent during the election year—reading, watching, and listening. So many hours that my life had become knotted up with the news, that my conversations were always tilting toward the political, that my home life was growing obstructed by my dark glaring over the dinner table at a husband who was not responsible for the world tumult. So many hours that I was no longer reading the books that gave me comfort—the true works of art that stand above, and beyond.

I gave away so much time in 2016 to learning the issues and refining my point of view that I didn't just lose all kinds of professional ground. I lost one of the things that gives me joy—peaceful times with books that rise above the cacophony.

In this past week, in the post-Christmas quiet, I have returned, with force, to these many books that have been sitting here. I have a semester of memoir to teach at Penn, an honors thesis student whose fiction I will guide, four upcoming Juncture memoir workshops to plan for, and a number of book projects of my own. I don't know what will happen with any of this—I have not met my students, I have not advertised the workshops, I am perched on the ledge of essential revisions—but I do know that I can do nothing that I'm supposed to be doing if I do not sit and read.

And so I have been reading, and now you have reached that place in this post where I list some of the books I have been curled up with these past few days. One after the other, these books have made me glad. For their intelligence and craft. For their beacon shimmer. For the inspiration that they give me.

Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner. For my thoughts on this collection of essays, go here.

Best American Essays 2015, edited by Ariel Levy. Within these pages I found old favorites (Roger Angell, Isiah Berlin, Sven Birkerts, Hilton Als, Justin Cronin, Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Anthony Doerr, Margo Jefferson) and new voices (Kendra Atleework, Tiffany Briere, Kate Lebo). Here is Atleework, in a gorgeous essay called "Charade," writing of her mother just before she died. Such simple words here. And so very moving.
A few months before, she was beautiful—you could still see it in flashes. Her hair was thick and blondish, and her body was round in some places and slender in others. Her hands, always cold, held pens and typed and cooked scrambled eggs. Her eyes were blue and her heels were narrow. She looked a lot like me.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey. Handed to me in a Frenchtown bookstore (Book Garden), by my friend Caroline, the store's co-owner, this gem has sat here waiting for me, and oh my gosh, once I began, I could not stop. Truly exceptional creative nonfiction and utterly lovely details about the snail. And time. And illness. And solitude. I am in love with this book.
When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neurons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats, and whens and their impossibly distant kin how. The search is exhaustive; the answers elusive. Sometimes my mind went blank and listless; at other times it was flooded with storms of thought, unspeakable sadness, and intolerable loss.
The Art of Perspective, Christopher Castellani (Graywolf Press Series)—a refreshingly smart examination of narrative strategy and literary point of view. This may be a craft book, but there is, within the pages, a kind of suspense as the author presents his own quandaries about a story he might write. I could quote this entire book. But this should give you a taste for Castellani's smarts:
Why bother to write if you don't have a view worthy of sharing? I think we judge the literary merit of a text not merely by how closely we relate to the characters' experiences—that's the relatively easy part of the author's job—but by how strongly the author's ultimate vision compels us, provokes us, challenges us, or makes new the everyday.
The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, Caroline Paul illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton. I'll be honest. I did not know about this NYT bestseller until I read about it in Brain Pickings. I bought it for my niece (to be perfectly honest), and I was just planning to scan enough of it so that we might speak of it later. Well. Hold the scissors. I could not stop. This is a memoir/history/how-to/diary journal with pictures, all in one. But it's not just the cleverness of the design that strikes me hard. It's the cleverness of the prose. Paul begins with a story from her youth, when she set out to build a boat out of milk cartons:

I envisioned a three-masted vessel, with a plank off to one side (of course) and a huge curved prow that ended in an eagle head. So I set about collecting milk cartons. I collected from my school cafeteria. I collected from my friends. I collected from my family. I soon became familiar with the look on their faces when I explained I was building a milk carton pirate ship. It was actually a combination of looks, all rolled into one. Hahaha, what a crazy idea, the expression said. And Good luck, kid, but I don't think it's going to happen. And, Well, at least I'm getting ride of my milk cartons. Then at the very end of this facial conga-dance, I always caught something else. Actually, that sounds like FUN. I wish I could do that, the final look exclaimed.

(Sorry, Niece Julia, I did not write in your book or dog ear its pages. I hope you like it as much as I do.)

Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary Oliver. Truth Alert! I just got this book yesterday, and I haven't finished reading yet. But I do love the three essays I've read, and I want to share this small bit from the first page. This is from the first paragraph, right at the end. It goes like this:

What a life is ours! Doesn't
anybody in the world anymore want to get up in the

middle of the night and
sing?

(Just like that, Oliver breaks into a song. Huzzah!)

Time Travel, James Gleick. Full Disclosure, Which is Bigger Than a Truth Alert. I bought this book for another niece, Claire, because I have a little tradition with Claire that includes the purchases of books. What are you seeking? I asked her this year. She said science, nonfiction, a good memoir were her new cup of tea (a good memoir! did you see that?). I bought her a copy of this book and me a copy of this book, because I'm teaching concepts of time this year in my Penn classroom, and I might as well make myself cool and contemporary. Claire, I have not broken the spine on YOUR copy of this book. I hope we both love it and can talk of it someday.

Finally, sitting here during my many months of not reading much but that which I had to read, has been a book mailed to me by Carrie Pepper, a book called Missing on Hill 700. This is Carrie's tribute to a brother lost in a firefight during the Vietnam War. She was thirteen when the telegram arrived. Her family ultimately crumbled from the news. Carrie's decision was to seek out news of the brother she had lost, and through the letters and photos that others send, a mosaic of a life emerges—a mosaic and also hope that Tony's remains will finally make their way home. The subtitle tells you much about Pepper's heart and purpose: "How Losing a Brother in Vietnam Created a Family in America."

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seeking end-of-year perspective, from 95 feet above the city

Saturday, December 24, 2016

For my final 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer column, I took a train to the city with the men I love and stood at Cira Green, looking down, across, into, and through.

I was seeking perspective of a personal and political kind following a tremulous year.

My thanks to Kevin Ferris, who allows me to seek and speak in my hometown paper on a monthly basis.

Happiness to you all. Peace in this season. Hope.

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when the big book of the moment is not your cup of tea, but a gem of an essay collection is

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Time has not lately been my friend. I'm way behind on reading. I've got stacks of books here, begging for attention. I've got books behaving (for all the world to see) like furniture.

A few days ago I began to read the big book of the moment, an adult novel that has received every manner of acclaim, both from the prize givers and the lists. I wanted to love this book. I'd spent good hardcover money on it after all (something I thought about, something I must consider), and my friends were (mostly) enthralled. I chose it from the overwhelming pile, and I tried, believe me, I tried. Between sheets of baking cookies. While my husband watched Alaska shows. While I waited for the food shopping crowds to thin. I tried. I read. I tried.

Dutifully, I read. The story was important; I felt that on every page. But oh, those sentences. So relentlessly declarative. So devoted to moving the plot along at such a feverish pace that characters felt far more like symbols than people and scenes felt more like stage sets and philosophy felt stylized, rushed.

The book was an idea. But was it a book? And what kind of snob am I, to be asking such a question about a novel of what will be enduring prestige?

Had I, in the rush of my real life, in the daily swell of recommendation letters, bill writing, house cleaning, research, present wrapping, food buying, novel writing, forgotten how to read?

I needed to find out. I needed to get up early (this very morning) and reach for another book and determine whether I had lost my readerly touch, my patience, my gratitude for stories on the page. I chose Everywhere I Look, the new essay collection by the Australian Helen Garner. I opened up. I took a breath. I settled.

I settled and swelled. It took just a single page to believe in books again.

"When I was in my forties I went on holiday to Vanuatu with a kind and very musical man to whom I would not much longer be married, though I didn't know it yet," Garner writes—the fist lines of the first essay, "Whisper and Hum." She hates the tropics, she tells us, in the very next sentence, then:

And what I hated most was the sight of a certain parasitic creeper that flourished aggressively, bowing the treetops down and binding them to each other in a dense, undifferentiated mat of choking foliage. I longed to be transported at once to Scotland where the air was sharp and the nights brisk, and where plants were encouraged to grow separately and upright, with individual dignity.
Can't you just see it? Don't you marvel at how she chooses to introduce herself? As almost not married, as oppressed by density, as longing for sharp air and dignity?

I'm halfway through this collection now. I'll write more of it in the January edition of Juncture Notes, our memoir newsletter. I'm just here, on this blog, to say, Thank you, Helen Garner. Thank you, very much. For shaping and breaking and delineating your life in ways that bring about a pleasant startle.

Finally, a word on the photo: That is a photo I took in Berlin, a city for which we mourn over this holiday weekend, a city I came to love during my travels there and during my subsequent research for the Berlin novel, Going Over. We keep getting our hearts broken out here by losses, individual and obscene, suffered at the hands of cruel ideology. We don't know what to say. We remember the wild beauty of a place shedding a dark history and hope for that wild beauty to carry forward, while those who have been lost are remembered widely.

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setting politics aside in favor of community

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I've been spending time with people.

Maybe that sentence would sound odd in the ear of a passing stranger, but those who know the contours of my life would understand. In my little house, all hours of each day, I work at words while my husband, in the basement, works on clay. Two artists with a grown-up son. Friendships (such cherished friendships) conducted primarily by email, letter, and phone. The contours.

But lately I've been making a point to go out and be. To join the members of my church in a Sunday afternoon Hunger project. To spend time at art shows, among other artists. To slip inside a neighbor's house for a long conversation. To join a gracious, extended family for Thanksgiving Eve dessert (so delicious in all ways), following a nine-dish meal built for my family of three. To spend a Sunday afternoon with a former student, listening to Colson Whitehead then walking the streets of Ardmore. To say yes to an invitation this very evening to welcome a famed, beloved writer to her new home an hour or so from here.

When the headlines blare news that is so much bigger than anything one person can affect, it helps to get out into the world and be.

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I went to the Wayne Art Center, where so much good has happened for my husband's ceramics career (and where I have had so much fun being bad at mud), to buy a wedding gift for friends. On our way out, we stopped in on the ceramics studio—quiet now, for winter break, but still percolating with friends. The clay community at this center is built of teachers who know deeply and share what they know, kiln experts who care for every fired piece (placing each just so, glad for good results, concerned about cracks), students with talent, students on the verge, students (well, maybe just this one student) with only a handful of mini pots to show for their name.

The clay community is built of people who know one another, look toward and out for one another, tell and listen to stories. Age doesn't divide us, nor histories, nor income, nor resumes. People are who they naturally are. We wear ragged clothes. We get dirt in our hair. We screw up. We succeed. We trade words for art, advice for gratitude, concern for truth. We're glad for the good that happens to another. We're sad when life tilts the other way.

I've been spending time with people. I've been reminding myself of all the good out here, of what happens when people set politics aside in favor of community. When a show of force is sublimated to the power of the heart.

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a most extraordinary review of THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

Monday, December 5, 2016

I have spent this day in two ways only: At an early hour I Skyped with Ms. Tina Hudak and the young men of St. Albans Lower School of Washington about freedom, walls, inspiration, and building scenes and fictional time during a phenomenal conversation inspired by my Berlin Wall novel, Going Over. I was deeply impressed with those young men. With their recognition, among other things, that whether a wall is metaphorical or physical, it counts. It separates. It divides.

The rest of the day I have been writing my column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, finding it particularly challenging, this time around, to say just what I wanted to say. I fought with words until the words gave in and, at last, relinquished story.

Just as I was completing that work, news came in via Twitter of a GuysLitWire review of This Is the Story of You. The review, written by author and critic Colleen Mondor, is an absolute masterpiece of writing about writing, and I am so deeply taken by the artistry of it.

Taken by it.

Grateful for it.

On a day when words came slow to me, Colleen's words arrived as a salve. This is a deepest kindness.

My favorite words from the review:

What I enjoy so much about Beth Kephart's books is the depth of emotion her characters experience. It is not that horrible things happen to them, but that they are unashamed to feel so much on every page. In Kephart's novels, people say what they think and what they mean. They look at the world and ponder what they see. They insist on taking part in their surrounding community. They are real - everyone Kephart creates is achingly, breath-takingly real. In some ways, they are more real then the rest of us, which is something to aspire to I think, as readers, as writers and as people. 


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sunburst after darkness: at long last, I'm writing again

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I know this to be true about myself: I can't find peace unless I'm engaged in the never-entirely peaceful struggle of writing.

I need to be inside a story. I need to find faith that story can matter.

And now at last I am forty pages into a new book that has required me to listen very carefully, to imagine very deeply the life of a young woman I've come to care enormously about. A book that has sent me down exquisite research trails. A book that I want to wake up to.

Engaged with my own work again, I can engage more deeply with my community.

We have to be whole to give of ourselves wholly.

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Craft Forms 2016: celebrating artists among friends

Saturday, December 3, 2016

We seek community. We find our way toward those who share our passions. Last evening I had the pleasure of joining my husband, William Sulit, at the opening reception for Craft Forms 2016, an international juried exhibit featuring textiles, metal work, ceramics, jewelry, wood, furniture, and basketry held at the magnificent Wayne Art Center. This year's exhibit was curated by Stefano Catalani, Executive Director of the Gage Academy of Art, and what a show it is. One could spend a lot of time appreciating the materials, hand work, stories.

And one could bask, as I now am at this early morning hour, in the friendships strengthened or rediscovered last evening. Many of our clay friends were there—all dressed up and mud free. But so were friends from other spheres of my life—Bill Thomas, the Executive Director of Chanticleer, with whom I worked on the book, Ghosts in the Garden; Peter Archer of Archer and Buchanan, an architect of great talent whom I first met so many years ago when we both worked for the same firm; Susan, a former family neighbor. The Wayne Art Center is a world of windows and light, ideas and the people who have them. It is led by Nancy Campbell, who achieves much and dreams forward. It is a welcoming place at a time when we could all use a little more welcome.

Today, from 1 to 2:30, Stefano will discuss his selection process and some of the artists—my husband among them—will talk about the pieces that were selected for the show. The event is free and open to the public.

Bill's selected piece is right there in the middle of the room, by the way. A close-up image can be found here.

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an honor, an excerpt, my husband's clay

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I struggle, perhaps I always will, with striking the right balance. How much do we talk about ourselves out here? How much do we turn our attention to others? What does a small personal moment mean against the backdrop of grave concerns or else-where suffering?

I don't have the answers.

But here, today, is this:

This Is the Story of You, my young adult novel about the consequences of a monster storm, was named to the 2017 TAYSHAS Reading List today, and I could not be more grateful on behalf of this quiet book that means to much to me. Thank you, TAYSHAS, and thank you, Taylor Norman of Chronicle Books, who is so consistently kind to me. The link to the full list is here.

An excerpt from Nest. Flight. Sky., a Shebooks memoir about the loss of my mother, appears on the beautiful literary site, The Woven Tale Press, today. Woven Tale is like a book you want to read—beautiful considered and laid out. That link is here.

Finally, my husband's work will be featured in a major exhibition that opens tomorrow. This international show, Craft Forms, has its home at the Wayne Art Center, and tomorrow night I'll abandon my ordinary, often wrinkled, not exactly glamorous garb for a dress and heels to help celebrate the opening night. The link to my husband's work is here.

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Alone in a Hurricane? Video responses to gorgeous questions inspired by the storms of now and THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

Thursday, November 24, 2016


On this Thanksgiving Day, I have family, friends, earth, and sky, books and those who read them, stories and those who inspire them to be deeply grateful for. I have the eight dishes I'm making for our family of three, and the graciousness of our neighbors, with whom we will share dessert.

And I have Christine Alderman to thank for questions that forced me to go deep into my novel—This Is the Story of You—to find lessons for right now. What are the responsible responses to our times? What is the place of hope and empathy in a country fractured by opposing points of view, distrust, and fear?

Here, on Book Club Advisor, those questions and my attempts at answers can be found. The lighting in my little office was odd, but maybe that's because I'm a little odd. So please forgive all that blue tint and think, with me, about the power of empathy.

Christine, thank you. For everything.

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in the struggle of right now, search for beauty: MOMENTS OF SEEING, Katrina Kenison

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In the struggle of right now, as I work to understand what I might do to strengthen fractured communities and identify (and work toward) hope, I make room, as well, for beauty.

I sit with a neighbor I love and talk.

I listen to the students who inspire.

I look for the sun when it rises and the sun when it falls.

I prepare my home for the return of my son.

I celebrate the news, and the dreams, of friends.

Here beside me as I type sits Moments of Being: Reflections from an Ordinary Life, a collection of essays from Katrina Kenison. You know Katrina because you read her hugely popular blog, or because you have read her three books (Mitten Strings for God, The Gift on an Ordinary Day, Magical Journey), or because you have met her in your travels as a student or a friend.

You know Katrina.

When Katrina decided to assemble these—shall we call them letters? yes, letters—first written to readers on her blog, she chose to build a book that is as physically beautiful as it is soul leavening. Gorgeous paper. Beautiful spine. Careful typesetting. It's all Katrina, through and through, in a book that asks us to stop, to see, and to appreciate. Here, for example, is Katrina reflecting on a party she threw in her peaceful home:

There was a moment, a kind of Mrs. Dalloway moment, when I just stopped, stood stock-still, and looked around at the loveliness of the scene. The men were in the kitchen drinking beer. The women were outside, chatting. The boys were juggling—a skill they all learned together in sixth and seventh grade and suddenly, spontaneously, decided to revive at ages seventeen and eighteen. Clubs flew through the air. A fiercely competitive badminton game was in progress. A group of girls sat at the picnic table, deep in conversation....

Today, I promised myself this: More time for fun. More spur of the moment parties, before it's too late and the younger generation is up and out and gone for good. More fires outside, more s'mores, more reasons to celebrate the joy of being alive, of raising children to young adulthood, of spending time with those young adults—who, after all, are still learning from us, each and every day, what it means to live a good life.
We have a responsibility, this Thanksgiving, to love out loud, to yield the floor, to listen. We have a responsibility to look for and find beauty, because that will strengthen us, that will enliven us, that will help us find not just hope but a right path forward.

There is beauty in Katrina's way of seeing, her way of being. You can order her book directly here.



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language creeps back in

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

In the early days of November, at dawn, I walked along the sea.

I had been away from myself for a very long time. Anxious about the world, saddened by unkindness and untruthfulness of both the personal and political sort, not at all certain whether I would ever again find joy in many of the things that I love most.

I'm still anxious. I'm still saddened. But I cannot remain, I realize at last, inside this held breath, this paralysis. I'm no good to anyone if I'm no good within myself.

And so I again am taking refuge inside story. I am returning, in my imagination and in fact, to a young woman I came to know last spring—to someone whose dignity, voice, and absolute compassion deeply heartened me.

I will wake up thinking about her. I will write for her, perhaps just a sentence every day. I will move forward and again forward because her story must be told, and because I know how to do that telling now, and because language creeps back in.

I need the language I had lost to live in this world, to make a difference.

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we read to understand what it is to be another

Saturday, November 12, 2016



I recently wrote of my time, this past Tuesday, at Conestoga High School, where I met with teachers and administrators during a district-wide Artistry of Teaching program.

I entered my teaching classroom early, as I tend to do. The room, shared by teachers of English, was perfectly fringed with books. The walls were lined with lists of favorite books, quotes from favorite books, evidence of conversations being had about Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award finalists, banned books, classic books, new YA titles.

I was moved, deeply moved, by this shared library—this proof of deep, border-smashing literacy among the young, as encouraged by the not-as-young. We read to find out. We read to know. We read to feel. We read to understand what it is to be another.

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bridges and not walls

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Yesterday I participated in a gorgeously-rendered Artistry of Teaching program for the T/E School District. Walked the hallways of my son's old high school. Saw again some of his favorite teachers and remembered why I loved them. Sat briefly at lunch with the great artist/writer Judy Schachner. Stood among teachers and thought out loud about how memoir breaks down walls, opens lives, provides a place of refuge—and might be taught.

The world was about to change, dramatically change. My heart was folded up inside my chest. I kept talking about bridges, about true stories as solace, about the yield that comes with trust. The teachers wrote sideways, from fiction to truth. They wrote of loved places, first memories, extruded and inverted details. They wrote. We talked. We hoped out loud.

The Artistry of Teaching program was an act of faith. It was a demonstration of our commitment to the children who come next. The power and the promise of them. The things they yet will teach us about goodness and grace, community and resilience, bridges and not walls.




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an interview with the old memoirist; Cape May in November

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The thing about the sea is that it's theater. Dawn and the people gather, waiting for the break of sun. Dusk and the people return, their friends, or memories, near.

All eyes on the horizon. All bets on the sun.

This past week, in Cape May, New Jersey, there was weather, there was light. The dolphins traveled in pods. The birds sliced silhouettes. The hours changed. Nine memoirists had joined us for our second Juncture memoir workshop, and in between the exhilaration of their work, their metamorphosis, and our conversation in an old painted lady, I traveled to the beach, alone.

While we were gone, a two-part essay/interview about my memoir-teaching work and book (Handling the Truth) appeared in the November issue of The Woven Tale Press. (Part 1. Part 2.) I have Richard Gilbert to thank for the intensely intelligent appraisal of Handling, and for the questions, which moved and engaged me.

Thank you, Woven Tale, Richard, Sandra, and Angelica.

Thank you, Sea Changers.


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pondering private lives lived out in public places, and a new memoir workshop at Longwood Gardens

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Today I share news of an upcoming one-day memoir workshop, to be conducted next October 15, 2017 at Longwood Gardens. Information is available here. Sign-ups begin in a week. Class size is limited. I'm thinking we all could use a turn in a beautiful place. I know I could.

Meanwhile, in this hard right now, when violent forces swirl, afflict, threaten, when words (abused, thwarted, erased of meaning) take on a life of their own, I have been pondering democracy and private lives lived out in public places. I wrote about the dark of that and the possible light in that for today's Philadelphia Inquirer, a story that can be found here. I centered my search for meaning in a famous Philadelphia square.


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all ready for the sea (Juncture Workshops)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What a time it has been. What lessons still rush in, at any age.

In the deep mist and midst, we prepare for our nine writers, soon to join us by the sea for the second Juncture Memoir Workshop. I have read their beautiful early essays. I have learned about their hopes as writers. I have added Springsteen and White and a Nest to a reading list, transformed assignments, reassigned hours of the day, and now we look ahead to waves and weather and community, eager for all the good that will come.

And good shall come.
 

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lock and key

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Autumn, it seems, is finally setting in around here. The breeze carries a chill. The leaves are color. My son is home, for a few essential days. He comes by when I am standing here. A kiss on the cheek. Hey, Mom.

How hard it is to anticipate how much we'll miss our children when they are grown up and mostly gone.

But today, this Sunday morning, everything I need is right within reach—my husband, my son, our small home. We'll eat cookies, take a walk, watch a movie, talk—and that is all, because that is all we need.

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the glories of Tulsa (and Nimrod): a photo diary

Monday, October 17, 2016













I arrived home just after midnight.

I still had visions of Tulsa in my head.

A Nimrod conference expertly curated and managed by Eilis O'Neal, on a very pretty University of Tulsa campus. A group reading with Chloe Honum, Sherry Thomas, Brenna Yovanoff, Will Thomas, and Toni Jensen that will always resonate as warm, real, affirming, proof that no one genre corners excellence, that great writing is great writing, period. A chance to work with the rising memoirists of Tulsa, to sit in the audience of Robin Coste Lewis and Angela Flournoy, to hear the winners of the Nimrod contests (my friend Ruth Knafo Setton, Chad B. Anderson, Markham Johnson, and Bryce Emley ) read from their chosen work. A most extraordinary gathering at a generous and intrinsically fascinating home. A delicious (that will now always be her word) conversation with Poet Laureate and long-time Nimrod editor and champion Fran Ringold. A chance to talk to the very wonderful Jeff Martin of Booksmart Tulsa, whose organization ignites readers nearly once each week as it brings in authors like Stephen King, Hisham Matar, Brando Skyhorse, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jonathan Lethem, Ransom Riggs, James Gleick, Geoff Dyer, Stewart O'Nan, Adam Haslett and, yes, I know you were waiting for it: Michael Ondaatje. A Sunday morning spent with my friend Katherine, and her four-month old twins.

In between, the walking. Into the urban streets of Tulsa, early morning, where I saw the proud Art Deco, the proliferating churches, an old Sunoco sign dangling from a top-floor of a brick building. Over the bridge—with Ruth and then alone and then with Katherine—to stand beside the minor league ball park, to watch a U-Haul truck spin in the sky, to walk among the food trucks (Mexican street tacos, jumbo corn dogs, garlic fries, spicy pickles, grilled bacon fluffernutter), to find the Blue Dome, to imagine the streets as poet Markham Johnson encouraged us to imagine many years ago, in the wake of a devastating race riot, to recall the iconic lore of Route 66 (and indeed, I bought the Springsteen memoir on my way home).

"I Believe in Good People," a sign in a closed store read.

I believe in Tulsa.

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celebrating my husband's most-excellent pottery news (Craft Forms)

Friday, October 14, 2016

A few weeks ago we got the stupendous news that my husband's work had been juried into Craft Forms 2016, an internationally recognized premiere contemporary craft exhibition showcased at the Wayne Art Center from December 3, 2016 through January 28, 2017.

This year's juror is Stefano Catalani, Curator of Art, Craft & Design at the Bellevue Museum, who will be here to lecture on the chosen works on December 3rd, at the Wayne Art Center.

I am infinitely proud of William Sulit, this husband of mine, who disappears for many hours of many days into the basement to create sui generis work with extraordinary care. His work has sold well at Show of Hands in Philadelphia, where the gallery owner extended Bill's solo show an additional two months and has now maintained a dozen pieces for the shop. Bill's work will again be exhibited at Jam Gallery, in Malvern, PA, this November.

And this selection into this international show represents yet another turning point in Bill's clay career. I married an artist, through and through, and nothing makes me happier than to see his work make its way into the world.

I'm off to Oklahoma to teach memoir (among other things) at the Nimrod Conference (and to see my beautiful Katherine and her twin babies). I'll be back next week with news on what I learned while away (and my thoughts on the extraordinary National Book Award finalist The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy, with whom I'll share a Saturday panel).

All best to all of you in the meantime.

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