WILD BLUES: the cover (and story) reveal

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A new middle-grade book is due out this year. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Antheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster). A book that has been in the making for many years. It brings together so much that I love (memories of my antiques-loving uncle, my Salvadoran husband's stories, the camping guide penned by my great-grandfather, Horace Kephart) and so much that I fear (dark caves and penetrating storms, random violence and untruths).

I can't wait to share the book with you, when it appears in June 2018. But in the meantime, I have this jacket, so gorgeously illustrated by John Jay Cabuay and so magnificently—would the word be nurtured?—by Caitlyn and her team.

So many thanks, too, to Karen Grencik and Amy Rennert, for loving me through my books.

Finally, thanks to my husband, for the stories, the trust, and the illustrations that he contributed to the pages of this book. They are special, recalling the watercolors he sent to me, years ago, when he was at Yale and I was in Philadelphia, waiting and waiting.

The jacket copy:


That's what thirteen-year-old Lizzie's mom asks her to do as summer begins.

Lizzie chooses to stay with her uncle Davy and his cabin in the Adirondack wilds.

She chooses Matias Bondanza—Uncle Davy's neighbor, and her forever friend.

She chooses her survival guide, The Art of Keppy; scrambled eggs and pupusas; a big whale of a rock; the cool beneath trees.

But soon things happen that are beyond Lizzie's control. Things she could never have imagined.

A prison break.

A kidnapping.

A blinding storm.

There are new choices to make, and Lizzie must make them.

Because the fate of everything she loves hangs in the balance.


Juncture Notes 22: Bunk, Graphic Memoirs, Landscape Writing

Monday, January 15, 2018

In the latest edition of Juncture Notes we're talking about Kevin Young's Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, graphic memoirs (Eleanor Davis's You & A Bike & A Road, David Small's Stitches, and Tom Hart's Rosalie Lightning), Helen Epstein's The Long Half-Lives of Love and Trauma, and landscape writing.

It's all right here. Sign up for future editions here.


At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Final Fridays celebration of truth and language

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Last evening Bill and I met some 80 truth-seekers at the Johnson exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We'd built custom workbooks inspired by ten of the works on display. We'd invited participants to connect the paintings (or, in one case, the Rodin sculpture) with specific (and personal) aspects of the year past—and the year to come.

There were to have been two sessions. Thirty people were expected for each. But by the time the first session was under way, we were nearly out of our 80 workbooks and deep into conversation with a four-year-old memoirist, a priest, a high-school teacher, a fitness instructor, a young woman who went back to school to face her nemesis (math) and discovered that she's actually quite mathematical, an English teacher, a music teacher, a recent high-school grad, and so many more. We were blessed by the enthusiasm for the program and the care that so many took to write, and I will never forget walking around that exhibit space watching perfect strangers connecting with themselves.

A good way to end this year, with thanks to Cat Ricketts, who makes everything so very grand.


Holy Night: A (Beth Kephart) Christmas Poem

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holy Night
I thought that I was capable:
A girl with a song
On a night bright with the wide-open eyes of the stars.
My father at the piano,
My brother with the sweet reed of the oboe squeezed
Between his lips,
The crisped-skin fry of the Christmas Eve smelts
         Still in the air,
The stockings hung,
My mother and sister on the couch,
One beside the other.
And I was the one,
I was the one who would sing.

My father, as I have mentioned, was at the keys,
My brother was leaning toward his own notes,
In the house that isn’t ours anymore,
In the room where my mother used to be,
By the tree,
In the hours before what we’d thought we’d wanted
Would be received,
At a time when the eyes of the stars were on us,
And it was my turn to sing.


my Chicago Tribune review of a twisty Christmas story

Friday, December 15, 2017

So what was Dickens thinking when he set out to write his A Christmas Carol? The screenwriter Samantha Silva has spent a long time imagining just this.

I reviewed her book, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, for the Chicago Tribune.

The full link is here.


a filmic peek inside William Sulit's clay world—and a trunk show

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Meet Bill in person this Saturday, at 36 Craven, Old City, Philadelphia. Bill will be sharing a number of brand new pieces in a trunk show—pieces that come to life in the video above.

I've written about this glorious new store (and its owners) previously, here.

I'll be with Bill this Saturday and look forward to seeing you there.

138 N. 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA
Saturday, December 16th
1 - 5 PM


Previewing The Art of Remembering, our Final Fridays event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Monday, December 11, 2017

We invite you to join us on December 29, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Final Fridays event, starting at 5:00 PM. We'll be using the Johnson exhibition as a way back to our own memories of the year that was, and those who join us will receive this workbook. Admission to the event is free after entry.

More details here.


Join us for Final Friday (December) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (we're excited; we made a special workbook for the event)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Among the beautiful people we've lately come to know is one Cat Ricketts, who coordinates the evening programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She'll hold ugly sweater parties. She'll host jazz musicians. She'll rock a room with a bossa nova quintet.

She'll also come up with some very spectacular ideas (with equally beautiful colleagues like Claire Oosterhoudt) for PMA's Final Friday events. I didn't know what Cat might have in mind when she got in touch with us several weeks ago. But when she invited us to be part of the line up for Get Your Om On (December 29, 2017), I said yes at once.

We've spent time with Cat and Claire in the meantime—developing a keepsake, memoir-twinged notebook inspired by the Johnson exhibit now on display in the Dorrance Galleries. I've done the writing. Bill's done the designing. Cat and Claire have done the fabulous hosting of our (eternally funky) ideas. Bill and I will both be there for the entire evening, giving out the notebooks, talking remembering and memoir, and listening to the stories those who come have to tell.

And so this is an invitation—a hope that you'll join us and the other artists on December 29, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The fun begins at 5:00 PM and ends a little before 9:00 PM. Admission is free after entry. For the entire line-up, check out this link.


what I've been thinking about, this holiday season, in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thoughts on remaining integral during a season of sometimes-chaos. In the Philadelphia Inquirer.


when you want so much for those who gather close to tell their stories

Sunday, November 19, 2017

We have returned from Sea Change, our memoir writing workshop by the sea. And oh what a sea change it was—for us all.

Each time I leave a workshop I leave stunned and grateful for the honesty of those who have come—for their willingness to reach, then reach again. We experienced transformations this past week of a nearly unearthly kind. Writers who found their stories. Writers who found their words. Reporters who became poets. Entertainers who struck at our hearts. Badassery latticed up with tenderness...and then some.

I barely sleep during these intense days. I am, by the end, on the edge of myself, the edge of each story, the edge of each truth. Where there once was blood there runs only an urgent hope that those who have joined us write big, write more, live whole.

Like a gymnast, I bend in all directions—I stretch, I fold. Sometimes, off that balance beam, I fall. I try one more trick, take one more leap, jump, turn, catch my toe, miss. That's me, the Beth Kephart I don't even really know until I'm the only Beth Kephart I am.

At the close of this session, the writers offered me a gift—their words turned toward me. These words below are from Louise, who has joined us now three times. Louise, who has found both her story and her words. I share them because they are for all of us—all of us who teach, all of us who hope, all of us who dare to want so much for the people we (we have no choice) do love.

We are given such glorious reasons to love. These women. Oh. These women.

Blank pages, open hearts, ready minds
We come to this place, to you
A safe harbor for our souls
Unsure, yet anxious to explore
We are transfixed, transformed
Torn down and built up 
Love is at the core. 

Juncture 21, our memoir newsletter, is now out and can be accessed here. Among other things we're featuring the poets Dan Simpson and Ona Gritz, who have written extraordinarily thoughtful words about the work they do alone and together. Dan and Ona's work provided touchstones for two of our writers this past week in Cape May. We returned to their words again and again.


so grateful for this essay in LitHub, on not vanishing our writing heroes

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Quietly, determinedly, I have returned to the writing of essays. My pieces in the Philadelphia Inquirer becoming ever more personal. My research for fiction yielding explorations of the truth (in Woven Tale Press). And, this past week, the publication of an essay long in the making in LitHub.

Finding my voice again. Slowly.

The LitHub essay stems from years of reading and wondering about Paul Horgan. From a trip my husband and I took out west. From a letter that was sent to me from Andrew Wyeth's nephew. From my wondering, often, what really remains of writers once they are gone. And why.

"Reclaiming a Beloved Writer from the Brink of Disappearance" can be found here.


Strangers in Budapest/Jessica Keener: reflections

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I am of the age of accumulations. Impressions, dreams, realizations, friends. A clarified sense of the stuff of life that I willfully carry forward.

Jessica Keener is part of that accumulation—a photographer who posts bright blooming flower images on dark national days, a woman with whom I once sat eating cupcakes in a Boston shop, a writer whose books I have read, a friend with whom I talked long one Saturday at noon, me on my phone in my Pennsylvania study, she on her phone in her Boston.

I've written about Jessica and her books before. I've written about them here.

Today I'm writing about Jessica again because her second novel, Strangers in Budapest, is due out in less than a week, and good things are happening all around. The Chicago Review of Books and Real Simple have both named the novel an essential November read. The independent bookstores are ecstatic. Boston Magazine called Jessica's story "perfect page-turner for late autumn," while Publishers Weekly called the book "riveting" and "memorable."

I have risen at 3 AM these past few days to read Strangers in Budapest through. I'd heard some of the stories of its making, heard of Jessica's great gratitude for her agent and editor and publicist and early readers, heard Jessica speak of her relationship to this tale.

But every reader makes a story new and so I read this propulsive story about a young American couple in a sizzling-hot Budapest of 1995 with great eagerness to find out for myself just what is happening here. As the story opens, Annie, the wife, is becoming involved with an old man who is on the hunt for the man he believes married then murdered his wheelchair-bound daughter—and later absconded with her money. Annie has secrets of her own, and concerns about her husband's thus-far less-than-successful forays into Hungarian business opportunities. Chased by her own past, Annie wants to do good. But will good come from falling in with this old man's quest? And will Annie be culpable for the consequences?

The story moves quickly—the lives of seeming strangers soon entangling, the mysteries never black or white, the confusions amplified by a city of Gypsies and a melodic language and empty herringbone-floored apartments opening to remarkable (but historically compromised) views. Budapest of 1995 is no mere backwash in this novel. It is, in many ways, the engine—the devastating history, the east versus the west, the strange mayoral politics, the trade-offs and tarnish.

Jessica has written it all with the knowledge of one who did indeed live in Budapest years ago—as one who walked those floors and saw those monuments and watched those lights on the castle at night. She has written the novel authoritatively, I'm saying—a psychologically suspenseful, fast-moving story in which all the pieces and parts come movingly together.  

Strangers in Budapest is best read right now, when the chill in this November air will offset the heat on the pages.


life as editorial director of the nationally syndicated PBS arts and culture show, "Articulate with Jim Cotter"

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sometimes the very thing you were never looking for whips around the bend (it's windy that day, but there is sun) and finds you.

That is what happened a few weeks ago when Jim Cotter, the host of "Articulate with Jim Cotter," the nationally syndicated, Emmy® award-winning PBS arts and culture show, invited me to join his team as editorial director.

I'd been a guest on the show a few years ago. I'd attended a recent concert filming. I'd written a story about that experience for my monthly Philadelphia Inquirer column, and it was after that—before the Inky story even ran—that Jim asked if I'd meet him at a local coffee shop.

I had no idea what he wanted, but I said yes.

Since that day I've been saying yes to a lot of things. To scanning the arts horizon in search of innovators and storytellers whose ideas and ideals challenge (or affirm) the way we view our lives. To thinking about the processes that guide and fuel the work of writers, producers, shooters, animators, digitalists, and others. To learning how to write scripts so that I can teach the writing of scripts (how's that for rapid conversion?). To reaching out to those who know people who know ... who know. To sneaking books into the office, and possibilities—passages on the art of the essay, reviews of an author whose work deeply counts, tales of a musician with a story to tell. To learning from an uber fab executive producer (Tori Marchiony), a you-haven't-met-efficient/resourceful-until-you meet-her operations manager (Constance Kaita), and, of course, Jim himself.

It's been a deep immersion of a month. Here's what I already know: On the upper floors of an old mansion on Walnut Street there works and breathes a troupe (I'll use that word, for this is a cast of which I speak, this is theater within theater) of remarkably interesting people doing remarkably interesting work. They're out there talking to MacArthur geniuses and Pulitzer Prize winners, Daniel Handler and Gene Yang, Joyce Didonato and Jennifer Higdon, Watsky and Lisa Hannigan, Mark Mothersbaugh and Ani DiFranco, Andrew W.K. and Lauren Greenfield, Elizabeth Streb and, just this week (I was there, she was cool), the rising indie singer-songwriter Julien Baker.

Chances are that you can see the show on your local PBS station. If not, you can watch every segment here, at your leisure, at any time of restless day or sleepless night. Or join the Facebook page, here, where you'll get updates on segments, special treats, and all kinds of trivia with which to impress your friends.

And when you're sending me notes and I'm behind answering it's because, well, of this. I think it's a pretty fair trade—me sharing the show in exchange for me disappearing for stretches at a time. The show is more vivid, vibrant, and wow than I will ever be.

Wow. Did I say wow? Check out this sizzle reel.


Juncture Notes 20: a conversation with Inara Verzemnieks

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I could not be more honored. The exquisite memoirist Inara Verzemnieks joins us in conversation for this issue of Juncture Notes.

Anyone who cares about life, about seeing, about love should stop and read what Inara has to say. She took the time and went deep.

It's all here.


Celebrating life as viewed through the lens of art, on this Emmy-winning PBS show, "Articulate with Jim Cotter"

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Two or so years ago I had the extraordinary privilege of sitting with Jim Cotter to talk about truth, life, Philadelphia, the students I love—all of it—for his PBS show, "Articulate." Later I set off with his magnificent crew for B-Roll footage, but really: I only wanted to watch, to see how hoverboards, drones, and a lot of really nice people could turn a middle-aged woman into a story. The entire team's incredible care and craft, the expressed interest in making enduring art, stayed with me. The show featuring my segment, released a few months later, has remained a highlight of my career.

"Articulate" has evolved since then, inviting guests like Daniel Handler of Lemony Snicket fame, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, Lady Gaga's hat maker, Arturo Rios, and singer songwriter Lisa Hannigan into the studio or under the lights. For anyone who hopes to turn on the TV (or the internet) and find the reprieve of interesting talk, artful hope, and cinematic beauty (I don't know of any other arts show that is so beautifully produced), I strongly urge you to find Articulate.

I wrote about the experience of returning to "Articulate" and sitting in its audience at a live taping for this week's Philadelphia Inquirer story, which can be found here.


Sudden Annealing on a Day of Dark Rain: A Poem

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sudden Annealing On A Day of Dark Rain

All day in search of a poem to allege the hours
Lived or measured. With my back set against the wall
Of rain and my mind divided: Inquisitor. 
Interrogated. Nothing. Not even the thunder
Is something.  Not even the buds of rain
On the naked trees that might have been opals
Are something until, from another room
Behind my room, the song you’re playing,
Some indication of guitar, an offhand
Kindness. Like yesterday when I recognized
A tenderness in you accepting the small stuffed
Bear a child offered for no one else’s sake.


Reunion: a Beth Kephart poem

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cleaning out file drawers, I find this poem, crushed between corporate projects. The story of my life, perhaps.


Later, above the Thimble Islands,
lightning hooks the ghosts of buccaneers
and pirates.

You can see the ghosts hanging in the wind,
the shag hems of their trousers unraveling
in the channel,
treasure the color of kerosene
at their feet,
their women howling at the winter
seals caught in the cove.

Dry heaves of light,
and then the gloaming.
Leader and streamer,
and then the hooked sky,
and the ghosts in the hook of the sky.
No rain yet.
Rain coming.

Before this you had been standing
on the falling down
part of the hill.
You had been laughing.
Twenty years, someone said,
And no one's changed.


Manhattan Beach/Jennifer Egan: My Chicago Tribune Review

Monday, October 2, 2017

Devastated as we all are by the unending cycle of brutal news, I keep turning back to books—to the very best of books.

The ones with heart and soul, the proof of generous, curious, receiving minds.

Last week I had the opportunity to read Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach, an historical novel of surpassing... everything. My rave review, in the Chicago Tribune, is here.


Juncture Notes 19: Writing to Stay Whole and an Interview with Camille Dungy

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

In the current issue of Juncture Notes, I reflect on the very necessity of writing, share an interview with the wonderful Camille Dungy (Guidebook to Relative Strangers), and feature the work of three of our readers. I also announce our plans to hold one five-day workshop and three one-day workshops in 2018.

The whole issue can be read (and shared) here. Please pass this link on to others who are seeking a substantive conversation about memoir and the many ways that it gets made.


Longwood Gardens, One Day Memoir Workshops, Camille T. Dungy: coming soon

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In a month, 20 writers will join us at Longwood Gardens for a sold-out, one-day workshop called Seedlings.

Yesterday, in the rain, Bill and I walked the conservatory and grounds again, finalizing our plans.

Always go to Longwood Gardens in the rain.

The acres of beauty seemed to belong just to us. The upward arcing water, the platters of rain, the desert silvers and rocks, the pads and ponds. We had the orchid room to ourselves for a long five minutes. We stepped into the ballroom to hear (along with just a handful of others) the organ play. A kind volunteer urged us to lean and smell the lotus pods. The experimental garden was end-of-season deep with color and risk.

We can't wait for this day in October. We have so much we want to share and do, remember and write. We'll be creating more of these one-day events, and we'll be announcing them in the months to come here, and in Juncture Notes, our memoir newsletter featuring the top working memoirists of our time.

(Next up, in a few days, an interview with Camille T. Dungy, author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W.W. Norton).) 

Sign up for the free newsletter, if you haven't already, and stay in touch.


What the painter Andrew Wyeth teaches about the narrative arts, in The Woven Tale Press

Thursday, September 7, 2017

I've been thinking a lot about the Wyeth family. Reading and traveling, looking and thinking, standing in the galleries of the Brandywine River Museum of Art and allowing the wash of the Wyeth retrospecta to work itself on me.

This essay, on what Andrew Wyeth teaches us about the act and art of writing, erupts from that obsession. I'm so grateful to Sandra R. Tyler of The Woven Tale Press for sharing my enthusiasm and running the piece on her literary/art site today. Woven Tale is quickly becoming a mecca for writers and artists and those who understand the essential middle ground between the two.

So thank you. Here's a link to my story, which includes photographs of Andrew Wyeth's Chadds Ford studio.


Beyond Words: My student, Josh Jordan, publishes his memoiristic essay in the PA Gazette

Thursday, August 31, 2017

There are privileges associated with teaching. I've written about them here. The communities that form. The stories that emerge. The power, and the hope, I discover in those who come to my University of Pennsylvania classroom to write.

Also? Continuing those conversations long after the class is done. Hearing from students who are out in the world, who send their continuing stories my way, who tell me not just the big stuff that is happening in their lives, but the small details they find arresting.

The things they notice.

Josh Jordan is among the mix of students I've been hearing from all summer long. Today he's sent a link to an essay now published in The Pennsylvania Gazette. This is a version of an essay that was written in our classroom last semester. We all loved it then for what it taught us about this young man's heart, his capacity to hear through silence.

And so it is my pleasure to introduce you to Josh Jordan. His piece is here.

I thank Trey Popp, of the Gazette, who said yes and then worked with Josh to make this a Gazette story.


for Christopher Allen, in memoriam, lost to gunfire while covering the Sudan War

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Earlier this morning my father called with the very sad news that Christopher Allen, a 26-year-old war reporter, has lost his life while covering the Sudan conflict. The story is being reported across the country as well as here, in our Philadelphia Inquirer.

I'd been watching the Harvey news, terrified for that large swath of our country, for the people already lost, the land under water and siege. The very particular, very specific death of Chris entered into my swirl of sadness.

What do we do for the people who have been lost? It's a question I had already been pondering as I write my September essay for the Inquirer.

Right now, today, I simply want to share the best of Christopher, whom I met on a train while headed into Penn to teach several years ago. He impressed me at once—the intensity of his questions, the politeness of his phrasing—and soon I'd written him into Handling the Truth, the passage above, never thinking I would see him again.

Why would I see this perfect stranger again?

Later, however, I learned that Chris was the son of my father's friends. That he had graduated from Penn and moved to the theaters of conflict. That he was determined to be there, to cover the wars, to find the humanity in bloodshed. I spoke with his parents about Chris when he was gone. In the nave of a church, when he was home for a spell, I spoke with him. A few emails were sent.

He was just 26 years old, covering a war, and now he's gone. His legacy remains. Here is Chris, writing in his own words, for the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Updated to include this piece, written for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Online now and slated to run in this weekend's print edition. 


one day at a time out here, and every day matters: my Philadelphia Inquirer piece on August

Saturday, August 19, 2017

I am ending this Saturday evening with a citrus blue cheese salad, a mushroom chicken dish, and some sangria. Also this unexpected (appreciated) treatment of my story for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

This month I reflected on August—that time of year that forces patience, that reminds us of our bounty, that reminds us, too, of the fragile condition of our world and our always tenuous place in it. I wrote the piece before Charlottesville and Barcelona. I took photographs of fading flowers and fallowing farms. I felt, during the making of this essay, a deep sense of melancholia and encroaching .... something.

The encroachments came. They still keep coming.

We speak our truths. We work toward kindness. We seek a better world. And then, at the end of the day, we make the best meals we can for the people we love, because it's one day at a time out here, and every day matters.

Update: We at Juncture have just published our 18th edition of Juncture Notes, our memoir newsletter. The newsletter includes a link to this Inquirer story. You can read the issue here. 


A memory keeper and book maker reflects on Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.

I will confess that I was useless for much of this past week. The news. All of it. How could any of us keep working, or giving, in the face of it?

So that when a beautiful photo of our workbook, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., appeared on my Linked In feed, courtesy of Dawn M. Roode, I saw only that photo, so beautifully taken. It did not occur to me to click on any link.

Later, encouraged, I clicked on the link.

What I discovered was an absolutely gorgeous and unexpected advocacy for Tell the Truth from a woman who turns remembering into what she calls Modern Heirloom Books. That's the name of Dawn's company. This is what she does. And she found, in this workbook, an ally in the process.

It's worth clicking on this link just to see how beautifully Dawn does things. How much she gives. How she finds the energy to give, even right now. And I, of course, am very grateful to have a companion like this thoughtful, talented Dawn in this remembering world.


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