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.

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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.

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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.

Reunion

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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. 

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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. 

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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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We seek leadership from each other, and the cautionary Girl at War (Sara Novic)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We are, in this country, in a state of profound bewilderment—or the vast majority of us are. Ours has become a land of unloosed epithet throwers, flame tossers, defacers, chanters, emboldened murderers...and the millions and millions of the rest of us who are saying no, this is not who we are, this is not what we want, this is not what our fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers have fought for, this is not the United States, this is not leadership, this is not even remotely "fine."

Without leadership from the top, we seek leadership from each other.

I teach in the spring at the University of Pennsylvania. I take solace, on those Tuesdays, from the students who sit with me—the students who go deep, take risks, find the words, remind me of the future, the students who, in times of great moral peril, remain willing to imagine and empathize and tell the truth.

But I'll have to wait until January to meet them, and between now and then I find myself spinning, lost, then regaining traction through the books that I am reading. Camille T. Dungy's Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History has been alerting, and helpful. Edwidge Danticat's The Art of Death. CeCe Bell's El Deafo. Nina Riggs's The Bright Hour. And, read over a long period of time so that it would not come too soon to its end, Sara Novic's Girl at War.

Novic's much-lauded novel begins with the story of a ten-year-old girl living a tomboy's life in Croatia's capital. Things aren't perfect there, hardly—her baby sister is sick, money is tight, her father and mother are sometimes at odds. But there are still simple pleasures like bike rides with a best friend and the stories her father tells at night. All of which swiftly changes as war settles into this civilized place. Shattered buildings. Underground shelters. Plumes of war smoke watched from a balcony.

On the left, the twin peaks of Zagreb Katedrala stretched taller than all the surrounding buildings. I couldn't remember a time when the cathedral wasn't at least partly swathed in scaffolding and tarps, but that only added to its sense of majesty, its wounds a physical manifestation of the sorrows and confessions of the city. In nights before the war, two spotlights lit the stone towers in dual rushes of warm gold. Now, with the lights quelled in anticipation of a blackout, it was difficult to pinpoint the boundary between the spires and the night sky.

And things are about to get worse, as Ana's baby sister is sent away for medical help, a car blockade derails Ana's life, and Ana finds herself in a safe house learning the mechanics of warfare. Later Ana will be secretly ushered to the United States. She'll struggle to live with her buried past. She'll finally return to the country that was broken by war.

While not an autobiographical novel, Girl at War is an utterly authentic one—a story Novic began writing as an 18 year-old in a college classroom. She pursued the facts in long months spent in Croatia. She kept writing until she found its arc.

The result is vivid, heartbreaking, and not just historical. It is alive with the cautions of what happens when communities allow minor and major differences (a desire for new roads, a hatred for cultural differences) to tear themselves apart. It seemed to me, as I finished reading yesterday, to be an exemplary cautionary tale.

If we let ourselves devolve into the fractions the white supremacists hope we will, we will become a country even more at war with itself. We must, then, lead from within. Lead each other.

I'm teaching literary middle grade and young adult literature next spring at Penn—the writing of books for and about the young that sear into our minds and hearts by virtue of their organic concerns and crafted structures. Sara Novic, whose adult Girl at War won an Alex Award (books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18) will be coming to Penn on March 13, 2018, as part of my curriculum.

(As always, I have Julia Bloch and Jessica Lowenthal to thank for making my guest-list dreams come true.)

I know that seems like a long way off. I know we can't imagine who we will be, as a nation, at that time.  No matter what, mark your calendars. Read her book in the meantime.



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watching the teachers teach in a trembling world

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I have been teaching for a surprisingly long time now—elementary after-school programs, creativity workshops in my family room, gatherings across the country, my work at Penn—but there is nothing quite like watching other teachers teach.

I got to do that yesterday among the educators of the Lower Merion School District. I'd been invited in for a morning dedicated to writing. I'd been asked to teach, and I decided to teach truth with the help of my workbook, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., as well as some words from Ali Benjamin. But before and after my workshop hour, I was listening—watching as these dedicated professionals launched a program designed to nurture story-inclined students...and to help those students nurture others.

The teachers inspired, suggested, surprised. They distributed custom notebooks lined with student work. They read aloud from student stories and shared their own. They called out not just for ideas, but for a democracy of ideas. They engaged. They meant what they said.

The world is a trembling, uncertain place, but something entirely tangible and lastingly good happens when teachers and students give up half an August day to talk about why stories actually matter, and to make those stories matter even more.

Earlier this week, from across the country, Glenda Cowen-Funk, another teacher thinking about Truth and our national landscape, surprised me with an astonishingly thoughtful essay describing how Tell the Truth might enter classroom conversations. That amazing essay is here. A few days before, the educator Paul Hankins surprised me with the photograph you see above: Truth lying in wait in his classroom.

There is an easy way to teach, an easy path, a tried and mostly true. But then there are the educators from whom I've learned this week—teachers who step in with something new and with open hearts and with the words, Let's see what happens.

Teachers who dare to take another path and to be there when the new door opens.

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we don't foresee the gifts we're given: an unexpected honor for THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On Saturday afternoon the phone rang. It was my father on the line. He'd just collected his mail, opened a package from the University of Pennsylvania, and discovered my most recent novel, This Is the Story of You, featured in "a selection of books by University of Pennsylvania faculty and alumni authors curated just for you."

Adam Grant, Lisa Scottoline, Angela Duckworth, Jordan Sonnenblick, Jennifer Yu, Allison Winn Scotch, Frances Jensen, Jody Foster, Joshua Bennett, and, somehow, me.

My childhood friend, Susan Renz, also received a copy. It is her photograph above.

This is the thing about this writing life: we may wish for many things, but we rarely see the gifts coming.

 In 1998, I was far away, in London, when I discovered several notes stuffed under the hotel room door, notes imploring me to call my editor and my agent right away. The news? My first book had been nominated for a National Book Award. What? I said, many times, after I connected with dear Amy Rennert, after I spoke with the courageous editor who had said yes to my book, Alane Mason. Can you help me understand?

I was doing the bills when I learned I won a Pew Fellowships grant.

I was talking to my mother when I learned I won a poetry prize.

I was sitting in the New York Times auditorium when Meredith Vieira called me to the stage to receive an award for Handling the Truth. My shoes were too tall. I could barely get there.

And, this past Saturday, I was sitting very still, reading Camille Dungy's powerful new collection of essays, Guidebook to Relative Strangers, when my father called and began to explain the package he'd received.

What? I said, many times.

There are so many things I have hoped for in this writing life, and most of those things have proven elusive. Just last month a near promise on a new book turned to a fizzle. Just yesterday, something I had been hoping for slipped through my pale fingers. And then there are these unforeseen, unimagined, even, moments when someone (you don't know who, and you'd like to thank them) says, in one way or the other, you have been seen.

To that special whomever within The Penn Fund who thought to include my work in this remarkably diverse and interesting list of titles: You have surprised me. You have heartened me. Thank you.






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Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: forward movement is our measure

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., our illustrated memoir workbook, is now available through Baker & Taylor and Ingram, as well as Amazon. We're hearing beautiful stories about the book's introduction into workshop and teaching environments. We're reading blog posts inspired by the pages. We're grateful to the private high school that has just purchased copies for its entire tenth grade. I'm excited to teach from its pages at another local high school gathering in a few days. And we're really grateful to local bookstores that are saying yes.

Two years in the making. Still a long way to go. But we are making progress, bit by bit. Forward movement is our measure.


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Juncture 17: Tova Mirvis deconstructs the making of her memoir

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There are doors. And there are windows. There are fences. There is sky. In the current issue of Juncture Notes, Tova Mirvis stops by to explain, in illuminating detail, how she built a true story out of a hunch, an editorial conversation (about a novel), and a fascinating commitment to giving the book a compelling arc.

The memoir is The Book of Separation. The editor is Lauren Wein, whom I once profiled here in Publishing Perspectives.

Also featured: News about Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., our memoir workbook which is now available through Baker & Taylor and Ingram (and showing up in classrooms and workshops), and homework from our wise and inspired readers.

You can read all about it here.

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Traveling 5,000 miles across our country, a Philadelphia Inquirer photo story

Thursday, July 13, 2017

With thanks to Kevin Ferris, for embracing this story. With thanks to my husband, for driving the distance with me. And with thanks to all of those we met, our resilient Americans.

A full link to the story is here.

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36 Craven: Home, Interiors, Staging (and Bill's art!), 138 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia


There are many reasons I love the man I love. I cannot count the ways. But right in there, nested toward the top of the reasons pile, is our shared approach to valuing the made thing. Bill was studying to be an architect when I met him, but I fell in love with his watercolors first. And after that with his balsa-wood models, his black-and-white photographs, his 3D experiments, his oil paintings, his sketches. Bill, in my mind, could do it all.

And then Bill started working with clay. He had found, he deeply felt, his truest medium.

Bill hasn't taken the obvious route. He hasn't studied the trends and then fallen in line. He has, in his own words, "been inspired by rugged landscapes and ancient artifacts. Not only by the beauty of eroded surfaces, textured by time and nature, but also by the fact that the original layers of function and meaning have long been stripped away to reveal their innermost secrets."

Bill likes, he continues, "to think of the pieces I make in a similar way—as things that are found rather then made. I imagine them having their own logic and history as objects from a different time and place. I would like these objects not to stand still, but to have the flexibility to live in a different context than what was imagined for them."

Bill has made what has felt right to him. I, in our little home, have cheered him on, Facebook posted him, boasted of his work as we've wandered in and out of shops, for Bill would never boast on his own. Last summer, at Show of Hands, located at Tenth and Pine in Philadelphia, Bill was generously exhibited in a solo show for the first time. Two skilled curators happened into that show—Neil and George. They saw Bill's work. They remembered him as they put together a plan to build an exquisite lifestyle shop in Old City that they call 36 Craven.

Recently opened, this shop features what George and Neil call "primitive antiques, contemporary textiles and unique artwork for the 21st century home."

We visited the shop before it opened, as signage and interior work were under way. We visited again yesterday afternoon and found the shop in the immaculate condition above. A small space with a big heart featuring expansive ideas of the old merged with the new.

(And what a fantastic sales assistant, too. The shop is new. She's studied it all so well, so soon.)

Bill's work is there on the glass shelves and located throughout. It can be ordered, too, through the 36 Craven web site. I highly recommend visiting the shop in real time. It's not that different from visiting a fine museum where, for affordable prices, you can actually take the art home.

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resources for memoir writers

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I've just finished writing the 17th edition of Juncture Notes, our memoir newsletter. My focus this time is on the development of characters in memoir. My sources are Alexie, Gay, and Ford. We'll send this out into the world in late July.

Meanwhile, we have updated our Juncture Workshops site with a compendium of the memoir resources (beyond our upcoming Longwood Gardens and Cape May, NJ, workshops) we've created over this past year. Bill has found a way to make all previous issues of Juncture Notes available for public viewing. Interviews with Paul Lisicky, Sy Montgomery, Angela Palm, Diana Abu-Jaber, Megan Stielstra, Chloe Honum, Kristen Radtke, Brian Turner, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, Dani Shapiro, and so others can be found here. So can my thoughts on issues relating to the making of memoir, my recommended reads, my homework prompts, and the work of our readers.

(If you are one of our featured readers, you can now share your work with your friends.)

We urge you to check it all out here.

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Dignity, Our Fellow Americans, and The Fifth of July, by Kelly Simmons

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


I knew that driving nearly 5,000 miles across this country would change the way I see and feel; I wanted it to. I wanted to attach my empathy for other Americans to a more complete sense of the lives those other Americans live. The lonesome and the lovely landscapes. The shuttered stores and the Big Brands and the possibilities that a single restaurant proprietor stirs in Hope, AK. The music in truck cabs and the music on Beale Street and the fullness and yearning of it all.

This country that we love in our own ways is worth loving. It is worth protecting—not just its resources and its people, but its dignity. Dignity is a gigantic word, measured one act and one word at a time. It can be modeled. We can model it for one another.

And, right now, we must.

While I was away I had in hand a copy of Kelly Simmons' The Fifth of July, a book due out in a month or so, a book Kelly had slipped into my mailbox, at my request. I read this novel, which takes place in Kelly's own beloved Nantucket, while in hotel rooms in Columbus, OH, St. Louis, MO, Oklahama City, and Santa Fe. The smells and symbols of the beach were therefore there with me no matter how far my husband and I traveled from the sea. Kelly renders this landscape with the full, personal knowledge of someone who has lived it.

This, below, is the voice of Caroline, a wife, mother, daughter, and former girlfriend of the local handyman, who will soon become embroiled in a family death and mystery:
We turned the corner at Brant Point Lighthouse and waved back only to strangers—beachcombers, fishermen in waders casting into the surf—who greeted the ferry, hour after hour, day after day. Year after year. Here we come again. The salt air woke everyone up; the lighthouse made everyone smile. The town dock came into view, the boats gleaming, the lines of families waiting for the arrivals like a parade.
There are all kinds of mysteries in The Fifth of July. Who, for example, is mongering hate with posters and swastikas? What has led to the death of an unwell man? Who perpetuated a crime against Caroline years ago, and who is now marauding around town, threatening teenage girls, and who is genuinely in love with who? Who has another's back? To tell the story, Kelly employs multiple voices and points of view. The frame remains that seaside place, which Kelly yields with consistent authority.

This is the voice of Tom, Caroline's brother, who will not escape the doubt or suspicion that settles across the mysterious death and separate hate mongering. He, too, is gloriously attuned to the reliable routines of this ebb-and-flow place:
The rooms that faced east, like mine, fairly glowed from five a.m. on a clear day. Then there were the birds, with their array of voices. If the songbirds signaling each other didn't wake you up, the seagulls cracking oyster shells would finish the job. Arriving next, around seven a.m., were the gardeners, with the whine of their weed whackers and hedge clippers. And then, a little before eight, the construction workers with their nail guns and saws.
Sometimes darkness enfolds us. Anger, misunderstanding, lost or too-residual love. In Kelly's Fifth of July, a family, its neighbors, and its help negotiate the darkness of personal histories and legacies. The book takes us into those scary places where the wrong things perpetuate wrong things, and where the land and those who intimately know the land stand strong, and most true.

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Summertide and Currents arrive by mail

Monday, July 3, 2017

Not quite a year ago, I sat with Bonnie Offit in Rittenhouse Square talking about a dream she and her friend Gary Jacketti had to produce a free summer magazine for the Stone Harbor crowd. The magazine would feature literature and art. All proceeds would go to the CHOP Brendan Borek Fund. Might I have some ideas, Bonnie asked.

I pondered. I thought of this: Why not share the first two-thirds of a summer mystery, to be completed by a young writer? And why not introduce Bonnie to the work of Hannah Litvin, a talented poet and memoirist (and fiction writer, too) whom I had met while teaching memoir at Rosemont College?

And so those things happened. I shared my story. A willing mystery writer wrote the end. Hannah shared her poetry. And then Bonnie, with her team of Gary, Jen Gensemer, and Cailin Fogarty, went away and dreamed much bigger, inviting photographers and designers and other writers into the fold.

Today I received my two copies of Summertide, and what a genuine beauty it is, both at its soul core and in its art. At the same time, I received our copies of Currents, the magazine we create for each Juncture workshop initiative. Within this edition are the empathy pieces our writers wrote about their Frenchtown partners. Portraits that Bill took. Images of that place and our time.

And so it is a lovely day here. A day of quiet thanks.

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a generous review/interview for Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., and more

Saturday, July 1, 2017

We rented a car and we drove. To Columbus, Ohio, through Terra Haute, to St. Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, Ruidoso, Marfa, Fort Worth, Hope, Memphis, Lexington, Charleston, WV, and then, yesterday, home.

It was research. It was escape. It was a necessary immersion in our country.

It was our anniversary, too. Thirty-two years together.

While we were gone, Serena Agusto-Cox, a poet, reader, and reviewer kindly reviewed our new memoir workbook, Tell the Truth. Make it Matter., then asked me questions for an interview. We had not brought a computer with us, and so I tapped out words with two fingers on a borrowed couch and hoped any nonsense might be forgiven.

I am always enormously grateful to Serena for doing so much, so kindly, so consistently, even as her own career takes off with a first major reading and more and more yeses from journals.

The review is here.

The interview is here.

Gratitude is everywhere.

We also learned, as we drove into Memphis (fittingly enough) of the stellar SLJ review given to the anthology, Behind the Music, which is the brainchild of K.M. Walton. "This anthology about music hits all the right notes," the reviewer wrote, and we are all so happy about that.

My review of Julia Fierro's The Gypsy Moth Summer appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

And I received word that Love: A Philadelphia Affair will be available as a $12 paperback from Temple University Press come October.

I return to 2,000 photos to sort through (this one above was taken in New Mexico), an enormously interesting memoir to review for the Chicago Tribune, a promised story to the Inquirer, and a novel, now half-written, that requires its second half.

A novel that has found its second half.

I must settle down and make room for it. I must remember, in other words, how to sit in one place and think, for I am accustomed to rumbling now.

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Reviewing Julia Fierro's The Gypsy Moth Summer in Chicago Tribune

My thoughts on Julia Fierro's new novel, in the Chicago Tribune. The full text is here.

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we will live, we will love, until the world takes that from us

Friday, June 16, 2017

Our friend Katherine got married near Asheville a few years ago, and to celebrate—to celebrate her, to celebrate our long drive south—I found this doll, this bird-loving doll, and I bought her.

She hangs on my office wall now, a reminder of a book I wrote and believed in, a reminder of a moment when I walked into a gallery and said (no doubt, no fear), "I'll buy her." What was I thinking? Why wasn't I weighing the pros and the cons of the expense, the implications for my bank account, the long term ... what? The long-term what?

The past few years haven't been the easiest here, if you're counting all the pennies. And this past week wasn't the easiest, either, if you're counting the hard stuff, the disappointments.

But then again, sometimes we do the math all wrong. Sometimes we get lost in the debit/credit and forget what really makes the difference.

Here's what makes the difference:

I'm passionately in love with my husband after all these years. We have a son who perseveres like there is no tomorrow—he's funny, he's forthright, he's a hell of a writer, he's creative, he's kind, he's surrounded by friends, he doesn't give up on this world; he won't let me give up on the world. We have friends we love from years ago, and friends whom we're still making, and we have people who remind us that things aren't as bleak as they seem; in fact, they say, we're just wearing the wrong glasses.

This week my father called and I burst into tears; all seemed so gray. This week I thought much was over, and then important things shifted. This week I went out to dinner with my husband, and I looked at him with all my crazy love for him, and I knew, I just knew, that this love of ours, after all our years, was sweeter than our love had ever been. This week my son did something crazy cool with his crazy cool. This week a woman named Karen wrote words that saved me. This week I talked to friends, cried out to friends, spoke defiantly to friends, learned from friends, embarrassed myself and was forgiven. This week became  Friday evening, 9:38, which is right this minute, when I am writing this.

And I survived.

And we must survive.

And we will live and we will love until the world takes that from us.

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Read Juncture Notes 16 here: behind the scenes of the illustrated workbook and exquisite interview with essayist Megan Stielstra

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In this issue of Juncture Notes, which can be read in its entirety here, we are privileged to have Megan Stielstra's thoughts on writing, teaching, and the many stories that bind us. Reading this interview, with its many turns and links, will give you a summer's worth of musings...and a very good reason to buy her new collection, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life.

We also go behind the scenes, in this issue, to take a look at our brand-new memoir workbook, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter., a collaborative content/illustration/design project, and something we are excited to announce has already been adopted into a high school curriculum.

Thanks to my husband, Bill, for the drawing above; it also appears in the workbook.

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Imagining an Empathy Project in Every Community: In this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer

Friday, June 9, 2017

Shortly after Bill and I returned from our Juncture memoir workshop in Frenchtown, PA, I wrote here about the Empathy Project that had found its way into the heart of that very special community.

I couldn't stop thinking about it all. About the writers I love and about those we'd met. About the possibilities that inhere in listening. And so I thought out loud again about the project for the pages of this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer. 

I share that link here. I ask the open question: What would happen if communities across this country (this world) orchestrated their own Empathy Projects?

With thanks, as always, to the Inquirer's Kevin Ferris, for all the ways he allows me to explore the passions that define and shape me. (And for including a link to Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. That makes me happy, too.)

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Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A few days ago I shared some of the interior pages of a memoir workbook long in the making here at Juncture.

Today I am happy to announce that the book is launched. It can be ordered here.
In Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. Beth Kephart offers an insider’s look at the
making of true tales—and an illustrated workbook to guide the wild ride. Combining smartly selected samples with abundantly fresh ideas, dozens of original exercises with cautions, questions with answers, Kephart inspires, encourages, and persistently believes in those with a story to tell.

Write this, Truth says. Read this. Consider this. Discover who you are. Have some honest fun with words.
There are questions here about the lives we've led: What do we remember about our first lie? What have we learned from disappointment? Why can’t we remember? Why can’t we forget? What do we know about umbrellas? There are thoughts about the crafting of stories, the discovery of voice, and the development of universal themes. There are quotes and hints and exercises and words from some of today’s leading memoir practitioners. 

There's room to write and draw.

Sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is reflective. Sometimes it goes big and sometimes small. It's progressive, one exercise building into the next, toward one truth and then another.

We hope you'll be as excited as we are.

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