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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Michael Bloomberg rescues American dignity. Georgina Bloomberg rides at Devon.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Yesterday the Washington Post (among others) reported that Michael Bloomberg flew to Paris to assure the United Nations that, in the absence of U.S. presidential leadership, Americans would keep their commitment to our planet.

From the story:

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to provide up to $15 million in funding that he says the United Nations will lose because of President Trump’s decision to pull out from the landmark Paris climate deal.

The billionaire’s charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, on Thursday pledged to shoulder the United States’ share in the operating costs of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organization’s climate negotiating body in charge of helping developing countries fulfill environmental requirements under the 2015 pact.

“Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement. Just the opposite — we are forging ahead,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Mayors, governors, and business leaders from both political parties are signing onto a statement of support that we will submit to the UN — and together, we will reach the emission reduction goals that the U.S. made in Paris in 2015.”

Bloomberg was speaking on behalf of all of those Americans, the great majority of Americans, who recognize that we can't put up walls and live fiefdoms. We share this world, this air, this water. Climate change is real.

Downcast by so much of the news, Bill and I went to the Devon Horse Show last night, where Georgina Bloomberg, the former mayor's daughter, has been a frequent guest. In a field of 37 horses, she earned jump-off round status and a yellow ribbon, one of which she gave to a child in the crowd. Rooting for her, I was also rooting for her father, and for all of those who are standing up and saying, No. America can still be great because American citizens are.

This is Georgina, above. I was lucky to have a standing spot right at the gate.

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Juncture Notes 15: Read the whole newsletter here

Sunday, May 21, 2017

We're happy to offer a link to the full issue of Juncture Notes 15, featuring reflections on Frenchtown, NJ, a conversation with Kristen Radtke (IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS), and the work of our readers here.

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Let's talk about texture (Christopher Bollen/The Destroyers)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A few days ago I sat in this little abode of mine with a friend, Cyndi Reeves. She is a world-explorer and a writer, a teacher and a reader, and in my house of many books we were talking about something known as texture. The size and shape of sentences. The divots, pivots, pauses. The just enough and the artfully original.

There are many books that simply deliver the research and plot.

And then there are the books that rattle around in our heads because the language is like a lip of sun upon an active sea.

I was thinking about that conversation today as I read Christopher Bollen's new literary thriller, The Destroyers, a book sent my way by that extraordinary publicist, Michael Taekens (seriously, this man is something). I'd had a long week of reading for review and blog commentary (some 2,200 pages, perhaps more). I wasn't sure if my mind was capable of more words. And then I read Bollen's prologue.

Check this out:

The Greek island of Patmos was a wheeze of color: bleach-blond dust, scrub brush of wiry green, the wet-metal shine of water, and low rock walls blooming sinus pinks. As Elise ascended a hill she saw the monastery rise from the cliffs like a cruise ship moored on a mountaintop. Human bodies sere scattered along the beaches, silver and limp in the sticky heat.

Wheeze of color.

Bleach-blond dust.

Blooming sinus pinks.

Like a cruise ship moored on a mountaintop.

In none of this does Bollen appear to be reaching. This isn't decorative writing. It isn't overloaded, overlong. One has the sense that this is simply how that landscape would be received, by any one of us sufficiently detached from ordinary comparators and beats.

What ensues, in this novel, is a story of young men with childhood ties who depend on one another until the rich one disappears. Vanishes. Must be found. There are war games in these characters' pasts and many plot twists as the story unfolds. But time and again, in the fury of the plot, Bollen waits for language.

Thank you, Mr. Bollen, for caring so much about language.

Literary thriller, and the "literary" isn't just a marketing label here. It's real. It's texture.

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Ellen Umansky and The Fortunate Ones

Maybe every story is a detective story. The essential unknown. The equivocal mystery. The thing that must be found out. Somebody knows something. Somebody's asking. Somebody isn't saying (has forgotten, feels immune, needs to hide, is gone). Until.

I was thinking about this as I read Ellen Umansky's debut novel, The Fortunate Ones. The story blends the echoes of the Nazi era and its kindertransport survivors with the lives of two recently orphaned grown-up sisters in modern-day Los Angeles. The binding element is a Chaim Soutine painting, which was lost by Austrian family, sold in the United States, then lost again by those two sisters. Rose, born in Austria, meets Lizzie Goldstein, one of those Los Angeles sisters, at the funeral of Lizzie's father. In the ensuing friendship many questions are asked about the painting, called "The Bellhop," that bent the trajectories of both families.

Where is that painting now?

What did that painting mean?

Who is hiding the truth?

Constructed with greatest care, The Fortunate Ones invites its readers to consider the place of objects in family history, the changeable qualities of a fixed canvas, the infringements of guilt upon life choices, and the power people have (but, tragically, often fail to use) to vanquish the unnecessary guilt in others. More important, the novel demonstrates the appeasements of friendship and the relationships that can still thrive between people who see within the other a place of hope and truth.

Umansky moves her story back and forth over time. Dialogue escalates the momentum, while Lizzie's relationships with Rose and with her own sister, Sarah, cradle the emotional tensions. Umansky's research into this painter, Soutine, infuses the story. "The Bellhop" is an imagined canvas within the real-life painter's oeuvre.

This is how we first encounter it, in the book's opening pages:
The boy in the painting was not pretty. He was too skinny in his red uniform, his face pasty and elongated. The paint was thick, thrown on; it looked as if the painter couldn't be bothered to slow down and pay attention. Rose didn't understand why her mother loved it so.
But we, the readers, come to understand. We come to see, over the course of the novel, that painting: vivid and alive.

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Introducing a new (beautifully illustrated) memoir workbook

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Over the past two years, I've been writing a memoir workbook—a page-by-page introduction to the form enriched by prompts designed to lead you directly into the heart of your story.

(Not idle prompts. Not prompts as afternoon distractions. Prompts that teach the form and open doors to memory and meaning. This workbook is supplemental to Handling the Truth. It does not repeat it.)

Over the past many months, Bill has been designing and illustrating those pages, crafting a book that complements our five-day memoir workshops, our monthly (content rich) memoir newsletter, and, soon, on-line courses at Juncture.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. will soon be available through Amazon.

I'm so happy to share two spread previews from different chapters in this 210-page book here.

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The Frenchtown Empathy Project: The Power of Trust in a Broken World

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Over the past many months, as our country has veered toward and sometimes cemented divisions and oppositions, Bill and I have been building the Frenchtown Empathy Project, an event that hoped for, in fact depended on, trust among perfect strangers.

We were bringing our Juncture memoir writers to this New Jersey town for five intense days of reading, writing, and growing. We were adding to their enormous workload (they'll tell you) another layer by asking them to search for connections in the community we'd chosen as our host.

Lynn Glickman, a memoirist expert in delineating the colors and temptations of a kitchen, was paired with Julie Klein, a Frenchtown chef (Lovin' Oven).

Starr Kuzak, a memoirist with music in her DNA and tenderness in her soul, was paired with Carolyn Gadbois, a drummer and espresso artist.

Hannah Yoo, a memoirist seeking (and finding) forgiveness for a wrong committed against her father, was paired with Bonnie Pariser, a yoga instructor.

Christine O'Connor, a deeply engaged political thinker and writer, was paired with Mayor Brad Myhre.

Louise O'Donnell, a memoirist who has retail community in her history and a love of all things people in her heart, was paired with the owner of town central, otherwise known as the hardware store (Mike Tyksinski).

Elana Lim, a memoirist whose family history is now on display in a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, was paired with the co-creator of a community theater program (Keith Strunk), while Tracey Yokas, who is not just writing about seeing her daughter (and herself) through a crushing chapter in both their lives but was also once an above-the-line producer for shows like the Oscars and the Emmys, was paired with the theater's other co-creator (Laura Swanson).

Jessica Gilkison, a memoirist writing about the wisdom we find as we lose a mother and parent a fluid, truth-seeking child, was paired with the creator of Real Girls (Catherine Lent).

I, meanwhile, had the opportunity to talk about gifts and gift giving with Meg Metz, who created and curates one of the finest stores anywhere (Modern Love), where the door really is always open.

Bill and I could not have created this project without enormous help, of course. Caroline Scutt of the Book Garden stepped in and made lists of people and sent emails when we presented our scheme. Catherine Lent and Keith Strunk made suggestions. Those we contacted said yes to a project that, by any standard, was utterly untested. They agreed to be interviewed by people they didn't know and to have their lives retold by voices that, well: Who were these people? All in advance of an outcome no one could predict.

Would our writers get it right? Would anyone come to the reading at Town Hall? Would this empathy mission, this bridge building, fall flat on its face? Would our theory about the power of listening and the integrity of reaching beyond one's own self be confirmed or shattered? Nerves were expressed. Bill and I shook our heads in quiet midnight anticipation. And then, Thursday morning as the writers rehearsed in the lobby of our home base, Pete and Marlon's National Hotel, I knew, as well as I've ever known anything, that something magic was about to go down.

It did. Frenchtown's Town Hall on Thursday night was jammed. Our writers were flawless. Our audience was leaning in. This odd thing we'd called the Frenchtown Empathy Project, this hope we'd had to build bridges in a time of fragments: it worked. It just worked. We all sat there. We listened. We knew.

Here is our Mike, in a note to us yesterday:

... Last night or actually this week has been a transformative experience for me and others here in Frenchtown. I spent time sharing who I am with a complete stranger as did several others, who then took some of my stories, got up and spoke as me in front of a room full of people some I knew and some I didn't. I sat between the Mayor and my neighbor Doug. The emotional impact on the room was surreal. It was as if we all became kindred souls through the sharing of ourselves. Oh by the way Louise my writer chose to include naked curry. The room was in stitches.
We build community one person by one person, one listening stranger by one vulnerable soul.

Truth is this.

 [A PS thank you to Brenda and Officer Titen, who made sure the doors were open for us.]

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Bowls + Vases. Bill + Beth. A Ceramics Offering.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Our pots will soon be on sale!

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Talking Memoir and Life with Friends on the Liars Club Oddcast

Thursday, May 4, 2017

What a fun conversation I had with the Liars Club a few weeks ago. I mean, they'd asked questions, I'd start laughing, and then I'd have to think quick to come up with answers.

Because, you know, the pressure was on.

We talked about memoir, Juncture workshops, young-adult literature, life, and what it means to be a writer alive in this world.

With thanks to Kelly Simmons, Jon McGoran, Gregory Frost, Merry Jones, and Keith Strunk. Great writers and people, all. It's lovely to imagine them sitting around a table, chatting. It's lovely to be in their presence.

To listen to the whole thing, go here.

And if you happen to be in Frenchtown, NJ, next Thursday evening, join us for the Frenchtown Empathy Project. Kelly Simmons will be in the house. Keith Strunk will, through our writers, on the stage. And all of those who have joined us for this memoir week will be sharing their words for the people of Frenchtown, who are so graciously hosting Juncture.

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The Frenchtown Empathy Project

Next week, nine writers from across the country are joining Juncture Workshops in Frenchtown, NJ, for a week of memoir writing. We'll be discussing the works of great memoirists, reviewing the in-progress books of our exceptional writers, seeing what happens when we expand the work with new prompts, and celebrating the whole town in a Thursday evening Empathy Project event.

The event is free. If you live nearby, I hope you'll join us.

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"People are so interesting." Elizabeth Strout/ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

Monday evening I headed to the Free Library of Philadelphia to join friends for an evening celebrating Elizabeth Strout. I'd seen Miss Strout, years before, in a small classroom at Swarthmore College, but that was before her great fame, before the HBO adaptation of Olive Kitteridge, before last week's New Yorker profile. I'd just had a rather unfortunate encounter with another famous writer the week before, and I was hoping, how I was hoping, that great fame had not dented Strout's original charm.

That fame had not made her immune to the questions her readers wish to ask.

Good news for all of us: It has not. In conversation with the always-delightful Laura Kovacs, Strout was smart, precise, concise. "Right," she'd say, touching her glasses, and that would say it all. Then she'd say a little more, and we were with her. The entire, sold-out audience was.

More than once, Strout commented on how interesting people are, and I could imagine her on subways, in restaurants, over coffee, listening for the odd and beautiful articulations of nearby strangers falling in and out of love, hope, despair. What we love about Strout, and what is so gorgeously apparent in her newest linked fiction collection, Anything is Possible, is her ability to marinate even the crustiest characters with moments of moving reverie and meaningful hesitations. Maybe they aren't always the most pleasant, honest, well-meaning people, but they come from hard places and they still seek the dazzle of sun-struck snow or maternal affection or a place where they might confess.

They are still so very human, so very interesting, and when they hurt, when they act hurt, we cannot blame them. We're glad to find them again, set off in different light, at a different angle, a few stories later.

It is in the seemingly smallest of exchanges that so much devastating beauty happens. Here, in "Mississippi Mary," a mother and daughter reconnect in a small Italian town. They've not seen each other for four years. The daughter, trying to be hip, has arrived in a too-tight pair of jeans. They have been thinking toward each other, these characters, but also speaking past each other. They have spent time in the ocean, the mother in her yellow two-piece suit, the daughter in her conservative one-piece. Then there is this moment. They are discussing those jeans.

And then Angelina—oh bless her soul—began to really laugh. "Well, I don't like them. I feel like a jerk in them. But I bought them special, so you'd think I was, you know, sophisticated or something." Angelina added, "In my one-piece bathing suit!" Both of them laughed until they had tears in their eyes, and even then they kept on laughing. But Mary thought: Not one thing lasts forever; still may Angelina have this moment for the rest of her life.
To try to define, in academic fashion, just why this hits so hard would be impossible. But we don't need to dissect it. We just need to embrace, and I can't think of a reader out there who would not embrace this book.

During the open question period, a fan asked Strout something about the other writers to whom Strout had been compared. Strout wavered, then returned to the suggested notion of Alice Munro, a comparison she liked a lot.

I'd like to share two others: Louise Erdrich, in her early books. Kent Haruf in all of his.

Small moments. Big heart. Wise writing that gets out of its own way.

That's what Strout delivers.

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celebrating the art of curation, with Kirsten Jensen at the Michener

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Several weeks ago, my husband and I traveled to Doylestown, PA, to spend time with the Michener Art Museum curator, Kirsten Jensen. I wanted to know what it took to curate a show. She took me, with ease and endless fascinations, into her process, her thinking, her world. I loved our time together. I wrote about it.

That story is here, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

With thanks to Kevin Ferris, as always.

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Clay Sale: Bill and I to sell our combined clay work for the first time ...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

... ever this coming June 3 and 4, Wayne Art Center.

We'll provide more details as the days approach. Bill throws and trims the pots. I glaze them.


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at work on a new F. Scott-infused book, my mother speaks to me

Monday, April 24, 2017

For the past two years I've been collecting research for a new book, a Jazz Era book, based on the life of someone I can't stop dreaming about. She knew all the stars of that time. She was a star herself. And at one point, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda lived not far from her, shared meals with her, invited her to their home.

Remembering an F. Scott book my mother had given me years ago, I turned to it the other day, searching for historical detail. It opened at once to this page. My mother's words to me, when I was just seventeen.

It's as if she's speaking to me, now.

Mom, your F. Scott obsessed daughter is at last writing her F. Scott-infused novel. It took her long enough.

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The Centennial Visionary Series/In conversation with the Women's National Book Association

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Invited to speak to the WNBA as part of the nationwide Centennial Visionary Series, I'll be sifting back through time and my own work to create a collage of female voices. A river. A young girl deciding to keep her baby. A teen facing a progressive neurological disorder. A 1983 graffiti artist living on the west side of the Berlin Wall. A teen facing a monster storm. I may read a poem or two.

If you're near, I hope to see you. It's free, but a RSVP is hoped for.

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my Chicago Tribune review of Kristen Radtke's extraordinary graphic memoir, IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS

Thursday, April 13, 2017

You want to know what words and art can do? What a woman, seeking, finds? What ruins tell us about what is yet to come?

Then buy your copy of IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS, the exquisite graphic memoir I review this week in the Chicago Tribune.

My review, along with images from the book and an audioclip can be found here. This will be your best internet diversion of the day. Do it.

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Music of the Ghosts/Vaddey Ratner: My Chicago Tribune Review

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In today's Chicago Tribune I review Vaddey Ratner's novel of Cambodian loss and love, Music of the Ghosts. 

The entire review can be found here.

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on finding and keeping an agent: a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania

Friday, April 7, 2017

I had the great pleasure of moderating a panel about the art of finding an agent at the University of Pennsylvania/Kelly Writers House this past Tuesday. We had a packed house. We talked about agent origin stories, the evolving ways in which we package our work, the things we've learned from agents we've loved, and the importance of honesty, transparency, and abiding enthusiasm in those who represent us. Agents, the panelists said in many different ways, are those who are genuinely there for us.

The panelists were Carmen Machado, Stephanie Feldman, Josh Getzler, Sara Sligar, and Janet Benton. The idea for the panel began with Julia Bloch. The packed house was well-fed by Jessica Lowenthal and team.

You can watch a video recording here.

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how do you feel about birthdays?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chanticleer Garden opened this week and there I was, with my camera on Sunday, looking for proof of continuing good things. The earth there is still green. The flowering trees are getting ready to rip. The stowed-away tropicals are in the greenhouse yet, waiting for (trusting in) their time.

And so must we.

"How do you feel about birthdays?" my son asked me, Saturday, when he called to celebrate mine.

"They make me melancholy," I said. He agreed. But, he said, I should look at it like this: Birthdays are that one day a year designed to remind us of our friendships. The people in our lives. The stories they tell. The ways they make us better people. You have a birthday and (in case you've been obsessing over far less important things) you remember the loves in your life.

My son had called first thing on Saturday morning. We talked for more than an hour. Then, just as he'd promised, the day began to take on a new shape as I was remembered, and I remembered.

I wasn't melancholy anymore. I was simply grateful.

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