Friday, May 23, 2014
People often ask me what my favorite book is, and I refuse to imagine an answer; each book has, in its own way, spurred me, slayed me, invigorated me, quietly pleased me. I have fought and rooted for each one, and, believe me, I still do.
But Flow is one of those books that I really fought for—this retelling of a river's voice in her own words that I submitted to various presses without a positive response until finally I struck up a conversation with Micah Kleit at Temple University Press. When I called Micah several months after my submission certain that he, too, would pass, he corrected me. "We're not precisely sure what this book is, or how we will categorize it," he said. "But we're definitely going to do it."
And Temple did. Adam Levine, a beloved city archivist, helped me locate images of the river over time. Gary Kramer, Temple publicist, made sure that the book got noticed, and soon, also with the help of Marketing Director Ann-Marie Anderson, I found the book in the pages of most area publications, found myself in standing-room-only readings at the Free Library and the Water Works (among other places), and found myself engaged in an important dialogue about Philadelphia and its past and present.
A conversation I'm still having.
Flow is a book about hope and redemption, a book in which I imagined myself as a river, which is to say a woman caught in perpetual middle age, a woman once spectacular then sullied and abused, a woman finally on the verge of hope as visionaries worked to undo many centuries worth of environmental damage, a woman at long last in love. It is a book that emerged, in part, from conversations with city lights like Jerry Sweeney, CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, who, along with Joseph Syrnick and others, engineered the enormously successful Schuylkill Banks.
Today, all these years later, Flow is the book that (and I am so grateful) many memoirists mention when researching the possibilities of the first-person voice. It is being adopted by middle schools as part of combined literature/environmental science programs (I will, for example, be visiting St. Albans Lower School next spring, on the campus of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, where the book is the required 7th grade read). Thanks to Karen Young, it has become integral to the programming of the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. And thanks to Kurt Zwikl and Laura Catalano of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, Flow will be part of two keynote talks I'll give in the fall (at Montgomery County Community College and at Trinity Urban Life Center), as the city celebrates the Schuylkill as the Pennsylvania River of the Year.
Flow begins like this:
From within the fissure I rise, old as anything.
The gravel beneath me slides. Blueback herring and eel, alewife and shad muscle into my wide blue heart, and through. The smudged face of a wolf pools on my surface, and for that one instant I go blind.......
And when it was first released, some very kind people wrote these words about it:
“Kephart’s Flow is just a sumptuous book—haunting, poetic, lit up with gems of beauty and history.”— Buzz BissingerFrom the length (I apologize!) of this blog post, I'm sure you can tell: I am beyond delighted that Flow will now be available as an affordable paperback, as soon as it moves out of the warehouse into stores and online venues.
“Flow is seductive, thrilling, irresistible, life-changing. You cannot help but be swept away.” — Sy Montgomery
"Kephart is a master not only of descriptive memory, but of constructing an existential vocabulary. Thus the river is born, becomes aware, is besieged, comes to terms with abuse, half-wishes to be abandoned, and nearly loses hope." —Nathaniel Popkin, City Paper
“Most autobiographies are a shameful, voyeuristic addiction of the public (thanks Paris, Monica L. and Jenna). But when a river—yes, a free flowing watercourse—releases an autobiography, it goes proudly on your coffee table to advertise your intelligent indie reading. Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River is chock full of memories and moments from the river's lifetime. Okay, so it was penned by Beth Kephart, a regional writer whose résumé overflows with awards. But the powerful words and imaginative musings come directly from the rises of the river, with retellings from poignant events dating back to the colonial era.” — AroundPhilly.com