I'm so delighted that Knitting Pearls, the follow up knitting anthology to Knitting Yarns will be out in November. What a line up! Jane Hamilton, Lily King, Steve Almond, Bill Roorbach, Ann Leary, Lee Woodruff, Jodi Picoult, Laura Lippman, Dani Shapiro, Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed and The Yarn Whisperer Clara Parkes--just to name a few.
I've written often about the healing and transformative powers of knitting. To have other writers share their stories of how the magic of knitting brought them closer to a family member or kept loneliness at bay or taught them about love and life--well, it just makes me so happy. Knitting makes me happy. These writers make me happy.
We are doing some readings from the anthology this fall. Some details are already up on my website, with more to follow. First up is Brattleboro VT the first weekend in October at the Literary Festival there. I'll be with Bill Roorbach talking knitting. Yes, Bill knits. And his essay "Sarah With an H" is really a knock out.
Steve Almond and I will be at Porter Square Books in Boston. Laura Lippman and I will be at Loop Yarns in Philadelphia. And a whole mess of my knitting writers--Lily King, Melissa Coleman, and Bill Rootbach--will be in Portland Maine. I'll also be at the Miami Book Fair with Dennis LeHane in November for Providence Noir, but some knitters will join me there too for Knitting Pearls, including Cindy Chinelly. Her husband John Dufresne was in Knitting Yarns.
Bring your knitting needles and join us?
Maybe I'll be finished with this blanket by the time Knitting Pearls is out;
Two hours from Greensburg! I love a road trip. Especially one that will end in Indiana fried chicken.
Yesterday's highlight was Easton PA, home of Crayola.
But also home of one of the best cheeseburgers I've had the pleasure of eating. Two Rivers Brewery made it: cheese, bacon, and peanut butter dust! And if that still doesn't do it for you, it was served with dick fat fries:
And you know, it was a brewery, so had to have a flight of beer:
From there it was on to Harrisburg, because if I'm within spitting distance of a state Capitol, I can't resist. I'm the weird kid who loved memorizing all 50, and I still take great pride in knowing them. I didn't take a picture, but it's a beauty with a green tile dome.
Had to stop here en route:
Today has been all about Ohio. A great day! I've loved Ohio since my TWA roommate from Fremont brought me home and fed me fried bologna (a first!) and took me to the Rutherford B. Hayes house. But oh, Ohio, your state Capitol is kind of odd looking? I read the history of its design and architecture, so I'm not alone in being surprised there's no dome. Still, I'm happy to have spent the day in the Buckeye State. No fried bologna this time. But there's that fried chicken waiting for me tonight in Indiana. And all the Hood cousins. My sadness from yesterday has turned bittersweet, and excitement is taking over!
Boy am I feeling emotional as I head into the Midwest. It's as if every family car trip of every summer of my youth is catching up with me. My father grew up in Greensburg Indiana, a town whose claim to fame--as he would proudly remind
us--was the tree that grew out of the courthouse roof. We would pile into our station wagon and drive, seemingly forever. I did not grow up in a town where people went on vacation, so this trip seemed exotic, daring. Pillows and blankets in the way back. Eating deviled ham out of a can. The lemon smell of wet wipes. So much cigarette smoke. Special stops in niagra falls, Montreal, Hershey, Amish country. And once there it was cousins and aunts and uncles and great aunts and great uncles. It was corn everywhere I looked. It was Aunt Bo's pies and Aunt Mag's cakes. It was thunderstorms and bats swooping in the moonlight. Time passed. The station wagon became an impala. My brother did the driving, cool in his Wayfarer sunglasses. And then it was me driving, my brother dead, his little girl with us now. Finally I could stay up late drinking beer. We slept in the one motel near town. I bought handmade quilts and postcards of that tree coming out of the courthouse roof. When my father was in the hospital dying of lung cancer, his sisters Mag and Dot came to say goodbye. I have not been back to Greensburg since then. As my mother said about this trip, "I couldn't go without my Hood." But I am. Heading there to eat fried chicken and visit cousins and yes, that courthouse. As the highway through Pennsylvania gets eaten up, I find myself crying. For all I had. For all I've lost. For this road leading both backward and forward.
I think I say this every time I leave Bread Loaf, but this year was the best ever. My wonderful non-fiction workshop. My Fellow Brando Skyhorse. All the incredible readings and lectures. If you're interested in hearing them, click here:
A lovely ride home, fueled by an egg sausage and cheese breakfast sandwich from the Rochester Cafe. It's hotter here than I like, all sticky and humid. But steak on the grill and tomatoes from the garden and corn on the cob make even the dog days bearable. And Lucia Berlin's story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, was waiting for me and I got to read Lydia Davis' Foreward while the potatoes cooked. (My favorite way to make them: boil baby Yukons until tender. Throw them on a dish rag and smash them flat. Let them cool, then put them on a baking sheet with olive oil and salt. Cook at 450 degrees for 30-35 minutes. You will thank me. )
Now, Bread Loaf exhausted, I'm finishing rereading Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy. The fourth arrives September 2, which means it's no longer a trilogy but which makes me beyond happy.
A final Bread Loaf picture, taken from my balcony at Maple this morning.
Old friends. New friends. Readings. Talking about writing and books and life. The first time I came here, in 1984, I remember spending an hour talking about point of view and thinking that was the happiest thing to do. That hasn't changed!
Here's what I'm excited about:
My fellow Brando Skyhorse and his memoir Take This Man.
Jen Percy's Demon Camp.
Vu Trang's Dragonfish
And, coming in May, my scholar's memoir Boy Erased.
Back in 1984 or 85, I was a flight attendant with dreams of becoming a writer. I lived on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, in what is now called NoHo but back then was nameless, the way east end of that beautiful street (still my favorite street in NYC) on the border of the Eat Village. I had a boyfriend who I loved madly, an actor who was also working as a bartender. At night I would scribble my stories in composition books, stories about three women who went to school together in the 60s and what had become of them and their children two decades later. After much prodding, I began to read those stories out loud to my beloved. One night he urged me to take them to someone in the English department at NYU. They're good, he told me. I laughed. But you love me, I said. Of course you think they're good. He told me, I love you enough to tell you if they weren't good.
So the next day, or the next, I did just that. And in September I found myself in a class with EL Doctorow, and in the spring in another with William Decker, a former editor at Viking who had edited the likes of Katharine Anne Porter. Bill was the third man on my path to becoming a writer ( number one was my dad, number two my beloved). He invited me to his apartment overlooking Washington Square Park and told me two life changing things: I had what it took to become a writer. And he was recommending me to the renowned Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont that summer.
I didn't know then that with the help of Robert Frost and Middlebury College Bread Loaf had been founded back in 1920 and that the likes of Eudora Welty, Anne Sexton, and so many other literary heroes of mine had graced those lovely yellow buildings on those rolling green hills.
And so my beloved drove me to Vermont and helped me get settled into my room at Cricket, where I met four other women with dreams just like mine. I didn't know then that they would be lifelong friends. Or that my workshop with Nicholas Delbanco would change my life even more. But one chilly August Vermont afternoon, sitting on two Adirondack chairs overlooking those green hills dotted with bales of hay, Nick told me I wasn't writing short stories; I was writing a novel. A good one.
Those words were the ones that turned my scribbles in those composition books into my first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, which was published in 1987. Here's it's original cover. (How I loved this cover! Thank you, Deb Futter and Bantam Books!)
(And unbelievably, all these years later, this novel born at Bread Loaf, has never gone out of print: http://www.amazon.com/Somewhere-Off-Coast-Maine-Novel/dp/039333235)
So yes, Bread Loaf led to me getting my first novel published. It set me on a life changing course. It made my dream of becoming a writer come true.
But it did more than that. It immersed me, for two glorious weeks in a Vermont August, in the world of literature and the craft of writing; in poetry and prose; in crazy dancing and late night revelry and friendships that go long and deep. I've gone back to that mountain many times since that first time when I was a nervous 20something clutching her notebooks of stories. I was a Fellow there in 1987; and a faculty member many summers since 1988.
Tuesday I pack up my little Fiat and make the ride to that mountain again. Waiting there are writers who I've come to know and love over these many summers, and many more I'll get to know over the next intense, exhausting, exhilarating two weeks.
Even after all these many years, one thing doesn't change there:
I'll be immersed again in the world of literature and the craft of writing; in poetry and prose; in crazy dancing and late night revelry and friendships that go long and deep.
And maybe, just maybe, one young writer I sit with on an Adirondack chair overlooking green hills and bales of hay, will feel the magic of this place, just like I did. Just like I still do.
Due to two cancellations, I have spots in my writing workshop in Tuscany October 12-19! This is an incredible opportunity to study with Laura Lippman, Helen Schulman, Rand Richards Cooper--and me!--in an intimate environment in the countryside of Tuscany. If at all interested, email me ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org.