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Susan Stinson

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August 19th, 2014

04:25 pm: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Just finished The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. It's one of the best novels about the over-the-top human mess of history that I've ever read. It's about the famous John Brown -- white,Christian -- who took up arms to try to end slavery, told from the point of view of Onion, a bi-racial slave whose father is killed as John Brown snatches the child from a tavern and declares him a girl. The narrative reads as if Onion is hiding in his dress, not choosing or uncovering part of an identity -- well, except for, maybe, sometimes, and there is intense emotional complexity around that, along with wild, antic humor; along with the violence. Harper's Ferry is in Virginia, but much of the early part of the book takes place in Missouri. As I read, the story has been echoing in painful, illuminating ways -- so painful and illuminating that at times I wasn't sure I could do it -- against all that's been happening in Ferguson. Onion has a fantastic voice. The way John Brown bumbles and writes letters and is obtuse and presumptuous and oblivious and early or late, on the way to trying to start armed resistance to slavery. It's told like folk lore, but it also kind of flat-out rings true.Also, John Brown was a man inclined to long prayers, and, as someone who has struggled with how to write about long prayers and sermons for the impatient contemporary reader, I thought James McBride earned his National Book Award with the hilarious way he handled the prayers and biblical quotations, alone.

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July 27th, 2014

01:51 pm: Interview: Judith Frank
I met Judy Frank when we both had novels being published by Firebrand Books. Now, her urgent, intimate new novel, All I Love and Know, has just been published. I interviewed her for Lambda Literary:

What is the heart of All I Love and Know for you?

For me, the novel is about how you mourn a death from terror when the cultural scripts handed to you (“the war on terror”) feel toxic to you. It’s also about the various forms safety and danger take in a life, about parenting, about Israel/Palestine. And about the experience of being an identical twin.

- See more at:

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July 17th, 2014

11:42 am: Judy Frank's All I Love and Know, tonight, The Odyssey, 7 pm
Ah, you know, I'm just so happy to be going to the book launch for Judy Frank's novel All I Love and Know at the Odyssey tonight. (7 pm.) I picked up my Advanced Reader's Copy, which is full of pages dog-eared from parts I loved, and felt pulled back again into the world of these characters, the ways that they grieve, struggle, mess up, the ways they love. One of the things I love most about this book is that it centers around terrible death and loss in an act of terrorism -- a beloved twin, beloved sister-in-law, parents -- lost in a cafe bombing in Israel -- and it doesn't flinch from these losses, but actively refuses a narrative of retribution. That is so hard, and it's so convincing here, just achingly, gorgeously human. All that, plus tons of treats for local readers, like a great description of the reading room at Smith and its audience, or a party at a purple house with a turret, and --oh! -- so much satisfying queer life in all of its specifics, utterly portrayed as, you know, compelling, precious, messy, terrible, delicious human life.

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July 12th, 2014

03:02 pm: Books & Culture review of Spider in a Tree by Richard A. Bailey
There's a pretty wonderful review of Spider in a Tree out in Books and Culture. It's by historian Richard A. Baily, who wrote Race and Redemption in Puritan New England.

You can only see a preview of the full review online unless you're a subscriber.

Here's one thing he wrote:

One strand of Stinson's intricate account of 18th-century Northampton focuses especially on the place of enslaved Africans in the northern colonies. Her portrayals of the realities, complexities, and contradictions of race-based slavery in New England situates Spider in a Tree as one of the more useful treatments of the subject available—either fiction or nonfiction.

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July 3rd, 2014

03:16 pm: Animals. Chesterfield.
• Something – maybe squirrel – made the new sunflower on my stairs disappear with a clean cut below the blossom.
• Grey donkey breathing hard to disperse flies as he grazes.
• White donkey, tail doing a wide, elegant twitch and swing, ears working. Again: flies.
• Young white-tailed deer grazing at the top of the drive. Runs as we come out, but not far. German shepherd ignores the deer.
• German shepherd (mix) is however, solicitous of my limp. Many concerned glances over the shoulder and courteous pauses for me to catch up.
• Orange, translucent efts glistening like old pine needles in the wet woods.
• Also yesterday and the day before, a sweet, small snake in the leaves where the path enters the woods.
• Another small snake moving through the grass at my feet at the edge of the woods. Two pale orange stripes. Supple beyond belief.
• Chickens roost on the wrong rail. I have to move them by hand to their night roost.
• A small, white chicken darts out of the pen. I give slow chase, so as not to bring on panic and wings. Also because I’m slow. We spend time under the rose bushes. Thorns.
• When I get that one in, a red elder escapes. She is still for me to pick her up and toss back into the pen. Wings.
• Throw in greens, says beloved advisor on the phone. They will all run to those.
• Also: it’s never a good idea to try to get in the head of a chicken.

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June 27th, 2014

04:36 pm: Reawakening Calvinism by Briallen Hopper
There is a beautifully written, thoughtful new review of Spider in a Tree up on Religion and Politics. It's by Briallen Hopper. It's really gorgeous, and includes a fascinating consideration of the new resurgence of Calvinism in the context of its history in the US. It means so much to have my work read and responded to this deeply. I'm thrilled.

But how did American Calvinists go from writhing in public in the eighteenth century to more buttoned-up forms of religious expression in the twenty-first? Why aren’t today’s young Reformed doctrine nerds still shouting glory through their tears and throwing their prized possessions into the flames? And what was American Calvinism, before it became a brainier, sterner alternative to “cheesy” popular evangelicalism?

In her quietly beautiful novel Spider in a Tree, Susan Stinson hints at the answers to some of these questions. Through an empathetic recreation of the life of the eighteenth-century Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards and the people and animals around him, she allows us to feel the urgency and cruelty and enduring gifts of this historic American religious movement.

- See more at:

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June 8th, 2014

01:34 pm: Huffington Post
The Writer in Residence program got a lovely mention in The Huffington Post, complete with a nice picture of me in front of the library, courtesy of Jeep Wheat.

The whole article, which is by Erinn Batykefer of the Library As Incubator Project, is pretty wonderful. It's about some of the ways that libraries cultivate art in their communities. The folks from LAIP have a brand new book out about this, too>

The Artist's Library. Check it out!

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May 30th, 2014

11:52 am: Writing Room Reading with Bios: This Wednesday!
Here's all the info about the upcoming Writing Room Reader. Please do join us if you're local. It's a nice mix of published and unpublished writers.

Forbes Writing Room Reading
June 4, 2014
7 pm
Coolidge Museum

Every Wednesday and Saturday morning from 9:30- 12:30, writers of every description -- novelists, poets, memoir writers, essayists, journalists and more -- join Forbes Writer In Residence Susan Stinson for companionable writing time. The Writing Room has been open for four years, so we’re celebrating with a reading. We end our writing time together with the option of sharing a quick taste of our writing, and now we’re offering a sampler to the community.

Forbes LibraryWriting Room Readers Bios

Sally Bellerose is the author of The Girls Club. She is working on a second novel titled Fishwives. Her writing usually involves themes of sexuality, illness, class, and, lately, aging.

Carolyn Cushing is a poet inspired by nature, slightly obsessed with cells, and currently focused on the places where life and death meet. Her poetry blog is

Elizabeth French is at work on Cranmer’s Wife, a novel set during the Reformation. In that cataclysmic era, the heroine’s family and her passions are tested amid conflicts of faith, loyalty, and the greed of kings.
A graduate of the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College, Rachel Hass is currently at work on a novel inspired by her great grandfather, who hid throughout the second world war in Berlin.

Grace LeClair is an appreciator and explorer of words, hers and others’. She has recently published a small how-to and story book called Pie and is working on a long piece drawn from memory.

Faren MacDonald’s novel centers around the formation of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park in 1933 when the partly-constructed Appalachian Trail was paved over, the Civilian Conservation Corps made camp, and 500 families were evicted from their homes.

Ellen Meeropol is a former nurse practitioner and a literary late bloomer. She is the author of two novels, House Arrest and On Hurricane Island (coming in 2015).

Kristi Mientka is a Southampton native and returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Naila Moreira is a writer, journalist and naturalist. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Seattle Times, Science News, The Common Online and other venues. She teaches at Smith College.

William Moore writes short fiction. He lives in Easthampton with his wife and daughter. He could use some new pants, but would settle for a ping pong table.

Megan Nolan is a graduate of Western New England College. She writes poems, and lives in Monson, Massachusetts.

Julie Rosier is a writer, performer and activist. She believes that stories can reveal the invisible and unbreakable Red Thread that connects us all. In 2008, she founded the company, Red Thread Theater (

Shane Sinclair: Humour makes its way into my writing. I strive for lightness of tone. Too much heaviness is hard. It predominates against my will. I am working on “Falling Through the Cracks” about Sid.

An independent researcher, minister, and radio show co-host (Black In The Valley), Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks, has a passion for intergenerational oral history. She's recorded stories of people's lives in the U.S., Africa and other countries. One of her current projects is editing stories of her mother's childhood.

Susan Stinson, Forbes Writer in Residence, is the author, most recently, of Spider in a Tree, a novel about eighteenth century Northampton. She is also a writing coach and editor. For more:

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May 25th, 2014

05:53 pm: Lambda Literary Awards
I'm presenting at the Lambda Literary Awards on June 2. There are a ton of reasons to be excited about that. I'm rushing right now, so I'll let you click the link if you'd like to explore some of them -- okay, well, Alison Bechdel and Katie Bornstein being honored, Justin Vivian Bond performing, lots of wonderful books being honored -- but I might come back to edit and add links if I have time. If you see me there, say hi!

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