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Susan Stinson

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April 11th, 2014

05:23 pm: Introduction from Wednesday night Emily Dickinson/Quiet evening
When I started taking writing classes in college in the early eighties, I had a teacher who asked us to memorize poetry. He said that if we found ourselves confined at some point in our lives, we would want to have more than just the Jolly Green Giant jingle in our heads. I memorized a handful of poems during those years. One of the first poems I memorized was by Emily Dickinson. The first line is Rehearsal to Ourselves, and it still kind of makes me swoon. Now, it also makes me think about Kevin Quashie and his explorations of the idea of “surrender.” At the same time that I memorized those poems, I was reading the great poet Adrienne Rich for the first time, including her Dickinson essay, “Vesuvius at Home,” which made sure that I was thinking about Dickinson, always as a poet, but also as a woman facing cultural constraints around gender, which was very useful to me as a young woman trying to figure out how and what to write, and how and what I might be allowed to write. I was also reading the great poet Audre Lorde. I ‘ve got an autographed copy of her pamphlet about the power and uses of the erotic. As I read through Emily Dickinson’s poems over and over, it was and is the surge of an intense inner life that was – what? caught, maybe? compressed? unleashed? -- into language that held me and roused me. I’m thinking of this evening as maybe a mediation on the power and uses of quiet. The premise of the Local History/Local Novelists series is that the depth, complexity, courage and nuance with which one engages with history is in tremendously influenced by the depth, complexity, courage and nuance with which one engages with story. Tonight I would say, experiementally, that the depth, complexity, courage and nuance with which one engages with history, with literary history, with Emily Dickinson; with poetry; with intensely intimate matters such as family life and the death of parents; with a consideration of the inner lives of black people; is tremendously influenced by depth, complexity, courage and nuance with with one engages with quiet.

Jane Wald, the director of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Kevin Quashie teaches cultural studies and theory at Smith College. He is the author or editor of three books, most recently The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture.

Charles Coe is author of two books of poetry: “All Sins Forgiven: Poems for my Parents” and “Picnic on the Moon,” both published by Leapfrog Press. He also writes feature articles, book and music reviews, and personal and humor essays. His poetry has appeared in a number of literary reviews and anthologies, including Poesis, The Mom Egg, Solstice Literary Review, and Urban Nature. He is the winner of a fellowship in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Charles’s poems have been set by a number of composers, including Beth Denisch, Julia Carey and Robert Moran. His prose has appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. In addition, Charles is co-chair of the Boston Chapter of the National Writers Union, a labor union for freelance writers. Charles has been selected by the Associates of the Boston Public Library as a “Boston Literary Light for 2014.”

Loca History/Local Novelists Series

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April 10th, 2014

11:44 am: Emily Dickinson/Quiet
No way I can do it justice in the snatched moment that I have, but that was one huge gift of an Emily Dickinson/Quiet evening last night. The speakers -- Jane Wald, Kevin Quashie and Charles Coe -- brought so much to us. Seriously. Seriously. Seriously. Did you know that Emily Dickinson's family consciously made room for her to do her work? I'm going to say (at least) one more time that The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture by Kevin Quashie is an utterly brilliant, essential book, and the poems of Charles Coe -- particularly the ones in All Sins Forgiven: Poems for My Parents (because those are the ones I know best) are the kind of poems that can help a person get through things that seem impossible to get through. They are what poetry is FOR. So good. Oh, and thanks, too, to Sally Bellerose, Carolyn Cushing and Julie Bartlett Nelson and the rest of the library staff who stepped up to take on tasks when the last minute when illness messed a little bit with plans. So appreciate it!

I have to run now, but hope to be back with links.

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April 4th, 2014

10:34 am: Emily Dickinson/Quiet
The Emily Dickinson/Quiet evening is coming up at Forbes Library this coming Wednesday, April 9, at 7 pm. The speakders/readers are Kevin Quashie, author of The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture; Jane Wald, director of the Emily Dickinson Museum; and poet Charles Coe.

More details about the speakers at the link.

Here is a podcast of a fantastic interview with Kevin Quashie about the Sovereignty of Quiet.

Emily Dickinson is a poet I love, and I am so excited to get to put her work in conversation with that of Kevin Quashie and Charles Coe. The reading I've been doing around the event really lights me up. This feels like pure pleasure to me.

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March 22nd, 2014

02:16 pm: Trip to Dickinson College
I had such a fantastic time in Carlisle, reading and speaking at Dickinson College. Jeff Wood from Whistlestop Bookshop was really great to talk to, and it was a soupy bath of happiness of a reading (for me, anyway.) He made of point of telling me that Consortium, who distributes Small Beer Press books, was doing a really great job, checking in a few weeks before to find out if he needed anything else, etc. Then, when we got to talking about Small Beer, he said that if you asked independent bookstores anywhere in the country to name their favorite press, many would say Small Beer.

I said, "They really love indie bookstores."

He said, "We can tell."

He also spoke of the devotion of the fans of Kelly Link's work . (Kelly, who is an utterly thrilling writer, edited Spider in a Tree and is one of the principals of Small Beer, along with Gavin Grant.) Whistlestop is a beautiful small store in an old house, with the reading up winding stairs (not so good for accessibility, but pretty wonderful if a person can make it up the stairs). He said that last year was their best year ever, which is fantastic to hear about an independent bookstore.

People asked me about Calvinism before the reading, and, as I was talking about it, it emerged that Jeff is profoundly committed to reading John Calvin (not the things that his followers added). If I understood him correctly, he thinks of Jonathan Edwards as trying to get back to Calvin basics. I won't reproduce the whole conversation, but it was enormously interesting.

The whole Dickinson visit was really fun. Some people came to multiple events, so, since I read for a fat studies class in the morning, writing and ideas about fatness got to be floating in the air with Spider in a Tree. Amy Farrell, who arranged the visit, told me that I was one of her heroes, which is not something I’ll forget any time soon. I re-read Amy’s book Fat Shame on the train, and highly recommend it.

We talked some about how the extreme intensity of some of the negative response to talking or writing about fatness in ways that do not reinforce the idea of an obsesity epidemic really does have a chilling effect, and invites self-censorship. There is almost always much positive response, too, but the bad stuff creates a lot of tension. One of the ways through that, I think, is the support and witness of others doing this work (and that’s one of the reasons that this trip was so great for me – so much support, positive engagement and witness to the full range of my work.)

Amy had her fat studies class read all of Belly Songs, my book of poetry and lyric essays, and had her American Studies class read three chapters of Spider in a Tree. Wendy Moffat, who teaches at Dickinson, bought multiple copies of the book after the reading (always love that!), and then gave me a copy of her highly-praised biography of E.M. Forster , which I’m interested to read. l I was also delighted to see Minna Bromberg

Students took risks in their responses to the work, and asked beautiful questions. I unexpectedly ended up sitting with the president of the college at dinner. It turns out that she went to Smith College in the 1970s. We had both friends and landmarks in common.
Amy took me to see the statue at the grave of Molly Pitcher, who got a pension as a Revolutionary War veteran for -- I think -- her service as a nurse and -- defininitely -- for firing her husband's cannon after he was hit. She also drove me by to see the graves of students who had died at the Carlisle Indian School, where they had been taken in the late 19th/early 20th c, to "kill the Indian to save the man," according to the founder of the school. They weren't allowed to speak their own languages. The graves are kind of like Arlington cemetery -- identical white markers, marked with death date, name, and tribe. The US War College is there, too -- where, it turns out, high-ranking army officers who want to be generals go to study.

I wrote a little on the train, and read a lot. I changed trains in Philadelphia, which made me think so much of my much-missed friend, the late poet Toni Brown.

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March 21st, 2014

10:47 pm: Interview: Wicked Cool
M.P. Barker interviewed me about Spider in a Tree for her blog, Wicked Cool History Stuff. Might be the first time that Jonathan Edwards has ever been described as wicked cool.

M.P Barker also has a new book, Mending Horses, and a launch party coming up 2-4 on April 6 at the Elms College library in Chicopee. Check it out.

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March 15th, 2014

04:14 pm: J.M. McDermott reviews Spider in a Tree
"A tragic, beautiful novel, and highly recommended to anyone interested in American history, religious fiction, and/or fantastic writing." Got to love that.

J.M. McDermott reviews Spider in a Tree.

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March 7th, 2014

10:44 am: Dickinson College March 18
I'm looking forward to this so much. I'm reading at Amy Farrell's Fat Studies class, too, so this event lets all of the different aspects of my work be in conversation with others in a way that is such a gift for me. It is, of course, a sign of cultural change that these students get to take a Fat Studies class. How much that would have meant to me as an undergraduate! I'm also very much looking forward to the sixteen hours on the train as a rocking, liminal writing residency. Stinson-Reading[1]

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February 5th, 2014

07:25 pm: Ordination Day
One of the things I love about Jonathan Edwards is his frankness and honesty. (That he exhibits these qualities so clearly is one of the things that makes the fact that he was a slave-owner and didn't have any self-criticism about that on record so stark in contrast.) Here is part of what he wrote to the trustees of the college of New Jersey in 1757 when they first asked him to come be president of the college there: 'I have a constitution in many respects peculiar unhappy, attended with flacid solids, vapid, sizy and scarce fluids, and a low tide of spirits; often occasioning a kind of childish weakness and contemptibleness of speech, presence and demeanor; with a disagreeable dullness and stiffness, much unfitting me for conversation.'

He eventually went --it's now Princeton -- and died of a small pox innoculation six weeks or so later.

Happy Ordination Day, Jonathan Edwards. Thanks, Mass. Humanities, for reminding me.

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February 1st, 2014

02:19 pm: Quabbin Rescheduled for March 5

Local History/Local Novelists 2013/14 Reading and Lecture Series

J.R. Greene has written a dozen Quabbin-related books including The creation of Quabbin Reservoir: The  death of the Swift River Valley and three related to Calvin Coolidge.  He is also Vice Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at Forbes Library.

Gail Thomas has published two books of poetry, No Simple Wilderness: An Elegy for Swift River Valley (Haley’s Press), and Finding the Bear (Perugia Press).  Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies including The Beloit Poetry Journal, Calyx, Cider Press Review, The North American Review, The Chiron Review, The Naugatuck Review and The Prose Poem Project.  She has received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and was awarded writing residencies at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire and Ucross in Wyoming.  Recently, individual poems have received national prizes, and her newest books, Little Panhandler, and Waving Back are finalists in several poetry competitions. Thomas is a learning specialist and teacher at Smith College's Jacobson Writing Center.

The Connecticut River Valley is rich in both novelists and history.  Forbes Library is a place where novelists come to research and write alongside others interested in local history and literature. The Local History/Local Novelists series, now in its fourth year, invites the community to enjoy and join in the conversation between history and fiction that both engages and creates our changing cultures. Curated by  Forbes Writer in Residence Susan Stinson.


December 23rd, 2013

12:08 pm: Library As Incubator Project series: Halfway
I'm halfway through a series of six posts I've been writing for the wonderful Library As Incubator Project website about being Writer in Residence at Forbes Library, the public library here in Northampton. . Here's a link to the first three posts.

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