Author Archive: abroadwritersconference

Authors teaching at Lismore Castle

 

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Meet our instructors who’ll teach workshops/lectures at Lismore Castle, December 9 – 16, 2013.

Robert Olen Butler

ROBERT OLEN BUTLER — Pulitzer Prize Winner and F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature

 

Robert Olen Butler has published twelve novels—The Alleys of EdenSun Dogs,Countrymen of BonesOn Distant GroundWabashThe DeuceThey WhisperThe Deep Green SeaMr. SpacemanFair WarningHell and (forthcoming this August) A Small Hotel—and six volumes of short fiction—Tabloid Dreams, Had a Good TimeSeverance, IntercourseWeegee Stories, and A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Butler has published a volume of his lectures on the creative process, From Where You Dream, edited with an introduction by Janet Burroway.

A recipient of both a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, he also won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and has received two Pushcart Prizes. His stories have appeared widely in such publications as The New YorkerEsquireHarper’sThe Atlantic MonthlyGQZoetropeThe Paris ReviewThe Hudson ReviewThe Virginia Quarterly ReviewPloughshares, and The Sewanee Review. They have also been chosen for inclusion in four annual editions of The Best American Short Stories, eight annual editions ofNew Stories from the South, several other major annual anthologies, and numerous college literature textbooks from such publishers as Simon & Schuster, Norton, Viking, Little Brown & Co., Houghton Mifflin, Oxford University Press, Prentice Hall, and Bedford/St.Martin and most recently in The New Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford.

His works have been translated into nineteen languages, including Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Polish, Japanese, Serbian, Farsi, Czech, Estonian, and Greek. He was also a charter recipient of the Tu Do Chinh Kien Award given by the Vietnam Veterans of America for “outstanding contributions to American culture by a Vietnam veteran.” Over the past fifteen years he has lectured in universities, appeared at conferences, and met with writers groups in 17 countries as a Literary Envoy for the U. S. State Department.

Since 1995 he has written feature-length screenplays for New Regency, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney, Universal Pictures, Baldwin Entertainment Group (for Robert Redford), and two teleplays for HBO. Typical of Hollywood, none of these movies he was hired to write ever made it to the screen.

He is a Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Under the auspices of the FSU website, in the fall of 2001, he did something no other writer has ever done, before or since: he revealed his writing process in full, in real time, in a webcast that observed him in seventeen two-hour sessions write a literary short story from its first inspiration to its final polished form. He also gave a running commentary on his artistic choices and spent a half-hour in each episode answering the emailed questions of his live viewers. The whole series is a very popular download on iTunes under the title “Inside Creative Writing.”

He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the State University of New York system. 

 

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KAREN JOY FOWLER–PEN/FAULKNER finalist, World Fantasy Award winner

Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels and three short story collections. The Jane Austen Book Club spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and was aNew York Times Notable Book. Fowler’s previous novel, Sister Noon, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Her debut novel, Sarah Canary, was a New York Times Notable Book, as was her second novel, The Sweetheart Season. In addition, Sarah Canary won the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, and was listed for the Irish Times International Fiction Prize as well as the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize. Fowler’s short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award in 1999, and her collection What I Didn’t See won the World Fantasy Award in 2011. Fowler and her husband, who have two grown children and five grandchildren, live in Santa Cruz, California.

She is the co-founder of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award and the current president of the Clarion Foundation (also known as Clarion San Diego).

“No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness, than she does.”
—Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

“What strikes one first is the voice: robust, sly, witty, elegant, unexpected and never boring. Here is a novelist who absolutely comprehends the pleasures of imagination and transformation.”
—Margot Livesey, The New York Times Book Review

“An astonishing narrative voice, at once lyric and ironic, satiric and nostalgic…Fowler can tell stories that engage and enchant.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

 Sarah Gristwood

SARAH GRISTWOOD –Best-Selling Tudor Biographer

Sarah Gristwood is a best-selling Tudor biographer, former film journalist, and commentator on royal affairs.

 

Sarah Gristwood began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Cosmopolitan to Country Living and Sight and Sound to The New Statesman.

Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester; and the eighteenth century story Perdita: Royal Mistress, Writer, Romantic which was selected as Radio 4 Book of the Week. Presenting and contributing to several radio and tv documentaries, she also published a book on iconic dresses, Fabulous Frocks (with Jane Eastoe); and a 50th anniversary companion to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as collaborating with Tracy Borman, Alison Weir and Kate Williams on The Ring and the Crown (Hutchinson), a book on the history of royal weddings. 2011 also saw the publication of her first historical novel, The Girl in the Mirror (HarperCollins). In September 2012 she brought out a new non-fiction book – Blood Sisters: the hidden lives of the women behind the Wars of the Roses (HarperPress).

A regular media commentator on royal and historical affairs, Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and also spoke on the Queen’s Jubilee for Sky News and for Woman’s Hour.

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EDWARD HUMES — Pulitzer Prize Winner

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Edward Humes’ latest book is Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash (Avery Books, April 2012). His other books include Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart’s Green Revolution, the PEN Award-winning No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year In the Life of Juvenile Court, the bestseller Mississippi Mud, and Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America’s Soul.


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CLAIRE KEEGAN–Rooney Prize for Irish Fiction

Since her first book was published in 1999, Claire Keegan has accumulated nearly a dozen prizes, and accolades from writers such as Richard Ford and Hilary Mantel. But the form she works in – the short story – has always been something of a specialist taste. Keegan, who has published two collections of stories (Antarctica and, in 2007, Walk the Blue Fields) and now one long story, Foster which was published in the New Yorker.

Claire Keegan was born in 1968 and grew up on a farm in Wicklow. Her first collection of short stories, Antarctica, was completed in 1998. It announced her as an exceptionally gifted and versatile writer of contemporary fiction and was awarded the Rooney Prize for Literature. Her second short story collection,Walk the Blue Fields, was published to enormous critical acclaim in 2007 and won her the 2008 Edge Hill Prize for Short Stories. Claire Keegan lives in County Wexford, Ireland.

Keegan has won the William Trevor Prize, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Olive Cook Award and the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. Other awards include The Hugh Leonard Bursary, The Macaulay Fellowship,The Martin Healy Prize, The Kilkenny Prize and The Tom Gallon Award. Twice was Keegan the recipient of the Francis MacManus Award. She was also a Wingate Scholar. She was a visiting professor at Villanova University in 2008. She is a member of Aosdána.

JACQUELYN MITCHARD — Best Selling Author and Editor-in-Chief of Merit Press

Mitchard’s book, ‘The Deep End of the Ocean’ was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club and named one of the most influential books of the past 25 years by USA today.

Mitchard is the author of 24 novels and books of non-fiction for adults, young adults, and children, including ‘The Deep End of the Ocean,’ the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, named by USA Today as one of the most influential books of the past 25 years. A longtime journalist and teacher, Mitchard is a faculty fellow at Southern New Hampshire University, and a contributing writer for Parade Magazine and More magazine, among others.

 

Merit Press Books, an imprint solely for young adult titles. The imprint joins the company’s current fiction lines – including Tyrus BooksPrologue Books, and Crimson Romance. F+W plans the release of five original Young Adult titles through the remainder of the 2012, as well as twelve titles planned for 2013. Other imprints currently are under development and will be announced in coming months. F+W Media is a community-focused, content creator and marketer of products and services offering a diversified portfolio of books, ebooks, magazines, events, competitions, e-commerce, education, video, and more. The Company’s fiction strategy aligns with the overall F+W mission to meet the needs of its communities in all forms, creating an exceptional consumer experience.

“The mission of the line is to provide an abundance of intensely readable, highly suspenseful and unforgettable fiction for readers aged thirteen and up, with a particular emphasis on strong, savvy, female heroes rising to conquer sometimes stunning challenges thrown at them by a very real contemporary world,” said Karen Cooper, Publisher. “We knew we needed expert guidance for the creation and growth of the line. Jacquelyn is the ideal partner for this new initiative, and we are thrilled to work with her.”

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MICHELE ROBERTS–Man Booker Finalist

Michèle Roberts is the author of twelve highly acclaimed novels, including The Looking Glass and Daughters of the House which won the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her memoir Paper Houseswas BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week in June 2007. She has also published poetry and short stories, most recently collected in Mud- stories of sex and love (2010). Half-English and half-French, Michèle Roberts lives in London and in the Mayenne, France. She is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.
 Michèle Roberts is one of those writers descended perhaps as much from Monet and Debussy as Virginia Woolf or Keats… To read a book by her is to savour colour, sound, taste, texture and touch as never before. The Times

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ETHEL ROHAN–Short Story Award winner

Ethel Rohan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and now lives in San Francisco. She is the award-winning author of two story collections,  Goodnight Nobody (2013) and Cut Through the Bone (2010), the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. She is also the author of a chapbook, Hard to Say, PANK, 2011.

Her work has or will appear in The New York TimesWorld Literature TodayTin House Online, The Irish TimesThe Stinging FlySouthword Journal, and The Rumpus, among many others. She received her MFA from Mills College, CA, and is a reviewer for New York Journal of Books and member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grottoand PEN America. Visit her at ethelrohan.com.

 

 

 

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ALEX  SHOUMATOFF–Contributing Editor Vanity Fair

Alex Shoumatoff first broke into the pages of Vanity Fair in 1986, with a piece on the murder of Dian Fossey, an American zoologist who was fighting for the survival of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Since then he has written dozens of pieces for the magazine, many of them from the world’s most remote and inaccessible places, including the Amazon and Tibet. The author of 10 books, he founded Dispatches from the Vanishing World in 2001. The site, which is read each month by people from more than 90 countries, is dedicated to raising consciousness about the world’s fast-disappearing natural and cultural diversity, and to promoting the societal transformation that needs to happen if the planet’s life-support systems are to remain viable much longer. A guitar player and songwriter since the 1960s, Shoumatoff is finally releasing his first CD, Suitcase on the Loose, a bag of tunes written over the last 38 years.

JANE SMILEY — Pulitzer Prize Winner and F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained an A.B. in literature atVassar College (1971), then earned an MA at the University of Iowa (1975), M.F.A. (1976) andPh.D. from the University of Iowa. [1]While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar. From 1981 to 1996 she was a professor of English at Iowa State University,[1] teaching undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops, and continuing to teach there even after relocating to California.

Smiley published her first novel, Barn Blind, in 1980, and won a 1985 O. Henry Award for her short story “Lily”, which was published in The Atlantic Monthly. Her best-selling A Thousand Acres, a story based on William Shakespeare‘s King Lear, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. It was adapted into a film of the same title in 1997. In 1995 she wrote her sole television script, produced for an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. Her novella The Age of Grief was made into the 2002 film The Secret Lives of Dentists. Her essay “Feminism Meets the Free Market” was included in the 2006 anthology Mommy Wars  by Washington Post writer Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005), is a non-fiction meditation on the history and the nature of the novel, somewhat in the tradition of E. M. Forster‘s seminal Aspects of the Novel, that roams from eleventh century Japan’s Murasaki Shikibu‘s The Tale of Genji to 21st-century American women’s literature.

In 2001, Smiley was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. She participates in the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in association with UCLA. Smiley chaired the judges’ panel for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2009.

 

PATRICIA SMITH – National Book Award finalist in Poetry, Winner of 2 Pushcart Awards

Called “a testament to the power of words to change lives,” Patricia Smith is a renaissance artist of unmistakable signature, recognized as a force in the fields of poetry, playwriting, fiction, performance and creative collaboration.

She is the author of six critically-acknowledged volumes of poetry, includingShoulda Been Jimi SavannahBlood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist, andTeahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series winner (all from Coffee House Press), Close to Death and Big Towns, Big Talk (both from Zoland Books),Life According to Motown (Tia Chucha), just released in a special 20th anniversary edition. She is editor of the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir, coming in November 2012 from Akashic Books.

Her other books include Africans in America (Harcourt Brace), a companion volume to the groundbreaking four-part PBS history series, and the children’s book, Janna and the Kings, a Lee & Low Books New Voices Award winner.

Patricia’s work has appeared in Poetry (including the journal’s 100th anniversary edition), The Paris ReviewGrantaTin HouseTriQuarterlypoemmemoirstory,EcotoneAble Muse and many other journals, and in dozens of groundbreaking anthologies–including Best American PoetryBest American EssaysVillanelles,Killer Verse–Poems of Mayhem and MurderAmerican Tensions–Literary Identity and the Search for Justice, and 100 Best African American Poems. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, for her poems “The Way Pilots Walk” and “Laugh Your Troubles Away!” In the summer of 2012, she was awarded a fellowship to the prestigious McDowell Colony, where she worked in a studio once occupied by James Baldwin.

Recognized as one of the world’s most formidable performers, Patricia has read her work at venues round the world, including the Poets Stage in Stockholm, Urban Voices in South Africa, Rotterdam’s Poetry International Festival, the Aran Islands International Poetry and Prose Festival and on tour in Germany, Austria and Holland. In the U.S., she’s performed at the National Book Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Dodge Poetry Festival, Bumbershoot, the Folger Shakespeare Library and St. Mark’s Poetry Project, sharing the stage with noted writers such as Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Rita Dove, Joyce Carol Oates, Allen Ginsberg, Walter Mosley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Galway Kinnell and “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Morgensen. She has collaborated with Boston stalwart Philip Pemberton (currently lead vocalist of Roomful of Blues) and the blues band Bop Thunderous, and as an occasional vocalist with the stellar improvisational jazz groups Paradigm Shift and Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble. Patricia is a four-time national individual champion of the notorious and wildly popular Poetry Slam, the most successful competitor in slam history. She was featured in the nationally-released film “Slamnation,” and appeared on the award-winning HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.”

Recordings of Patricia’s work can be found on the CD “Always in the Head” as well as in the compilations “Grand Slam,” “A Snake in the Heart” “By Someone’s Good Graces” and “Lip.” A short film of her performing the poem “Undertaker,” produced by Tied to the Tracks Films, won awards at the Sundance and San Francisco Film Festivals and earned a prestigious Cable Ace Award as part of the Lifetime Network’s first annual Women’s Film Festival. As a budding voiceover artist, she was the radio voice of the Oil of Olay Total Effects product line.

The book Blood Dazzler was the basis for a dance/theater production which sold out a week-long series of performances at New York’s Harlem Stage. The Play Company in New York City produced “Professional Suicide,” a one-woman show that got its start while Smith was writer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and a selection of Patricia’s poetry was also produced as a one-woman play by Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott and performed at both Boston University Playwrights Theater and the historic Trinidad Theater Workshop. Another play, based on Life According to Motown, was staged by Company One Theater in Hartford, Ct., and reviewed favorably in The New York Times.

An accomplished and sought-after instructor of poetry, performance and creative writing, Smith appears often at creative conferences and residencies, customizes workshops for all age groups and is available for intensive individual instruction. She is a Cave Canem faculty member, a professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island and a faculty member of the Sierra Nevada MFA program.

 

 

LILY TUCK — National Book Award Winner

Lily Tuck (born Oct. 10, 1938) is an American novelist and short story writer whose novelThe News from Paraguay won the 2004 National Book Award for Fiction. Her novel Siam was nominated for the 2000 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. She has published four other novels, a collection of short stories, and a biography of Italian novelist Elsa Morante .

An American citizen born in Paris, Tuck now divides her time between New York City andMaine; she has also lived in Thailand and (during her childhood) Uruguay and Peru. Tuck has stated that “living in other countries has given me a different perspective as a writer. It has heightened my sense of dislocation and rootlessness. … I think this feeling is reflected in my characters, most of them women whose lives are changed by either a physical displacement or a loss of some kind”.

 

Daily Schedule

December 9th:

12:00 – 3:00 workshop

5:00 – 8:00  Lectures

8:00          Dinner in castle

December 10th – 15th

7:30 – 10:30  Workshops

10:45 – 1:45  Workshops

2:00 – 5:00   Workshops

5:00 – 8:00   Lectures/Readings and festivities

8:00           Castle Dinner

December 16th

7:30 – 10:30  Workshops

 

Workshops dates and times are list by groups.

Group 1, 2, 3, 4….3 hour/5 days

Group 5…………… 8 hours/2 days with lunch break

 

Group 1

Dates/time: 12/09 @ 11:00-2:00, 12/10-12 @7:30-10:30, 12/14 @2:00-5:00

Robert Olen Butler–fiction

Patricia Smith–poetry

Group 2

Dates/time: 12/09 @2:00-5:00, 12/10-12 @10:30-1:30, 12/13 @2:00-5:00

Michele Roberts–fiction, historical fiction

Alex Shoumatoff–non fiction, memoir, biography

Group 3

Dates/time: 12/12 @2:00-5:00, 12/13-16 @7:30-10:30

Jane Smiley–fiction

Sarah Gristwood–Historical Fiction

Group 4

Dates/time: 12/10-11 @2:00-5:00, 12/13-15 @10:45-1:45

Lily Tuck–fiction

Edward Humes–non fiction, biography, memoir

Group 5

Dates/time: 12/14-15 @ 8:00 – 5:00 with a one hour lunch break

Jacquelyn Mitchard–fiction, memoir and YA

 

History of Lismore Castle

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Lismore is possibly the most spectacular castle in Ireland. It’s situated high above the Blackwater River with views of rolling, wooded hills and the Knockmealdown Mountains and beyond. It’s no wonder this site has been occupied for centuries before the first castle was ever built. There was almost certainly a settlement here before Lismore Abbey was built in the 7th century, as the Irish name of the site, Lios Mhor, means big fort. They abbey was an important ecclesiastical center and
seat for learning up to the time of King Henry II who is reputed to have stayed here in 1171.

In 1185, Henry’s son, Prince John, made his first expedition to Ireland. During this visit he came to Lismore and ordered the construction of a “castellum”, a detached fort or fortlet used as a watch tower or signal station. And when John became King of England he handed the castle over to the church and it was used as a Bishop’s Palace until 1589, when it was leased to Sir Walter Raleigh, who later purchased it. When Raleigh was imprisoned for High Treason in 1602, he was forced to sell Lismore Castle, along with 42,000 acres, for £1500 to Richard Boyle, who became the first Earl of Cork, often referred to as the “first colonial millionaire.”

When Boyle came to Ireland in 1588 he had little more than twenty-seven pounds in his pocket, but proceeded to make his fortune from a number of endeavors, including iron-smelting and linen-weaving industries, as well as being appointed to various government positions. Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said of Richard Boyle, ‘If there had been an Earl of Cork in every province it would have been impossible for the Irish to have raised a rebellion.’

Upon purchasing Lismore, Boyle made it his primary residence and set about to transform the simple keep into a magnificent residence. Boyle is responsible for the layout of the estate as it’s seen today, which included the addition of a castellated outer wall, the Riding Gate, an impressive courtyard and additional apartments. Inside, the apartments were lavishly decorated with fretwork plaster ceilings and hanging tapestries of embroidered silk and velvet. Also within the walls of Lismore, Boyle also built a remarkable family, which included fifteen children, seven girls and eight boys.

Sixth son, another Richard, known as Richard “the Rich,” was born in 1612. In August 1624, at just eleven years and ten months of age, he was knighted. He then set forth on a Grand Tour with an annual allowance of £1500…roughly £743,000 in today’s money. That’s quite a sum for a twelve year old.

Under the command of Lord Castlehaven, the castle was sacked during the Cromwellian War when forces stormed through Lismore in 1645. When the castle descended to Richard Jr., he became the 2nd Earl of Cork and also held the titles of 1st Earl of Burlington, Lord High Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland, Viscount Boyle of Kinalmeaky, Baron of Bandon Bridge and the 1st Baron Clifford of Lanesborough in York England. Upon taking possession, Richard set about to make the castle habitable again, but neither he or his successors lived in the castle again, having moved to Youghal in County Cork.

The first Earl must have been very proud of his surviving progeny. His daughters entered into wealthy marriages, and of his surviving sons, two others made names for themselves in Irish and British history. Along with the sixth son’s accomplishments, the eleventh son, Roger (named for his first brother who died at 9 years of age) was a noted British soldier and statesman. He was created Baron of Broghill in 1627, fought in the Irish Confederate Wars, subsequently becoming known for his antagonism toward Irish Catholics and their political aspirations. In 1660 he became the first Earl of Orrery. Roger was also a noted playwright and writer on 17th century warfare.

As well, the first Earl’s fourteenth child, Robert, was born in 1627. He became an Irish theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, inventor and gentleman scientists who was noted for his works in physics and chemistry. Robert was best known for the formulation of Boyle’s Law, one of several gas laws and a special case of the ideal gas law. He is regarded today as the Father of Modern Chemistry. Among his works, the 1661 publication of The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry.

The Boyle’s owned many properties, including Chiswick House, Burlington House, Bolton abbey and Londesborough Hall, until 1753 when they were acquired by the Cavendish family. Daughter of the 4th Earl of Cork, Lady Charlotte Boyle, married William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire and future Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland. These properties were part of Charlotte’s dowry. Their son, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, carried out improvements and restorations at Lismore, which included the stunning arched bridge over the River Blackwater in 1775, the year preceding the American Revolution.

The Sixth Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, was known as the Bachelor Duke and is largely responsible for the castle’s present appearance, which has been described as a “fashionable quasi-feudal ultra-regal fortress,” including using Derbyshire stone from England. Of all of the Boyle estates, Lismore was always the Duke’s favorite. His love of the estate grew into a passion and dedicated much of his time to the preservation and updating of the estate. The Duke was a favorite patron of Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and Joseph Paxton, the latter who joined the Duke’s estate as an under gardener in 1823. They became great friends over the years, the Duke often consulting with Paxton before making any changes to the castle. Paxton was a botanist, inventor, engineer, architect, town planner and railway promoter, as well as an organizer in the Crimean War who went onto become a Liberal member of Parliament. Tsar Nicholas the first of Russia knighted Paxton in 1844 and later knighted once more in 1851 by Queen Victoria. In that same year, Paxton designed London’s Crystal Palace, which was subsequently in a fire in 1936. Paxton’s Tower at Lismore more is a stunning memorial to the influence he had on the appearance of the castle today.

During the last great restoration of the 1850s, the Duke hired J.G.Crace of London, a leading maker of Gothic Revival furniture, to transform the ruins of the chapel in the old Bishop’s Palace into a medieval-style banqueting hall that included a huge stained glass window, choir stalls and Gothic stenciling on the walls and roof timbers. The chimney piece was exhibited at the Medieval Court of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 before being installed at Lismore.

Following the Bachelor Duke’s passing, Adele Astaire married Lord Charles Cavendish, son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, and lived in the castle until the Duke’s death in 1944. She then returned to America, but she continued to return to Lismore for a month every summer, often traveling with her famous dancing brother Fred. She continued to use the castle until her own death in 1981.

Lismore is still owned by the Dukes of Devonshire, but it’s only lived in part of the year. The present duke is Peregrine Andrew Morny Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire who was born in 1944, and currently lives on the family’s Bolton Abbey estate in England. His son, William Burlington, maintains an apartment in the castle and converted the derelict west wing in 2006. It’s now open as an art gallery.

The incredible gardens at Lismore Castle are open to the public. They’re divided into two very different sections. The Upper Garden is a stunning example of a 17th century walled garden. It was first constructed in 1605 by Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. The outer wall and terraces remain intact, though plantings have changed to suit those living in the castle. Visitors will see espaliers of fruit trees, herb beds and vegetable plots along with stunning flowers, which are cut and brought into the house.

The Lower Garden was mostly designed in the 19th century for the sixth Duke of Devonshire. This is an informal garden with shrubs, trees and lawns. The Yew Avenue dates back to perhaps the 17th century, if not earlier when the Bishop’s Palace was still occupied.

Both gardens are set within seven acres within the castle walls. Visitors enter through the Riding Gate. The Lower Garden is to the right. The Upper Garden is accessed by crossing the gatehouse and exiting on the other side of the main driveway into the estate.

December 9 – 16, 2013, Abroad Writers’ Conference will be holding a conference at Lismore Castle. authors joining us are: Pulitzer Prize Winners, Robert Olen Butler, Edward Humes, Jane Smiley and Junot Diaz; National Book Award winner, Lily Tuck; Best Selling Authors, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Alex Shoumatoff and others to be announced.

Abroad Writers’ Conference, BORNEO

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KUCHING, BORNEO/MALAYSIA

JUNE  28 – JULY 8,  2013

In July, we’ll be taking a group of participants and authors to the city of cats, Kuching in Borneo. This will be an adventure/travel writing workshop.  Authors joining us are: National Book Award finalist, Dan Chaon; Vanity Fair’s contributing editor, Alex Shoumatoff and anthropologist Dr. Gerrell Drawhorn.

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Borneo, an island of luscious diversity, with the second oldest rainforest in the world and rivers overflowing with life. For writers who have dreamed of writing about wildlife and nature, we’ll be visiting two rehabilitation centers Semenggoh and Matang,  where you’ll see orangutans roaming free in the forest. Technically these orangutans aren’t wild because they’re use to humans, thus they can be observed and photographed more closely while they feed. Birute refers to most orangutans in rehabilitation centers as “bicultural” because they are actually released rehabilitates.

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We’ll be visiting the Bako National Park where you’ll see proboscis monkeys, silvered leaf monkeys and mangroves, Rafflesia flowers, waterfalls and longhouses. This is a nature lovers paradise.

In Borneo, you’ll be writing daily.  Early morning workshops from 7:30 – 10:30 with Alex and Dan. Later, Alex and Gerrell will guide you through the day giving you assignments to write about.  You’ll learn about the culture, flora and various animal species that live in Borneo. Gerrell will also be giving you a reading list that will include authors who wrote about their experiences in Borneo: Rajah Brooks–the first white Rajah, Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Multituli, Linklater and others.

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Our first three days in Borneo we will be staying in Kushing. In Kushing, we will begin our days with early morning writing workshops. In the afternoon, you’re free to visit the town or attend the RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL. The RWMF has been voted as one of the best International Festivals in world music.

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On our fourth day, we’ll be leaving Kushing for the jungle. We’ll be staying at Batang Ai Longhouse.

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Dan Chaon, Gerrell Drawhorn and Alex Shoumatoff will be teaching workshops.

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DAN CHAON is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington PostChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and he was the recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.

 

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ALEX SHOUMATOFF  is a contributing editor with Vanity Fair.

Alex was born in Mt. Kisco, New York. After graduating from Harvard College in l968, he worked on the Washington Post, as a singer-songwriter, and as the resident naturalist at a wildlife sanctuary in Westchester County. His first book, Florida Ramble, was published in l974 (Harper and Row, Vintage paperback). In the fall of l976 he spent nine months in the Amazon researching a Sierra Club book, The Rivers Amazon (Sierra Club l978, hard and soft), which has been compared to the classics of Roosevelt and Bates. His next book, Westchester : Portrait of a County (Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1979, Vintage paperback), was excerpted in the New Yorker, for whom Shoumatoff became a staff writer in l979. There, under Robert Bingham, the editor of John McPhee and Peter Mathiessen, and later under John Bennet, he wrote long fact pieces that were then developed as books: The Capital of Hope (Coward McCann, and Geoghegan, 1980, Vintage paperback, about the building of Brasilia), Russian Blood (Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, l982, Vintage paperback, a chronicle of his own family from the dawn of Russian history through the October Revolution and emigration to the United States ), The Mountain of Names (Simon and Schuster, l984, Touchstone, Vintage, and Kodansha paperbacks, a profile of the Mormons’ Genealogical Society of Utah that became a history of the human family), In Southern Light (Simon and Schuster, l986, Touchstone and Vintage paperbacks, about a two-month journey in Zaire and a trip up the remote Amazonian tributary where the Amazon women are supposed to have lived). He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in l985.

In l986 Shoumatoff wrote a profile of Dian Fossey for the newly resurrected Vanity Fair that was made into the movie, Gorillas in the Mist and was collected in African Madness (Knopf l988, Vintage paperback, also containing pieces on Emperor Bokassa, the natural history of Madagascar, and AIDS in Africa). He covered ousted dictators for Vanity Fair (Stroessner, Mengistu, Mobutu) and wrote a seminal piece on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His l989 piece about Chico Mendes, the murdered leader of the Amazon’s rubber tappers, was optioned by Robert Redford and expanded into The World is Burning (Little Brown, l990, Avon paperback, published in ten languages). In l995 he became a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Recent pieces include Uma Thurman, the Panchen Lama, the Weld-Kerry Senate race, the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, a profile of Bedford, New York, the race to find the winter grounds of the monarch butterfly. His latest book, Legends of the American Desert, (Knopf, l997, a 500-page portrait of the American Southwest), was glowingly front-paged by the New York Times Book Review and was both Time Magazine’s and the New York Post’s second-best non-fiction book of the year.

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DR. GERRELL DRAWHORN is a biological anthropologist at Sacramento State University.

Jerry was born in Albany, New York but his family relocated to California when he was a child. His father was an electronics engineer and when NASA downsized in the Sixties he took a position training engineers at the VALCO Aluminum plant in Tema, Ghana. Jerry spent most of his teens in Africa and his family travelled through most of the newly independent nations in East, West and North Africa. His interest in Anthropology developed organically from his experiences in multicultural schooling, urban African life, and staying in rual villages when on safari.  While he was still a teenager, he was privileged to meet the famously Leakey family in Nairobi and Olduvai Gorge. There, Louis and Mary Leakey were involved in their famous discoveries. At Olduvai Gorge, Jerry helped UCLA Professor Merrick Posznasky do archaeological field surveys on the 18th century “slavery period” Ghanaian villages. In Africa, Jerry developed a love of traditional and modern African music.

In 1976, Jerry received his degree in Anthropology at UC Berkeley.

After graduation, he worked at the American Museum of Natural History where he researched fossil gelada baboons and co-authored a paper on the elusive origins of Primates and related Orders –Tree Shrews, Flying Lemurs and Bats.

Jerry received his Ph.D. in Anthropology at UC Davis. At Davis, he co-authored with Henry McHenry, a seminal paper on the origin and relationships of fossil humans using the controversial technique of cladistic analysis. This method is currently used for analysis of every type of system from DNA to complex anatomy, it’s broadly applied to all biological groups.

Jerry’s Ph.D. dissertation on the relationships of fossil orangutans has resulted in his exploration of fossil Pongo sites in Sumatra and visit to most of the field sites where living orangutans are still being studied.

Jerry has published an analysis of the forensic evidence suggesting the infamous Piltdown Man hoax was likely an “inside job” by a curator at the Natural History Museum in London, using a sub-fossil orangutan jaw from Sarawak and a paper on how the co-discoverers of the modern Theory of Evolution–Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace–cooperated to raise funds for the first ever “international” expedition to seek the “missing link”–in Sarawak.

Jerry’s continued his research of Alfred Russel Wallace, as well as the development of a cultural evolutionary system developed by James Richardson Logan, a Singaporean Victorian-era polymath.

Jerry has been activity involved in the Sacramento “World Music” community radio station and he’s the current World Music Buyer for Tower Records.

For a decade, Jerry has returned to Borneo to attend the Rainforest World Music Festival in Kuching.

 

 

Price:

Single room: $3,950 (*4 Batang Ai Longhouse, *4 Hotel in Kuching–room w/breakfast & dinner, workshops, entrance fees to sites and ground transportation).

We’re going to Bali, June 27 – July 4, 2013

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In late June, we’ll be going to Bali. We’ll be staying at, La Villa Mathis a four-star villa in the village of Umalas, a suburb of Seminyak. We’ll be holding our conference in a quiet location that’s surrounded by rice fields, minutes away from the beach.

Dan Chaon and Alex Shoumatoff will be teaching writing workshops.

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DAN CHAON is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and You Remind Me of Me, which was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington PostChicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. Chaon’s fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and he was the recipient of the 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chaon lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.


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ALEX SHOUMATOFF  is a contributing editor with Vanity Fair.

Alex was born in Mt. Kisco, New York. After graduating from Harvard College in l968, he worked on the Washington Post, as a singer-songwriter, and as the resident naturalist at a wildlife sanctuary in Westchester County. His first book, Florida Ramble, was published in l974 (Harper and Row, Vintage paperback). In the fall of l976 he spent nine months in the Amazon researching a Sierra Club book, The Rivers Amazon (Sierra Club l978, hard and soft), which has been compared to the classics of Roosevelt and Bates. His next book, Westchester : Portrait of a County (Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1979, Vintage paperback), was excerpted in the New Yorker, for whom Shoumatoff became a staff writer in l979. There, under Robert Bingham, the editor of John McPhee and Peter Mathiessen, and later under John Bennet, he wrote long fact pieces that were then developed as books: The Capital of Hope (Coward McCann, and Geoghegan, 1980, Vintage paperback, about the building of Brasilia), Russian Blood (Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, l982, Vintage paperback, a chronicle of his own family from the dawn of Russian history through the October Revolution and emigration to the United States ), The Mountain of Names (Simon and Schuster, l984, Touchstone, Vintage, and Kodansha paperbacks, a profile of the Mormons’ Genealogical Society of Utah that became a history of the human family), In Southern Light (Simon and Schuster, l986, Touchstone and Vintage paperbacks, about a two-month journey in Zaire and a trip up the remote Amazonian tributary where the Amazon women are supposed to have lived). He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in l985.

In l986 Shoumatoff wrote a profile of Dian Fossey for the newly resurrected Vanity Fair that was made into the movie, Gorillas in the Mist and was collected in African Madness (Knopf l988, Vintage paperback, also containing pieces on Emperor Bokassa, the natural history of Madagascar, and AIDS in Africa). He covered ousted dictators for Vanity Fair (Stroessner, Mengistu, Mobutu) and wrote a seminal piece on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His l989 piece about Chico Mendes, the murdered leader of the Amazon’s rubber tappers, was optioned by Robert Redford and expanded into The World is Burning (Little Brown, l990, Avon paperback, published in ten languages). In l995 he became a contributing editor for Vanity Fair. Recent pieces include Uma Thurman, the Panchen Lama, the Weld-Kerry Senate race, the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, a profile of Bedford, New York, the race to find the winter grounds of the monarch butterfly. His latest book, Legends of the American Desert, (Knopf, l997, a 500-page portrait of the American Southwest), was glowingly front-paged by the New York Times Book Review and was both Time Magazine’s and the New York Post’s second-best non-fiction book of the year.

 

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Price Includes:

2 writing workshops, one from Dan Chaon and Alex Shoumatoff 5 days/3 hours. Two, 15 minute personal one on one with each instructor. Evening lectures, music and dance performances.

$3,900 for a single room w/breakfast and dinner. Air Fare not include.

Alex Shoumatoff is publishing work from two of Abroad Writers’ Conference participants

Two participants from our recent conference at Hever Castle, have submitted their work for publication to Alex Shoumatoff’s site, DispatchesFromTheVanishingWorld.com. In addition, he is also working with the Moore Family on their multigenerational family saga, the subsistence farmer grandpa, Woody the mechanic and preacher, and James the writer. These stories will be written in sections by Woody and James– a first in the genre, which takes writing back to the collective self-expression it began as, and away from the myth of originality and the ego trip that writers today can fall prey to.

Alex says, “I think you’re doing something really great, when you think of all the different sensibilities, some sophisticated, some not, that you brought together and how we all bonded with our common love of the written word.”

My Week at Hever Castle, by Alex Shoumatoff

The week I spent with Robert Olen Butler and Paul Harding at Hever castle was marvelous and memorable, not just for the spectular venu that the castle provided for the conference. It was really reinvigorating and reinspiring to get into the work of our eleven participants, an incredibly varied bunch of backgrounds and sensibilities all of whom had serious literary chops and distinctive voices. To know that the written word is not dead, that  it still has such passionate afficinados with whom I could share the insights into the writing game and tricks of the trade I have picked up over the decades, and could make specific textual suggestions on how to make their work clearer and stronger, to “make every word tell,” in Strunk and White’s famous injunction, to “love” the writing, as William Shawn used to tell us at the New Yorker, until the sound and flow and sense of the words become what they are talking about. I particularly enjoyed interacting with two great fiction writers, and I think the participants benefited from having the perspectives of both novelists and a literary journalist. It was fun, but intense. Some of these writers we are definitely going to be hearing more from.  Ic raise my glass to Nancy Gerbault for putting together such an interesting gathering.

Alison Weir will teach a writing workshop on Historical Fiction

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In Late September, BEST SELLING AUTHOR, BRITISH HISTORIAN ALISON WEIR will teach a five day Historical Fiction Workshop for Abroad Writers’ Conference in SCOTLAND.

Memories of Hever Castle by Mary Pauer

Hever Castle, Kent, England – Anne Boleyn’s Childhood Home        November 21-28 2012  Abroad Writers Program

My bedroom, Daffodil, is on the cover of the brochure, the double bed with a canopy – and featured in the Hever Castle history book available to all guests. Daffodil a sumptuous and elegant room, with a door latch and a real key; each detail designed to elicit the feeling of royal opulence.

I’ve been home for almost two weeks, and I can shut my eyes and feel the firm warmth of their down comforter, the starched sheets and the exuberant suds of their body wash. I know I didn’t stay in the Castle proper: I know I stayed in a wing designed for guests, a rambling warren-like extravaganza of 1905 Astor-built plush and posh: a mixture  of styles: Tudor, Edwardian and Victorian, but a the orchids on the conference table were real, from the Hever gardens.

The wait staff, with spotless white gloves, served us Thanksgiving dinner in the Great Hall. Other meals were as sumptuous, served in a fireplace lit room with silver candelabras entwined with season’s greens. Quail eggs, poached eggs; they served eggs to me over-easy, with a smile at my Americanism.

The writer’s workshop was as rich and delightful as the surroundings. Through the leaded glass we heard geese honking, the moat pool directly outside, like glass mirror reflected our white hot writing; our scribbled words and worked dialogue. We pushed, shoved and moved those sentences. We earned our character development, and the trips to the silver and crystal ladies cloak room.

I am back stateside for two weeks have already read three of Alison Weir’s books on the history of England from that period. She lectured twice, as smooth as if she were gossiping about the affair at the office cooler, a piece of gossip alive, in the political arena three hundred years later.

In the castle I sense the treachery, the sensuality and shrewish nature of Anne Boleyn. When I am reading Ms. Weir’s pages I cast my memory to the small upstairs room that had been Anne’s during her youth, a room she most likely shared with her sister, not the only thing those two women shared.

So, while I was treated like a princess, thankfully my days did not end in the Tower waiting for a swordsman imported from France.

But my writing workshops with Robert Olen Butler, Paul Harding, and Alex Shoumatoff, did end, and reluctantly I turned in my key and folded notebook my pages.

If I work really hard, I have sufficient material to keep me going for at least a year. If I remember Robert’s advice, to forget everything I learned, I still have sufficient molten lava for a good short story, and Paul suggests we press our characters so they earn the right on the page.  Alex hopes we praise the world, sing songs of diversity, and he gave me a nickname, Moxie Mary.

I can be a writer with social consciousness. I can find my true story. I can return to Hever Castle in the spring, perhaps, when the flowers are budding and the romance is in bloom. I can be a princess and I will ask for the Daffodil room again.

Mary Pauer –marymargaretpauer@gmail.com

These Jet Jewels by Laura Glen Louis

 


Poetry Review by Jane Downs

 

THESE JET JEWELS

 

Some, like elephants, by Laura Glen Louis, El Leon Literary Press, Berkeley, California, 2010, 28 pages, $15.00 paperback.

 

Some, like elephants, circle the ground

They sniff every inch the downed, and glean. (p.21)

 

The elegies and laments in this chapbook explore in musical and unsparing language the deaths of four people who touched Laura Louis’s life deeply. In the title poem, “Some, like elephants,”  mourning takes many forms—“Some slash the sky…some walk from town to town…some rage at the moon.”  Like the elephants, Louis chooses to circle the specter of death in an unflinching attempt to glean meaning. The elegies offer remembrance and praise but also bring both Louis and the reader closer to an acceptance of what is inevitable and ultimately unknowable.

 

In the first poem, “An Attempt,” death almost becomes a lover in the opening stanza.

 

I’d not lived till I’d felt the singe

of Death’s hot breath as He rushed past

Were His touch not so chill a hover

I’d have sworn He was my lover (p.3)

 

“An Attempt” begins as a formal sonnet then breaks down into forms defined by Louis’s own experience of death and language.

 

But elegy and lament

—these jet jewels—

have no set arrangement.

For honoring the dead there are no rules (p. 3)

 

The image of elegy as a “jet jewel” conflates death with something both precious and outlasting human life expectancy.  Jewels are made of minerals mined from the earth. They are cut and polished for clarity and brilliance just like the words in Louis’s poems. The image also alludes to the book’s many references to stones beginning with the book’s cover photograph, taken by Louis, where stones resemble speckled eggs. These allusions continue until the final poem, “The hour of the stone.” These stones are in contrast to the motif of wings that first appears in the poem, “Alight.”

 

Below the hawk

one other sent,

low and sleek,

wings folded arrow, (9)

At the end of “An Attempt,” Louis questions her right to “write of the day/they died, or the way.”  She justifies herself by asking another question that can only be answered by her own refusal to believe there is no meaning in death. “If their loss did not intelligence give/why then did we send them forth?”

 

The longest poem, “A Burden of Wings, Agnes 1984-2005” elegizes a young woman who committed suicide.  Told in four sections, the first three parts are the narrative of Louis’s brief and keenly felt encounter with an old boyfriend’s daughter and her reaction to the daughter’s suicide at age twenty-one. This is Louis’s most intensely felt and personal elegy. At their first meeting Louis says,

 

She came skittering across the road like a waterbird

some massive-winged creature on impossible legs

What use, legs? She was built for soaring (p. 15)

 

Here, Louis refers to the nature of Agnes’s undisclosed mental illness. Louis’s identification with the young woman is passionately felt. After all, Agnes could have been her daughter.

 

We fell on one another like long lost kin

Her harp/my piano, my cloth/her clay (p. 15)

 

Look, we wore the same size glove

Both made things with our hands, for love

Found self in silence, and solace at the fount (p. 16)

 

The poem shifts to the day of Agnes’s funeral where Louis thinks of Agnes’s illness as “no more visible than the blood in a ballerina’s slipper” and then to Louis’s meditations on Agnes and the day of the suicide. The incantatory final fourth section breaks away from the narrative and takes flight.  Japanese tradition holds that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted the wish of health and a long life. The section begins with “Thousand Cranes, the shop was called,” a place where Louis and Agnes shopped. Louis touches on myth, the solace of repetitive work, and the missed opportunity to impart her own wisdom that might have saved Agnes.

 

Fold, bend

colored squares

six by six by six by six

A thousand folds, a thousand bends

A thousand more, a thousand cranes  (p.19)

 

In the second part of the quartet, a coffin contains Agnes’s body six feet under. The “waterbird” of the first part of the quartet reappears as a paper crane. Louis attempts to contain Agnes’s death between the folds of origami wings. She also gives Agnes the graceful flight of cranes.  A thousand folds, bends, and cranes serve to push the boundaries of Agnes’s death outward, not just in flight, but to encompass thousands of deaths. The poem ends with Louis’s regret that “I know how to fold the crane. I/ could easily have taught her.”

 

Louis’s poems contain tenderness, honesty, and a gentle humor.  In the final poem she ruminates about times she escaped her own death.

 

Sixteen,

nearly stepped into the path

of a MACK, walking

while reading Abe Kobo

Ah—to be undone by truth

and beauty (Really,

not a bad way to go) (p.28)

 

 

In the last stanza of the book Louis says, “…let me not die from a lack/of heart, or of a failure to communicate.”  By writing this book Louis assures that this particular death will not come to pass.

FLOWER PEPPER by Britt Tisdale


FLOWER PEPPER

Hua Jiao (花椒). Szechwan pepper, literally flower pepper. The outer pod of the tiny fruit widely grown and consumed in Asia as a spice; produces on the tongue a tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation like the effect of carbonated drinks or a mild electrical current; numbs the tongue in preparation for hot spice.

His name was Mao. “Like the dictator?” I asked when my Chinese mother first told me about the young man, before I met him and the black hair fell across his eyes, curtaining their coldness. I remember how he bowed low to the ground. If I’d had more wherewithal, I’d have known right away that something was amiss. But I did not. I was barely twenty, new to Shangai, transfixed by his movement, sinuous as a tiger. When we sat for dinner, I sneaked glances at his angled face through the white dumpling’s steam as he gouged it with a chopstick and muddied it with soy. He felt immediately familiar to me; back then, I didn’t realize that what I recognized in him was the pepper, so like my own at the time—all pepper, no flower. I remain in country to this day to protect my sons from the pepper they receive at Mao’s hand. But let me back up.
My name is Hua Jiao, flower pepper. These days, though on the outside I look like every other old woman in China, on my inside I am more aligned with my American name, Gracie, given me by my adoptive parents who brought me as a baby to the United States, specifically, to the deep South where the same white church is found on every corner, and Thankful Baptist is practically a franchise. I ought to be thankful, they often reminded me, the American parents who changed my name. To their thinking, it was doing me a favor to rescue me from China, to grant me American citizenship, an intact family, opportunities. The mom had longed for a child, unable to conceive her own, so she hurled herself into my rescue with frenetic intensity. Oh, how I resisted! To my mind, America was like the new mom’s smile—painted on, pasted on, red like fake love. How I longed to wipe that smile from her face! I used to imagine the red mouth gaping wide, stretching over the top of her head, the smile itself swallowing her whole.

“How can you call China home?” the mom complained when I did not list her in a family tree project my sophomore year of high school, instead detailing various branches of the Chinese lineage I’d spent the previous summer researching. “You lived there for one year when you were a tiny baby. One year! You are fifteen years old, Gracie, you can’t possibly remember.” That’s where she was wrong. I did remember, played it out in my mind like the old-fashioned film reels Mr. Lesh showed us in third period history. I suppose it was my flair for drama that dredged up one particular memory as a series of grainy celluloid squares, but I knew it was real: the winding black staircase, stretching round and round, reaching to what felt like the heavens; up, up, up, the sensation of my baby face, my tummy, buoyed with excitement to see my Chinese mother. I squirmed in the foreign arms of the American mom, struggled against them, beat them with frantic fists, and I felt the moment she gave up, hold loosened, tension released. I clawed toward the wooden door with its green, peeling paint, thrust my small body at the familiar face peering from behind a taught chain as I sputtered in Mandarin—the language of comfort, of rightness, of home.

I clutched my Chinese family tree drawing and, with the particular angst only a teenager can muster, narrowed my dark eyes at the American mom, my Asian eyes that would never be big and wide like her blue ones. “It helps to know what’s not home, as a basis for comparison.” I flung the words at her like darts. The counselor had a fancy label she put on me—Reactive Attachment Disorder; all I knew was I felt lonely and displaced, that I craved to fit in. Against all reason, I attributed every distress to the event that occurred when I was thirteen months old, when the adoptive mom took me from my true mother. My weapon-words hit their target, and I knew it. I did feel a prickle of remorse when I glimpsed the pain welling in those Miss America eyes, but I turned away—from her, from compassion—flung long black hair over my shoulder, the hair I brushed five hundred strokes a day, and rinsed with rice water the way it was described in the books I borrowed from the library on my American library card, books like Traditional Chinese Beauty Secrets and Timeless Herbs for Timeless Beauty. I knew it ground the mom’s nerves like pearl powder when she’d enter the kitchen laden with shopping bags and find me digging chopsticks in a rice bowl, poring over a volume on folding origami or Chinese writing.

“Can’t you just try?” was her constant refrain. Try—such a loaded word. Try what? To be her real daughter? Try encompassed conformity, fitting in, blending like American cheese, processed until it was formless and runny, without taste or texture.

“The kids at school probably think she doesn’t even speak English,” said my brother Ryan one day as he stood at the kitchen counter making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He was also adopted, and figured he could identify with my issues, considered it his right, his requirement even, to tease me. But I knew even he did not understand, for his adoption was domestic, his skin white as flour.

“Ryan!” The mom hated it when he made comments like that.

He licked peanut butter from the knife. “What? If she’d talk, they wouldn’t think that.”

“Gracie Smith, you are an American citizen,” said the mom. “Why can’t you accept that?”

Once, I discovered a crumpled adoption brochure, Oriental Children in American Homes, stuffed in the back of a kitchen drawer. I smoothed it out on the breakfast table and read my own care instructions as if I were a new puppy. The pamphlet explained how my parents should help me understand and embrace my Asian heritage. I found the following listed under Examples:


  • Celebrate Chinese holidays
  • Incorporate traditional Chinese foods
  • Introduce other adopted Chinese children

Others afflicted with the yellow skin. Only from library books did I learn my coloring was referred to in that way—yellow, like a water-stained book page, or vinegar, or urine. My parents didn’t refer to it at all. They acted as if I were a regular old part of the family along with Ryan, who was in my opinion the most truth-telling of all when he called us The Kids My Parents Bought.

Even as I neared  the end of high school, the American mom still sat on the edge of my bed at night, tucked in the covers, kissed my forehead, as if holding onto this ritual kindness like an incantation would somehow break through my resistance. I remember how she’d smile at me hopefully, like a balloon filled with too much air, ready to pop. I stared, brushed away her hand as it tucked the hair behind my ear, rolled my face toward the wall. She must’ve worked hard to keep her expression serene, judging by the weeping I heard through the air vents after she’d turn off my light and go upstairs to my dad. I heard my name in between sobs. It made me feel better if she felt as miserable as I did, if her stomach, like mine, churned and roiled and never settled. I felt no empathy for her as I went to sleep listening to her cry.

It must have been pure exasperation that made the American parents agree to the foreign exchange plan I concocted my junior year at Georgia State. I thought of the old adoption brochure as I spread out study abroad pamphlets on the breakfast table during a weekend home from school. The dad rifled through the literature with characteristic impartiality; he’d always attempted to straddle the divide between the mom and me. “Shanghai? Don’t you want to go somewhere more, I don’t know, cultural? Shanghai is quite westernized, honey, you’re always talking about exploring your heritage.” He popped open a Diet Coke, and scratched his head.

The mom folded a paper napkin and placed it beneath his soda can. By the time I was in college, her eyes had taken on a permanent narrowness ironically like my own. She seemed to have given up, perhaps considering her opportunity to win relationship with me lost once I moved out of the house. She looked directly at me as if in challenge, and said to my dad, “She’s considering Shanghai only.” I did not look away, failing to realize that the very directness of my gaze proved just how American I really was. “She wants to find her mother,” said the mom, her voice acrid with resentment. With mixed satisfaction and regret, I realized that, in her eyes, I had indeed reverted to Hua Jiao.

I whipped my hair so it sheeted down my back, and announced, “Actually, I plan to live with my mother.” They both gaped. Such simple people, I thought. What possessed them  to travel all the way to Shanghai to pluck me out in the first place? I was sure they’d only considered the international adoption since it was church-sponsored and -approved, the congregation raising money to shrink wrap, plasticize, evangelicalize me into their very own Mulan doll. “I have been in touch with my mother for several months now. She wants me to come.” I hoped the words would cut.

The lines between the mom’s eyebrows deepened into trenches as she frowned. “How—how did you find her?”

“Not so hard when she was trying to find me, too,” I said, my defiance stinking like rotten meat.

She said nothing. She was so quiet, so still.

The dad had many logistical questions, playing peacemaker, ignoring the relational carnage all around him. “I’m sure that’s a fine arrangement, explore your roots, long as you don’t let the school work slip.” He bent back over a brochure. “Fudan University? Is it accredited? If I’m paying for classes, they’d better be worth something in America.”

I think, at that point, she realized—the American mom who knew me better than I was willing to admit. Believe it or not, the intention wasn’t formed in me, not yet. When I departed the United States, I was packed for two quarters, return flight booked for just before summer vacation.

When I arrived in Shanghai, my Chinese mother did not pick me up at the airport. Instead, she sent her driver who stood in the line with a placard marked Hua Jiao. I was not surprised my mother had a driver; I’d already learned from her Evita-like account of the past two decades not to expect the old front door with the peeling, green paint. Her current husband was an investment banker who seemingly provided all she could want. I soon learned the two things he could not provide: 1.) a son, and 2.) social prominence attainable only through blood relation. My Chinese mother was determined to acquire both.

“Xie xie,” I murmured to the driver outside the airport—thank you—as he hoisted my bags into the trunk of the black car. He smiled, nodded, but remained silent as he opened the door, ushered me into the back seat. As we traveled along the highway into the city, the scene looked like something from an apocalyptic movie, smog close around us, blocking the sun. Clumps of buildings grew denser, until we were passing one city center after another, like twenty Atlantas all crammed into one—futuristic in shining glass and steel. I clutched the seat with both hands as horns blared and drivers zoomed around us as if in amusement park bumper cars. Even with the windows up, I was exposed to the rotten egg stench of burning coal and diesel, mixed with the rancid smell of sewage which collected on the street where men peed out in the open.

When I was delivered from the jarring sounds and smells of the street to my mother’s door inside a thick-walled compound, I floated on waves of jet-lag. I think they provided a buffer to the strangeness of her welcome—the way she swooped in, pulled off my boots, exchanged them for house slippers as the driver deposited my bags in the marble foyer. She sat me at the tall kitchen counter, and brewed green tea that resembled a mug full of grass clippings. She was all business. That’s what I could not process, this detached air about her. Had I been willing to see it, I’d have realized from the first that she lacked true comfort, true nurture. Certainly, she cared for my physical needs, but her underlying agenda was never really hidden. For my part, I was fighting the tide of my entire life up to that point, what I stubbornly perceived as the lack of true mother-love, and I was determined to realize my dream of belonging in Shanghai. That night, I was pleased when my mother fed me hot wonton soup along with the tea, ushered me to a pillowy, down-covered bed in my own suite with a private bath. It wasn’t until the next morning, when I woke to car horns and smog-diffused sunlight, that I realized what had been lacking: My mother had received me perfunctorily, like a visitor to a bed-and-breakfast, instead of like the daughter she hadn’t seen in nineteen years. Despite the spell cast by my determination, I realized there ought to have been at least some ceremony to our reunion.

I brought my inquiries to breakfast. My mother was busy in the kitchen, having breakfasted already on a meal prepared by the ayi who arrived daily to look after the housework. Ayi had set a place for me at the counter with chopsticks and white china. She worked quietly at the sink while my mother chattered to me in Mandarin; having discovered I’d studied the language, she’d decreed full immersion. I sat on the stool before the sparkling white place setting, still bleary from the time change. I asked bluntly in English, “Why did you give me up?”

She paused only momentarily, holding in the air a thin, brown string with which she was tying a potted orchid to a stick of bamboo. I stared at the cord and thought how incomprehensible it was that our two bodies had once been bound together. “Of course you know why. Only one child, no waste it on girl.” She made this remark with no hint of apology, and returned her attention to binding the orchid. When I remained silent, she looked up at me again. She smiled shrewdly, her teeth evidencing a lack of dental care which belied the image she projected with her tailored clothing and her jewels. “I like we try again.”

And I—I took the crumb she offered, and called it a feast.

Classes soon began at Fudan University where I relished in the anonymity of physically blending in with other students on the quad. I made a few friends, young women who took pains to avoid any personal topic over bowls of noodles in the cafeteria, and who covered their mouths when they smiled. In comparison, I felt myself brash, loud, aggressive. At home, my Chinese mother instituted what she considered a subtle program of filing away my American ways as if shaving an unsightly callous, scheduling every bit of my free time not spent sleeping or studying. Her curriculum was quite as intentional as the university’s: teaching me the proper way to serve tea; making treks to the history museum; going over nuances of social decorum; visiting the hairdresser, the spa, even the dermatologist who erased traces of sun exposure from my face. She stocked my bathroom with date oil for shiny hair, and skin cream with crushed pearl for whiteness. All my life I’d sought these things by myself; to suddenly have my own mother taking care of me felt heavenly.

“Your name,” she said, telling me what I’d longed to know. “Hua Jiao. You are numbing spice. Use Chinese manners as flower, before pepper.” She rubbed cream into my feet, bent forward, clucked at their large size.

The root of her care for me was not, of course, love, but something far more selfish. You see, she knew Mao. For good reason, she chose him as her entrée into the prominent Sung family, rather than his staid elder brother who held strictly to custom, and married early to a girl of good breeding. My mother knew of Mao’s travels—philandering in foreign countries, despising the requirements of social position set out by his parents. She guessed correctly that my American upbringing would not put off this young man, but rather intrigue him. As for me, if I were supposed to act out the meaning of my name, it also acted upon me: after several months of preparation, when it was time to meet Mao, my palate was sufficiently numb.

The night I met Mao was also the first time I met my mother’s husband. She’d planned the dinner months prior to coincide with her husband’s birthday, a time she knew he’d return to Shanghai from overseas. She needed him to effect a gray presence in the host’s place at table—the illusion of a traditional, patriarchal household of the type which would prove impossible if he really lived daily with my mother. I stood at the top of the stairs waiting for the Sung family’s arrival. Even now, I recall how I smoothed the silk of my body-hugging qípáo, the traditional Chinese banquet dress; it was red, for luck. I listened for my cue. My mother’d instructed me to wait upstairs while she welcomed our guests, and the ayi took their wraps. In the lull after the initial greetings, I began my slow descent, step by careful step, as we’d rehearsed—me thinking the rehearsal was to teach me Chinese customs, her knowing it was to advertise her merchandise.

My eyes met Mao’s right away, his so dark they were nearly black. I forgot to feign demure as I held his gaze descending the full curve of the staircase. When I reached the bottom step, he bowed before I had the chance, long hair falling across his face. He reached for my hand,—now soft from the skin treatments—turned it over, kissed the palm. When I looked toward his parents, their faces had reddened in embarrassment at their son’s breach of etiquette. I felt my cheeks flame accordingly beneath the pearl powder.

Throughout all eight courses of the meal—stir-fried prawns, shark fins soup, roasted suckling pig, sea coconut with jelly—Mao continued to run roughshod over the norms of decorum my mother had so carefully taught me. He seemed to do it with intention, cavalier in flaunting his boorishness. Although he had been directed to the seat across from mine, he chose to sit right beside me, whispering in my ear that the other side of the table was much too far away. If conversation were an art, that night Mao was like a child scrawling black crayon across a beautiful canvas, further shaming his parents. By the time the dumplings were served, his remarks were zinging toward his family with particular cruelty as if he wanted for them shi mianzi, to lose face.

“My father used to be profitable in exports.” Mao said as he bit into the suckling pig. “Until he put me in charge of client relations.”

The elder Sung did not speak, but his eyes flared warning.

Mao laughed humorlessly. “We all know that business has gone to hell.”

By the time the ayi brought in the tray of rice liquor, Mao was resting his hand on my bare thigh, which had been revealed by the long slit on the side of my qípáo. I was shocked at his brazenness and, at the same time, thrilled by the attention being paid me by this handsome young man from a good Chinese family. I chose to interpret his churlishness as verve.

Without ceremony, Mao suddenly shoved back his chair and extended his hand to me. “Shall we?” he asked in his barely accented English. My eyes flew to my mother’s. She gave a barely discernible nod, though her husband frowned. Mao’s parents looked stricken, but remained silent, and stared at their plates.

I smiled up at this man who both frightened and compelled me. I took his hand. He stalked toward the French doors, led me onto the balcony. I wanted him to want me, but by that point even I was feeling some alarm. Once outside, I could see past the thick wall of the compound to the lighted shops on the street side where, even at that late hour, vendors sold whole fish and yellow bags of roasted chestnuts. The stench of garbage was strong in the night air.

“Hua Jiao,” Mao said. He ran his hand through my hair.

I cast down my eyes, tried to back up, create proper distance between his body and mine. I felt the silk, tight against my hips.

Mao gripped the back of my neck. He pushed me against the balcony rail in a gesture that was on the knife-edge of hostile. I tensed, raised my hands, pushed against his chest.

But then he said, “You are my flower.” He kissed me, and I kissed him back.

My mother clapped her hands in glee when I announced my engagement to Mao. The rondo to her finely tuned symphony proceeded allegro, solidifying her place at the top tier of Shanghainese society and providing her, finally, with a son.

I wrote to my parents back in the States that I would be taking a break from classes, as I had decided to get married. I half-expected, perhaps even hoped, they’d fly to China in protest, and drag me back home with them; as I have said, I think the mom had guessed, even before I left home, that it would come to this. But I received from my parents only lukewarm congratulations, along with thanks for my future in-laws’ offer of plane tickets to attend the wedding celebration. Within months, preparations had been made. My marriage to Sung Mao was imminent.

I met my parents at the airport. Though my black hair blended in with the crowd of Chinese at the exit from customs, the mom spotted me immediately. She dropped the handle of her large rolling suitcase and ran through the receiving line to embrace me. “Gracie.” I surprised myself by leaning into the softness of the name. Then she held me at arms’ length. She frowned. “What happened to your cheek?”

My hand flew to cover a bruise which had purpled beneath my makeup. Neither my Chinese mother nor my future mother-in-law had mentioned it, so I’d naively believed it to be concealed. My eyes darted to my dad who’d picked up the dropped bag, to my brother Ryan who trailed behind him, then back to the mom. My mom. Her blue eyes widened as she cupped my cheeks ever so gently, and her right thumb softly covered the mark. “Gracie.”

Britt Tisdale has written for publications including LeadershipGroupIgnite Your FaithRock & SlingMaggie Mae, and a forthcoming southern writers anthology. She graduated from Seattle Pacific University with a MFA (Fiction) in August 2012, and continues her work as a mental health counselor/creativity consultant in downtown Orlando, Fla. Britt has written a first novel, Arden Alive, and begun work on a second. You can find her at www.alivestudios.net.