I’ve lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts for twenty-five years, in a house that Edward Hopper painted. I love this town which has welcomed artists for close to two hundred years. T.S. Eliot had a home here; the dry salvages lie off the coast of Rockport, one town north. Nell Blaine painted here every summer, as did so many New York artists. ee cummings visited, Hopper had his earliest success with his paintings of Gloucester architecture.
I grew up in an old frame farmhouse on six acres of land in a suburb of Rochester, New York. Those six acres were the kingdom of my childhood. We had fields, a stream, a breathtaking stand of American elms, all gone now, an extensive vegetable garden, the remnants of an apple orchard, asparagus and strawberry beds and two sixty-foot grape arbors. There were summer afternoons at the picnic table outside the back door, under the shade of an elm, snapping beans to be blanched and put in the freezer. I remember melting paraffin and sterilizing canning jars as I helped my father make grape jelly and grape juice, tomato juice, tomato sauce and salsa. My parents were not nascent foodies; they were Depression era kids raising four children with very modest means.
But in 1971, the year I graduated from high school, the world was in turmoil and I was hungry for the adventures of a would-be writer. I worked and traveled in Europe for a year. I had no intention of going to college, but working in childcare, selling used office furniture, temping in offices, washing dishes in restaurants, and working on a factory floor pressing plastic checkbook covers, woke me up to the profound privilege of getting an education.
In college I was an English major, but minored in art history and studied singing seriously. The joy and rigor of spending an hour a day attempting to make music was my first experience in creating an artistic practice. After college, I married and my husband and I moved to New York where he went to work restoring Central Park and I went to grad school thinking I would write a novel. My first semester I took a playwriting class with Arthur Kopit for the electrifying reason that the class description, which said we would have to read each other’s work out loud, terrified me. That class changed my life. In the three dimensional world of the theatre, I found an art form that was built from language and image and often, music. The three loves of my life.
For the next twenty-five years I wrote for the theatre: plays, operas, musicals, radio plays, screenplays and teleplays, librettos and lyrics. I was in love with theatre; the never-ending challenges were intoxicating. I was blessed with opportunities, with wonderful collaborators: composers, directors, designers, performers. My work was performed across the US, and in Canada and Europe.
And then in 2008 I was given an incredible award that changed my life again. The Kleban Award is given each year to “the most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre.” This was both a wonderful affirmation of my theatre career and a cash stipend that gave me two years of writing time. But when they gave me the award I didn’t think, “I can’t wait to write my next musical.” Instead I thought: I want to do something I‘ve never done before. I want to re-connect to the creative process. I want to be a beginner again.
My first novel, Alice Bliss, was the result of that experiment. A Catalog of Birds, my second novel, is about to take flight and find its way into the hands of readers. My third novel is still in process and I am discovering the delight of changing genres, creating the circumstances where I can be a beginner yet again.