Books

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Author Sam Low, left.

“Hawaiki Rising” by Sam Low, Island Heritage Publishing, May 2013. 344 pages.

Sam Low of Harthaven has written a remarkable book, “Hawaiki Rising,” the story of a random collection of dreamers who sailed 2,400 miles across the Pacific Ocean — from Hawaii to Tahiti — in a primitive craft without modern navigational aids, not even a compass. The product of a lifetime of research, it is a forceful reminder that the demands of modern life make it ever more difficult to retain, let alone honor, our cultural heritage — wherever we come from. It’s also a great adventure story.

Next Wednesday, August 20, at 5 pm, Mr. Low will speak about his book at the West Tisbury Library.

In the 1970s, 200 years after Hawaii had been “discovered” by Capt. James Cook, very few native Hawaiians knew much about their history, their culture heritage, or cared about it. But a few embers remained, widespread and unconnected. One of them glowed in the soul of part-Hawaiian Herb Kawainui Kane in Chicago.

Mr. Kane sailed catamarans on Lake Michigan and in Hawaii, which he often visited. In time he became curious about ancient sea-going canoes and how they were able to sail incredible distances from one speck of an island to another — and back — in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Experts had long known that Polynesia (which includes Hawaii) had been settled from the west  — not the east, as Thor Heyerdahl had dramatically but mistakenly “proved” in 1947 aboard Kon-Tiki. Still, common wisdom held that Hawaii had been discovered by accident.

Ben Finney, an anthropologist who had caught the south sea islands bug as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii, wasn’t so sure. “Was Polynesia settled by competent sailors on purposeful voyages of discovery, or by accident — by storm-tossed castaways?” he told Mr. Low. “So the obvious idea occurred, ‘Well, we have to rebuild an ancient canoe, relearn how to navigate and sail her on some of the legendary voyages.’”

A successful voyage might also help boost a gradual reawakening among native Hawaiians of curiosity and pride in their cultural ancestry.

With the help of two naval architects and a surfer, in 1973 Kane and Finney started to design a double-hulled canoe connected by arched crossbeams — a catamaran, essentially — with high bow and stern pieces.

Running thus far on financial fumes, they formed the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit fundraising mechanism. They decided to call the canoe Hokule’a — Star of Joy — the Hawaiian name for Arcturus, a star directly over Hawaii at its zenith.

Construction of the canoe began in late 1974. Lured by the audacity of the project and the possibility of adventure, a random selection of surfers, wharf rats, and experienced bluewater sailors — male and female, Hawaiian and mainlander, skilled or just willing — turned up to help build Hokule’a. Some of them ended up on her first major voyage, from Hawaii to Tahiti, in 1976.

Building and learning to sail the canoe was a significant undertaking, but nothing compared to the challenge of navigating across 2,400 miles of open ocean in an open boat with no navigational aids. Shortly before the canoe was launched, a Micronesian navigator named Mau Piailug, who was in Hawaii visiting family, happened onto the project and, eventually, agreed to navigate the canoe in the traditional way, as it had been taught to him by his forebears while he sat on the beach watching the weather and lying on his back studying the stars.

For the project to have lasting power, to fulfill the tradition of passing knowledge forward, one more ingredient was needed — a young person smart and patient and curious enough to learn ancient navigation from Mau.

Nainoa Thompson was 20 years old when Herb Kane met him, but his wisdom belied his years. A true waterman —  surfer, fisherman, diver, canoe paddler  — Nainoa was struggling with his maturing identity as a native Hawaiian.

“I was trying to understand my place in the larger society where Hawaiians were considered second-rate,” he told Mr. Low after he described cliff diving and swimming out past the reef into truly deep water with sharks nearby  — at night. “I had a tough time dealing with that. The ocean gave me peace…”

Fortunately, Nainoa soon trained his daring on learning how to navigate, without instruments, a huge leap for someone who had been educated in the modern, first-world system.

With the critical pieces in place, loosely, the Polynesian Voyaging Society had found its footing. As had the compelling story Mr. Low proceeds to tell of two voyages from Hawaii to Tahiti, including triumph and tragedy, dissension and ultimate success. He provides compelling portraits of the major players, he describes the art of sailing a truly unconventional craft across the largest ocean on the planet, and, above all, he offers a primer in celestial navigation at its purest.

Though the specifics of ancient navigation are easy to grasp, it seems almost magical that a young person in today’s world can learn to rely on senses that came naturally, over the generations and across the centuries, to those whose only way of learning about incredibly complex calculations was by direct observation.

Mr. Low makes it sound simple at times, as in this caption that accompanies a simple sketch of the four stars in the Southern Cross: “When the distance between Gacrux and Acrux is equal to the distance between Acrux and the horizon – the observer is at 21 degrees North latitude.” But that is just one of thousands of facts that Nainoa had to memorize to stay on the path to Tahiti, an infinitesimal target, given its great distance from the starting point, Hawaii.

Now, 40 years later, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is roaring along like Hokule’a in a following sea with a strong breeze on her quarter. With 150,000 miles under her twin hulls, Hokule’a is currently one year into a three-year around-the-world tour that will include a stop here, on Martha’s Vineyard. What a wild, wonderful counterpoint to the recent visit of the Charles W. Morgan.

The book was, still is, a labor of love for Mr. Low, who summered on the Vineyard as a boy and who now lives here full-time. Part-Hawaiian himself, he learned to sail and fish in Nantucket Sound, before taking up diving as his preferred activity in or on the water.

Several publishers were interested in the book, but Mr. Low decided to publish it himself. He felt that the story deserved to be told thoroughly, meticulously, and that to do any less would be slighting the individuals who made Hokule’a, those who sailed her, and those who needed to believe in her as a living symbol of a culture that was almost lost.

Because there is so much to it, the book would benefit from an index, but otherwise it is thorough, exciting success. In the year that it’s been out, “Hawaiki Rising” has won numerous awards, and it deserves them all.

The book should appeal to anyone who has stared out at the ocean and wondered what’s over the horizon — and how to get there.

Author’s Talk with Sam Low, Wednesday, August 20, 5 pm, West Tisbury Library. For more information, call 508-693-3366.

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Many of the day's panel discussions were standing room only.

Hundreds of Martha’s Vineyard writers, readers, and literary fans trooped through the Grange Hall in West Tisbury on Monday to participate in Islanders Write, a daylong wordfest of panel discussions, free writing clinics, and book signings sponsored by The Martha’s Vineyard Times and MV Arts & Ideas magazine.

M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.

Bella Bennett

M.V. Times owner Peter Oberfest, right, introduced author and historian David McCullough for his closing remarks.

Peter Oberfest, publisher and owner of The Times, admitted to some flutters before the inaugural Islanders Write event. “I had this thought that I would show up and find about five people here,” he said.

Not to worry. Nearly 70 people found their seats in the hall’s upstairs meeting room at the ungodly hour of 8 am to hear the first panelists discuss “Writing for Radio,” starring national PBS newsies Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Rob Rosenthal, and Mindy Todd and Sean Corcoran from WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR affiliate, an event co-sponsor, along with Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books. The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts in Edgartown sponsored Drop In and Write sessions for attendees.

By midday, the panel discussion audiences were standing room only for discussions ranging from writing children’s books, writing in the new media world, narrative non-fiction writing, a discussion of writing workshop styles, and journalists who turn to fiction writing.

Mr. Oberfest and literary lion David McCullough delivered parting remarks shortly after 4 pm to a room with nearly 200 attendees, seated and standing.

The mood in the hall was palpably upbeat and intent all day. The crowd no doubt enjoyed hearing from Pulitzer Prize winners (Mr. McCullough, Geraldine Brooks, and Tony Horwitz), but the 100-plus audience questions asked during the day indicated a genuine desire to learn more about the writing craft and, perhaps, some tips on getting published. A smattering of early careerists were there looking for the big break, and some fans showed up just because their favorite authors were speaking.

The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.

Bella Bennett

The cookbook authors panel consisted of, from left, Cathy Walthers, Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, and Tina Miller.

Panelist authors did a brisk business at the authors’ signing table downstairs close to the free writing workshops offered by Justen Ahren, director of the Noepe Center. “This is the best day in Noepe’s history,” Mr. Ahren murmured after eight non-stop hours of mentoring small groups of writers.

What the audience got was advice on writing Ps and Qs and a somewhat grim recounting of the infernal thicket that book publishing has become from articulate pros who have been there.

The role of research and its sometimes joyfully serendipitous results were touted by Mr. McCullough and by Joshua Horwitz, whose research for “War of the Whales: A True Story,” would uncover a world of deceit and secrets and pit him against the U.S. Navy whose sonar testing drills allegedly caused historically non-stranding whales species to strand in record numbers. The case is at the U.S. Supreme Court.

For novelist Geraldine Brooks, research means something else. “I have to write enough first so the character has a voice and tells me what I need to know to tell the story. That’s when I learn what I have to find out,” she said, an example of a unique personal style urged by all panelists for attendees to develop.

For Mr. McCullough, research is the key to his work about historical figures and eras. “If I knew what the research would show, I wouldn’t be writing the book,” he said. “I’ve flipped the phrase ‘write what you know’ to include ‘know what you write,’ and the truth is stranger than fiction. Take Jefferson and John Adams, former foes, then friends, who died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. If you wrote that as fiction, it would not be believable, but that’s what happened.”

Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.

Bella Bennett

Panelist Ward Just converses with Ben Moore at the book signing table.

“And don’t believe that it’s all been written about a subject. There is tremendous opportunity to uncover new information regardless of how many books have been written on a subject,” he said, bringing to mind John Hough Jr.’s new novel “Little Bighorn,” an event that has spawned hundreds of books and articles.

During a discussion of cookbook writing, author Cathy Walthers echoed the thought. “I read that one or two new cookbooks are published every day,” she said. She argued that the market is not saturated. “That’s like saying all the songs have been written.” Ms. Walthers, the author of a new cookbook devoted to recipes featuring kale, advised would-be writers to “Make it your own, put your imprint on it.”

A much anticipated panel featured Chilmarker Nancy Aronie and Mr. Hough, longtime mentors of writing groups using very divergent styles. Ms. Aronie requires only positive feedback for her writers from their colleagues, while Mr. Hough employs a more critical approach. Devotees of each style filled the room, applauding as their favorite was introduced.

Ms. Aronie offered a quick summary of the differences. “[My approach] is don’t hurt the baby,” she said. “I teach the discipline of writing 10 minutes a day. My approach is to look for the remarkable, based on my own experience. If I had been criticized, I’d have gone swimming rather than writing. I want people to read aloud, to feel their own rhythm. Then you go to John to get the gold.” She noted that Mr. Hough’s students often bring work that is close to the publishing stage.

Mr. Hough said, “Nancy and I do different things,” he said, noting that students’ submissions are blue pen edited and returned the following week. “I will never advise an author to quit writing, but I will offer criticism that I as an author will hear from an agent or publisher in New York. It’s better to hear it at this stage.”

Panelists were asked how to wrestle with the difficulty of publishing today, how to market and build audience with social media, the pros and cons of self-publishing, and what they described as the price gauntlet of online retailing.

Amazon.com took an enthusiastic daylong beating from virtually every author. Tony Horwitz offered a complete and often humorous trashing of the online giant, saying Amazon’s price-slashing tactics are designed to put competition — publishing houses and independent bookstores — out of business, impoverishing authors in the process. He has decided to use the traditional publishing house model. “I’m going down with the Titanic,” he announced.

Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.

Bella Bennett

Justen Ahren (center, black shirt) of Noepe Center for Literary Arts ran writing workshops throughout the day.

In addition to eight hours of sage advice, many attendees had positive experiences meeting and greeting each other. Tina Reich, a New Yorker with 27 summers on the Island with her husband Lou (a dead ringer for Robert De Niro)  was over the moon to meet an MV Times book reviewer.

“Here, here’s a copy. I’ve been wanting to write a book for years and I’ve just self-published ‘Shores of the Heart.’ It’s set on the Vineyard and the premise is that women who have affairs shouldn’t always end up with a red A on their chest.”

And in the corner of the room, Deb Dunn, a children’s picture book author from Chilmark, was typing furiously on one of several electric typewriters set up for writers to use. “I used to have a Brother [brand] electric typewriter. I miss it,” she said. Across from her, college student Tanya Horwitz, 20, picked tentatively on an electric typewriter. “I may have used one once, maybe at my grandfather’s house. I wouldn’t want to use it for a long paper, but it’s kind of cool,” she said.

Ann Graham of Edgartown came early and stayed all day. Ms. Graham showed up as the Everyman of the attendees. “I do a lot of long-form business writing on business strategy in my business, but I am here looking for ways to transition into different kinds of writing,” she said. “I’d like to do a memoir.”

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Michael Blanding, author of “The Map Thief,” will speak August 14 ath the OB Library.

“The Map Thief,” by Michael Blanding, 2014, Gotham Books, New York, 300 pages, $27.50.

For some of us, maps are more powerful than the words that accompany them. When he was a boy, Michael Blanding opened books to the maps first, if there were any, to get his bearings. As a young adult backpacking abroad, he never felt lost.

“In those days before Google Earth and GPS, I felt like I could find my way anywhere as long as I had a map, offering me ownership of places where I didn’t even speak the language,” he writes in discuss at the Oak Bluffs Library next Thursday, August 14.

Given his love of maps, it’s no surprise that Mr. Blanding’s curiosity was piqued, and perhaps his indignation activated, by the news in June 2005 that a well-known dealer in historical maps, E. Forbes Smiley III, had been arrested for stealing a map from a rare-book library at Yale University.

As news of the theft spread, librarians and curators at other institutions that Mr. Smiley had frequented began to check their collections, and the news was not good. Hundreds of maps were missing from places dedicated to caring for them — the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, the British Library in London, Harvard University, Brown University, and of course Yale, among others. The curators and librarians were first stunned, because Mr. Smiley was a familiar and respected user of their facilities, and then embarrassed by their antiquated record-keeping and security systems. Some were unaware that they had ever had maps that Mr. Smiley eventually admitted stealing, and others discovered that many other maps in their inventory were missing.

Aside from the ease with which he pilfered so many treasures from so many sites, how was Mr. Smiley able to peddle so many stolen objects without raising suspicions? In the cozy, sometimes smug world of map collecting — or art collecting in general, for that matter — some collectors and dealers look the other way when they have a chance to acquire a piece that they have long coveted. When not many people know the value, let alone the existence, of a rare piece, why not just move it along quietly?

To reduce his punishment after he decided to plead guilty, Mr. Smiley admitted to stealing 97 maps over several years. He was sentenced to three and half years in prison in September 2006. But questions remained, chief among them Mr. Smiley’s motive. “Why did a respected map dealer at the height of his profession betray those closest to him — and deface the artifacts he spent his life preserving?” Mr. Blanding asks.

Throwing himself into the study of maps the way he had attacked other infatuations since he was a boy, Mr. Smiley made himself an authority at a young age. He specialized in early maps of Boston, New England, and the mid-Atlantic. While some colleagues distrusted him because of his quick success and questionable business practices, most respected his expertise. A natural salesman, he cultivated clients with a refined manner and an obvious passion for old maps.

A victim of his own success in some ways, Mr. Smiley was eventually unable to maintain the supply of maps that he had helped create a market for. As prices went up, more dealers jumped in, competition increased, and — full circle — prices went up.

Map theft has been around forever, between rival nations, map makers, dealers, and collectors. In recent times, it’s been easy to execute, given the musty corners of old repositories where maps are often found. Maps have disappeared without ever being noticed, and, when caught, perpetrators have usually faced limited consequences: there are no victims and who cares about old maps in the first place?

It was almost too easy for Mr. Smiley to supplement his legitimate income with hot maps. Recounting the temptation to Mr. Blanding years later, Mr. Smiley said, “I am looking at a piece of paper that I can fold and put in my pocket, that people in New York expect me to show up with because I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years legitimately. And I can get thirty thousand dollars wired up to Maine that afternoon.” And it worked, time and again, until he dropped an X-Acto knife blade in the Beinecke Library at Yale on June 8, 2005.

Mr. Smiley talked to Mr. Blanding for several hours at the outset of the latter’s research, but he soon stopped cooperating, saying that he wanted to protect his family from more publicity and that he wanted to move forward in his new life — on Martha’s Vineyard. (When contacted by The Times for this article, Mr. Smiley declined to comment.)

Pushing ahead because he had already signed a book contract, Mr. Blanding relied instead on intensive research and interviews with librarians, curators, and friends and former colleagues of Mr. Smiley. In just over 200 well-written pages, he introduces us to the fascinating history of map-making; he unwraps the tiny, rarefied world of modern map dealing and collecting; and, not least, he recounts the life and downfall of Mr. Smiley.

With the knack of a natural storyteller, Mr. Blanding provides a wealth of fascinating historical tidbits — for instance, how geographical data recorded by Ptolemy almost 2,000 years ago was rediscovered “…after a dreary thousand years of flat-earth religious maps about as useful to navigation as a cartoon… Suddenly the contours of the Mediterranean world emerged in stunning detail, filled with continents and cities only vaguely imagined before.”

Christopher Columbus had one of Ptolemy’s primitive maps aboard when he set sail from Spain in 1492. Hopelessly inaccurate, it included fanciful land masses labeled terra incognita, but perhaps it boosted the explorer’s confidence enough to get him going. Not until Gerard Mercator’s 1569 world map was there even a rough idea of the shape and relationship of the world’s major landmasses. A year later, the first collection of what could he called an atlas was published.

The map in Mr. Smiley’s pocket when he was apprehended was by Capt. John Smith, whose most important contribution to history was as a surveyor and mapmaker, not as the co-star in the Pocahontas myth. Smith created it in 1631.

A century later, British mapmakers scrambled to produce maps that would help their generals find their way around North America, first fighting the French and then the colonists for control of the “new” continent. During active hostilities, mapmakers accompanied troops into battle, their maps providing a record of the conflict to a curious public.

In a phone conversation last week, Mr. Blanding said he was looking forward to speaking here next week, and that he was curious about the reactions of Islanders to his book. He also said that he had had positive feedback from the map community about the book, which surprised him, given his unflattering portrayal of some of their practices.

Amplifying his decision to go ahead with the book without Mr. Smiley’s help, he said that he felt the book was stronger because he had to dig harder to tell the complete story. And dig he did: taken together, the appendices, notes, bibliography, and index fill 77 pages.

Mr. Blanding also said that he appreciated the time that Mr. Smiley had shared with him. In the end, he said he wrote the book because, “I love maps and he was an intriguing enough mess of contradictions to keep my interest for two or three years.”

Whether you look at it as a cautionary tale with echoes of a Greek tragedy or a psychological puzzle, “The Map Thief” is an absorbing tale that, like many good books, poses as many questions as it answers.

For instance, as Mr. Blanding wrote in the epilogue, what else might Mr. Smiley know about the scores of maps still missing, including 28 rare maps and books confiscated by the FBI from Mr. Smiley in 2005 that the FBI still possessed as of July 2013. “…[Mr. Smiley] didn’t recall where he’d gotten them,” Mr. Blanding writes, and in the intervening years, no one had claimed them.

Author’s Talk with Michael Blanding, author of “The Map Thief,” Thursday, August 14, 6:30–8 pm, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433.

 

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William Waterway's new book honors the Gay Head Light.

“Gay Head Lighthouse: The First Light on Martha’s Vineyard,” by William Waterway, The History Press. 159 pages, $19.99.

The Gay Head Light will likely be pulled back from the precipice yet again.

Right now it stands only 50 feet from the eroded Gay Head cliff’s edge, but a group dedicated to saving the 215-year old beacon have found the Island icon a new home 150 feet away. The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee (gayheadlight.org) has in hand more than half the $3 million needed to move and restore the lighthouse.

Now comes William Waterway (Marks) with a slim volume about the lighthouse, which has survived attacks from nature and from bureaucracy in its lifetime. What we also get from the Gay Head Light story is a macro view of the country’s post-Revolutionary history and a micro view of up-Island life as it was lived in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in the words of the people who lived then.

Turns out the care and safety of Gay Head Light has been a mission for Mr. Waterway for nearly four decades, which led him to personally pay for its upkeep for several years. Mr. Waterway founded the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute (VERI), the first U.S. civilian entity to be awarded the care and feeding of lighthouses from the U.S. Coast Guard. VERI has a 35-year lease dating from 1986 with care for the East Chop and Edgartown lights also included.

Mr. Waterway’s mission has led him to ferociously research the lighthouse, its Aquinnah community and people. Scholarly and commendable work.

If Aquinnah has always felt exotic to you, annual town meeting hijinks aside, Mr. Waterway’s text sheds some light. Until South Road was extended to Gay Head in 1931, there was no paved road to the light. For more than 100 years, travelers could only traverse the last five or six miles on foot or horseback.

And when they got there, hot showers did not await. Nor did electricity. Aquinnah was the last town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be hooked up. Here’s some perspective: when you and I were rockin’ to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” on TV in the 1950s, Aquinnah was a-twitter about the arrival of electricity. The lighthouse was electrified first, but only after Elsie Grieder, the lighthouse keeper’s wife, wrote to President Harry S. Truman to scold him about conditions at the light. Truman always promised that “the buck stops here,” and he was as good as his word.

The Gay Head Light was literally isolated from the remainder of an isolated island, with the responsibility of making safe passage for mariners navigating the ship-eating Devil’s Bridge, an underwater ridge that extends out from Gay Head toward Cuttyhunk.

Mr. Waterway gives evidence, through correspondence and in conversation with lighthouse and Wampanoag tribal elders, of the difficulties of being a lighthouse keeper in Gay Head. There was limited potable water: a trek to a fresh spring a mile away was the best answer. Firewood to heat the light and the keeper’s house was shipped in by boat.

The lighthouse lens refracted light from 14 lamps fueled by whale oil, creating smudge on the lenses and windows and the need to clean the lens and window surfaces constantly. Our 19th century national government knew Gay Head was critical to marine passage in the golden age of sail and that Vineyard waters were among the most traveled and dangerous in the world.

Still, when first keeper Ebenezer Skiff petitioned for a raise from $200 per annum in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson had to approve a $25 increase. Skiff’s later petitions for raises, and a horse and wagon to fetch water, required the attention of presidents Madison, Monroe, and John Q. Adams. Gay Headers were chatting with the White House 200 years ago. Can’t make this stuff up.

The arrival of “Gay Head Lighthouse” ought to aid fundraising for the preservation of Gay Head Light, but not just because it’s really old and a premier Island visual treat, but also because it is a symbol of the character of eight or nine generations of Islanders who have kept its light burning.

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Updated

When: Monday, August 11, 2014
Where: Grange Hall in West Tisbury

Panel discussions upstairs at the Grange
Schedule:
8:00-8:45

Morning Edition: Writing for Radio
They say radio is the most visual medium. Find out how it’s done.
Sean Corcoran, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Rob Rosenthal and Mindy Todd

9:00-9:45
Writing Children’s Books
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, children’s book authors and illustrators often wonder, What’s the use of a book without pictures or conversations?
Richard Michelson, Florence Friedman Minor, Wendell Minor and Kate Feiffer

10:00-10:45
Writing in a New Media World
Have digital books, video gaming and self-publishing helped or hurt writers?
Susan Branch, Tony Horwitz, Nicole Galland and Jan Pogue

11:00-11:45
Narrative Non-fiction
When truth is stranger than fiction, write the truth and let it read like fiction.
Meryl Gordon, Joshua Horwitz, Alexandra Styron and Tony Horwitz

1:00-1:45
The Recipe for Cookbook Writing
It takes more than adding a pinch of salt.
Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, Joan Nathan, Catherine Walthers and Tina Miller

2:00-2:45
Writing Workshops
Tough love or loving support. What works?
John Hough, Jr., Nancy Slonim Aronie and Lara O’Brien

3:00-3:45
From Journalism to Fiction
When journalists turn into novelists
Geraldine Brooks and Ward Just

4:00
Closing Thoughts
Peter Oberfest
David McCullough

Downstairs at the Grange
Author signings with the Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books, informational booths, The Journal Project with Barbara Parker’s journals, writing workshops sponsored by Noepe Center for Literary Arts and more.

Free Writing Workshops at 10 am, 1 pm and 3 pm
The Noepe Center for the Literary Arts will feature writing workshops. Taught by poets and writers Justen Ahren and Michael G. West, the sessions are free to anyone with any level of writing experience. The workshops are designed to foster and encourage people to write and explore “the images imprisoned within them (Rilke).” noepecenter.org

IW-Justen-Ahren-credit-Rob-Berkley-web Justen Ahren is the author of A Strange Catechism, his acclaimed new collection of poems, the West Tisbury Poet Laureate, and founder and director of the Noepe Center for Literary
Arts in Edgartown and the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency.

IW-Michael-WestMichael G. West is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks and several new ones scheduled to appear next month from Sepiessa Press. He has published recently in Samizdat Literary Journal and Chrysanthemum and has also published three novels, Dutch Reckoning, XOC – The White Shark Murders and BUZZD – The Bee Kill Conspiracy.

Outside
The Flatbread Mobile Pizza Oven and the self-published authors tent.

Indy Authors Book Tent
Amelia Smith, Jib Ellis, Tom Dresser and more will sell their books and dispense advice on how to self-publish.

Panelist bios:

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing From the Heart: Finding your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and the founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She was the recipient of the Eye of the Beholder award at The Isabella Stewart Gardener museum and she received The Teacher of the Year Award at Harvard University the three years she taught there. She is a commentator for NPR ‘s All Things Considered. chilmarkwritingworkshop.com.

Susan Branch is the author of twelve  Heart of the Home lifestyle books published by Little Brown and Company since 1986.  Her thirteenth book, A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside, was published last year by Vineyard Stories.  It has been a best-seller in English Travel books on Amazon.  She and her partner Joe Hall recently launched Spring Street Publishing, dedicated to the publication of Susan’s future books. Susan sends her popular Newsletter, WILLARD to over 52,000 subscribers a month; approximately 400,000 people from all over the world follow her blog at susanbranch.com  and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

Geraldine Brooks is The New York Times bestselling author of Caleb’s Crossing, People of the Book, March (winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), and Year of Wonders, and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their two sons. geraldinebrooks.com.

Sean Corcoran is the managing editor for news at WCAI and WGBH Radio. He is a graduate of The George Washington University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. After nine years of newspaper and magazine reporting, Corcoran moved to public radio in 2005. The following year he received the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award — the highest award in broadcast journalism — for a 20-part series about hidden poverty. Since then, Corcoran has received a Gabriel Award, and numerous other national awards for his investigative series. Corcoran’s radio stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and BBC iAmerica. capeandislands.org.

Nicole Galland, who hails from West Tisbury, is an award-winning performer and screenwriter who swore off the performing arts* to write historical fiction. (*Despite this oath, she co-founded the Vineyard Playhouse’s Shakespeare for the Masses.) Her novels include The Fool’s Tale; Revenge of the Rose; Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade; I, Iago; and Godiva. With six collaborators, she co-created the Mongoliad, originally a serialized, interactive narrative project (and now a popular print-book trilogy). She is currently working with people geekier and smarter than herself to create ungodly chimerical hybrids of literature (yes, actual literature) and online games. nicolegalland.com

Kate Feiffer is the author of eleven books for children, including Double Pink, Henry The Dog with No Tail and The Problem with The Puddles. Kate is collaborating with MJ Bruder Munafo and the composer/lyricist team of Paul Jacobs and Sarah Durkee to turn her book My Mom is Trying To Ruin My Life into a staged musical, which is scheduled to have its world premiere on the Vineyard in 2015. An editor of MV Arts & Ideas magazine, Kate is one of the organizers of this event, so if you have nice things to say about it, tell her. katefeiffer.com.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years in the industry extending her work  to  all media at various times. Hunter-Gault joined NPR in 1997 after 20 years with PBS, where she worked as a national correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.  She began her journalism career as a reporter for The New Yorker, then worked as a local news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., and as the Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times. In 2005, she returned to NPR as a Special Correspondent after six years as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent. Her numerous honors include two Emmy awards and two Peabody awards. Her most recent book is To The Mountaintop: My Journey Through the  Civil rights Movement  for young readers.

Meryl Gordon is the author of “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark,” and “Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach.” She is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times and New York Magazine. She is the director of magazine writing at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. A native of Rochester, N.Y., and a graduate of the University of Michigan, she lives in Manhattan but has been spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard since 1994. She is married to the political journalist Walter Shapiro. merylgordon.com.

Jessica B. Harris is the author or editor of seventeen books, including twelve cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. She has lectured widely in the United States and abroad and has written extensively for scholarly and popular publications. Harris consults internationally, most recently for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on their new cafeteria. Dr. Harris holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Queens College, The Université de Nancy, France, and New York University. Dr. Harris is a professor at Queens College/C.U.N.Y. in New York and at work on several new projects. Africooks.com.

Joshua Horwitz is the founder and publisher of Living Planet Books, which specializes in works by thought leaders in science, medicine and psychology. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three daughters. warofthewhales.com.

Tony Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker. His books include the New York Times bestsellers Confederates in the Attic, Blue Latitudes, and A Voyage Long and Strange. His latest work is Boom: Oil, Money, Cowboys, Strippers, and the Energy Rush that Could Change America Forever. Tony is a native of Washington D.C. and a graduate of Brown University. He has also been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Tony lives year-round in West Tisbury with his wife, novelist Geraldine Brooks, and their sons Nathaniel and Bizu. tonyhorwitz.com.

John Hough, Jr. grew up in Falmouth and now lives on Martha’s Vineyard. He is a graduate of Haverford College, a former VISTA volunteer and speech writer. He is the author of six novels, including Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg. His most recent book is Little Bighorn. He teaches creative writing in his living room in West Tisbury. johnhoughjr.com.

David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history,” “a matchless writer.”  He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, twice winner of the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. His books include: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, John Adams, 1776, and Truman. Mr. McCullough is presently working on a biography of the Wright brothers.

Richard Michelson’s many books for children, teens, and adults have been listed among the Ten Best of the Year by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker. He has been a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award (2X), the National Jewish Book Award (3X) and is the only author ever awarded both the Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medals from the Association of Jewish Librarians. His most recent book for children, S is for Sea Glass, was written on the porch of his Oak Bluffs gingerbread cottage, and his next adult collection, More Money than God is forthcoming in the Pitt Poetry Series. Michelson is the current Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA. RichardMichelson.com.

Chef/writer/farmer Susie Middleton is the author of Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories (The Taunton Press, 2014), as well as the best-selling Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books 2010) and The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books 2012). The former editor and current editor-at-large for Fine Cooking magazine, Susie writes for many national and regional magazines and blogs regularly about cooking and growing vegetables — as well as life on the farm — at sixburnersue.com. Susie and her partner, Roy Riley, founded Green Island Farm in West Tisbury in 2010.

Tina Miller was born on the Vineyard, studied cooking in France and opened her first restaurant at age 24 in the location where State Road is today. She is also a cookbook author of Vineyard Harvest and has written for Bon Appetit, Edible Vineyard, MV Magazine and Vineyard Style. She lives with her two sons and husband in West Tisbury.

Florence Friedman Minor is former film editor for ABC News. Florence works with her husband, Wendell Minor, creating books that entertain, teach and inspire children. She manages the business aspects of their studio and also  writes books that Wendell illustrates. If You Were a Penguin, her second collaboration with Wendell, was chosen by the state of Pennsylvania for their “One Book” Literacy Program, and If You Were a Panda Bear, celebrating the eight species of bears, was a Summer 2013 Kids’ Indies Next List selection. Florence currently has a book about rabbits under contract, and is working on several other book concepts; minorart.com.

Wendell Minor is nationally known for the cover artwork he has created for books by Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg and David McCullough, among others. He has illustrated 54 children’s books, collaborating with Jean Craighead George, Charlotte Zolotow, Robert Burleigh, Mary Higgins Clark and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  He has authored six books of his own. Reviewers are raving over Wendell’s brand new book, Edward Hopper Paints His World,  which is being sold for the first time at this event; minorart.com.

Joan Nathan considers food through the lenses of history, culture, and tradition. She regularly contributes to The New York Times, Food Arts Magazine, and Tablet Magazine and is the author of ten award-winning cookbooks; six focus on Jewish cooking, two highlight Israeli cuisine, and two focus on American cooking. Her most recent book is Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, which made both the New York Times’ and NPR’s lists of the best cookbooks of 2010; joannathan.com.

Peter Oberfest and his wife Barbara became partners in owning and publishing the Martha’s Vineyard Times in 1995. In a remarkable example of magical thinking, they became sole owners of The Times and its web and print publications this past May. Peter also maintained a strategy and organization consulting practice for more than 40 years. Peter was educated in the New York City public school system, the University of Pennsylvania and the Graduate Faculty of The New School for Social Research; mvtimes.com.

Lara O’Brien Lara O’Brien was born in Dublin and raised on the wild and wondrous hill of Howth. She now lives on the sister Island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, four children and writing companion Tukka Rex, a great golden, and talking dog. Lara published her first book, a novel for middle grade readers,  Chesca and The Spirit of Grace last  fall; laraobrien.com.

Jan Pogue is the founder and owner of Vineyard Stories, which has published more than 40 Island books since 2005. She has a long history in publishing, writing, and editing. She authored twelve corporate histories, including the story of the founding of the American Cancer Society. Previous to becoming a publisher, she was a journalist at several newspapers, among them USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she covered topics as disparate as hunting alligators in Louisiana and the real story behind the founding of Atlantic City as a gambling center. She has lived on the Vineyard since 2003 and is proud of the fact that although she lives in Edgartown, she has friends all over the Island; vineyardstories.com.

Mindy Todd is the host and executive producer of The Point on WCAI which examines critical issues for the Cape, Islands and Southcoast. She brings more than 30 years of experience in radio and television to the job. Her career has covered nearly all aspects of broadcasting.  She has been a radio disc jockey, a traffic reporter, a television news anchor and reporter, a program director, talk show host, and even a ski reporter.She has received numerous awards, most recently another National PRNDI (Public Radio News Directors Incorporated) and an Associated Press award. In February 2012 Mindy was named Managing Director of Editorial; capeandislands.org.

Rob Rosenthal is the lead instructor at the Transom Story Workshop, an eight-week intensive for new radio producers in Woods Hole. He’s taught documentary radio for 14 years. Rob’s also a producer of documentaries, features, audio tours, and multi-media. For several years he’s produced a podcast on audio storytelling called HowSound; capeandislands.org.

Alexandra Styron is the author of the 2011 best-selling memoir Reading My Father and All The Finest Girls, a novel. Her work has appeared in several anthologies as well as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair. A graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University, Alexandra currently teaches memoir writing in the MFA program at Hunter College. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York, and has spent every summer of her life on Martha’s Vineyard; alexandrastyron.com.

Catherine Walthers is a food writer and author of four cookbooks, including Raising the Salad Bar, Soups + Sides and her newest, Kale, Glorious Kale, being released this August. She also works as a private chef and offers cooking classes for groups in her West Tisbury “Kitchen Lab.”

Islanders Write is sponsored by The MV Times and MV Arts & Ideas Magazine and co-sponsored by WCAI, The Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books.

 

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“Bandstand, The Search for the Oak Island Gold” by Jib Ellis, Veranda Publishing, 2014, 390 pages, $16.95, available at Bunch of Grapes (Vineyard Haven), Edgartown Books, and at area libraries.

We all enjoy a perfectly-prepared bon mot.

In “Bandstand, The Search for Oak Island Gold,” long-time Island resident Jib Ellis serves up bushels of them, reason enough to read this reckless, funny, and literate novel about a hunt for 600-year-old treasure in Nova Scotia, of all places.

There’s more. “Bandstand” is a well-plotted story of five people who embark on a treasure hunt of two kinds. The nominal expedition is to Oak Island, Nova Scotia, a real place, in which Vikings, Knights Templar, and pirates of various stripes are rumored to have buried their loot, including the ever-popular Holy Grail and the answer to the Shakespeare or Francis Bacon controversy. The hidden treasure notion has attracted treasure hunters since 1795. Naturally, the local populace now offer an annual festival during which fortunes are presumably found in tourist wallets.

The fallback treasure hunt is the team’s group-funding Internet gambit in which memberships are sold, offering the opportunity to buy lottery chances for a share of the swag. Mr. Ellis told The Times, the 200-year effort to unearth Nova Scotian buried treasure “is a philosophical challenge, not an engineering challenge.” When you learn what Team Ryder’s map is, you’ll understand. “The book is not autobiographical, the characters are bits and pieces of people I’ve known along the way,” he said.

Mr. Ellis’s characters are authentic, individual — a few just this side of needing institutional care — but all resembling people and personalities we know that we know but just can’t place. Good stuff here: it’s got depth and it’s funny.

Ryder, the protagonist, is a 42-year-old rich guy who lives near East Chop. He loves boats, women, and not doing much. He understands the Island and its people.

Ryder is also having an affair of the heart with Charlotte Rosen, a snappy, gorgeous, age-appropriate, AA-loving attorney who is well aware of The First Law Of The Sisterhood: Men Are Not As Smart As Us. Ryder also knows this is true and he doesn’t care. He does believe that true love is balm to his semi-broken heart. Mr. Ellis delivers well-defined characters, each with its own clearly-described neurosis.

There’s Fitzroy, the Jamaican B-school genius; and Daniel, an Island Native-American computer wonk. Finally, there is Benson, a giant falstaffian character, Friar Tuck with a mean streak. Ryder, Fitzroy, and Benson met at Columbia and have remained pals.

While he has morphed himself into a Druid bard as we meet him, Benson’s career specialty is black ops. How black, you ask? So black that he doesn’t work for Uncle Sam. He works for a secret company that works for Uncle Sam.

Benson is my favorite. Everyone should have a Benson. Mine was Tom Trainor. Benson and Trainor shared remarkably similar attributes: staggeringly big, socially tone-deaf, limited impulse control, dangerous at rest, and extremely dangerous when provoked.

In our youth, Trainor enjoyed strolling into college bars to announce that he was “six-foot-five, 265 pounds of rompin’, stompin’ destruction.” Oh, the fun that ensued. Tom’s great heart blew up in Costa Rica 15 years ago while on a spiritual mission to establish a bar for workers in the Brazilian rain forest. I am not making this up.

Spirits like these are rare and they are irresistible, given the Prufrockian lives most of us lead. So despite documented knowledge of painful consequences, we go into the bar with them anyway. Thus, Ryder and his team make Benson their advance treasure scout. Ryder and the team knew better and they did it anyway. Gotta love it.

Mr. Ellis knows his pirates and his history. Norsemen and Europeans were rattling around the east coast eons before Cabot and Columbus. Ancient Irish were here in the sixth century.

This is a fiction, but also a story woven from strands of real history combined with research and generally logical projections. I have always seen pirates as ill-intentioned snowbirds, obsessed with tropical climates but the pirate rock stars (Blackbeard, Black Bart, et. al.) were here. One of them, trotting off the gallows, confessed that he had buried loot in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Ellis’s short bio reveals a varied writing past. He uses the language beautifully, delivered in a wry humorous style that indicates wisdom born of long experience with our often sketchy human condition. “Bandstand” is a shade longer than it needs to be and features, well, odd cover art. Of particular note was my reaction to occasional but startling deviations from structure, syntax, and punctuation. After a few outbreaks, I found myself saying, “Well, that’s Ryder for ya.” When the author can make you believe the character screwed it up, you got some writing, brotha.

“Bandstand” has its own personality. Leo Kottke wrote the principal blurb. Mr. Kottke has made a virtuoso musical career from blending disparate styles into a seamless whole. He understood “Bandstand.”

One Larry Miller wrote the other blurb. Mr. Miller is not identified but we assume he is not the right-handed pitcher who enjoyed virtually no success in a brief major league career.

Mr. Miller weighs in with the thought that “F. Scott Fitzgerald lied. There are second acts. Jib Ellis and Bandstand are living proof.” Good news for those of us who maybe didn’t knock ‘em dead in the first act.

Author’s Talk with Jib Ellis, 7pm, July 30, Edgartown Library. For more information, call 508-627-4221. Mr. Ellis will also appear at Islanders Write, a one-day literary event sponsored by The MVTimes and Arts & Ideas Magazine. His book will be available for sale there, along with other independent authors Amelia Smith, Michael West and Tom Dresser.

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When: Monday, August 11, 2014
Where: Grange Hall in West Tisbury

Panel discussions upstairs at the Grange
Schedule:
8:00-8:45

Morning Edition: Writing for Radio
They say radio is the most visual medium. Find out how it’s done.
Sean Corcoran, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Rob Rosenthal and Mindy Todd

9:00-9:45
Writing Children’s Books
Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, children’s book authors and illustrators often wonder, What’s the use of a book without pictures or conversations?
Richard Michelson, Florence Friedman Minor, Wendell Minor and Kate Feiffer

10:00-10:45
Writing in a New Media World
Have digital books, video gaming and self-publishing helped or hurt writers?
Susan Branch, Tony Horwitz, Nicole Galland and Jan Pogue

11:00-11:45
Narrative Non-fiction
When truth is stranger than fiction, write the truth and let it read like fiction.
Meryl Gordon, Joshua Horwitz, Alexandra Styron and Tony Horwitz

1:00-1:45
The Recipe for Cookbook Writing
It takes more than adding a pinch of salt.
Jessica Harris, Susie Middleton, Joan Nathan, Catherine Walthers and Tina Miller

2:00-2:45
Writing Workshops
Tough love or loving support. What works?
John Hough, Jr., Nancy Slonim Aronie and Lara O’Brien

3:00-3:45
From Journalism to Fiction
When journalists turn into novelists
Geraldine Brooks and Ward Just

4:00
Closing Thoughts
Peter Oberfest
David McCullough

Downstairs at the Grange
Author signings, informational booths, informal writing workshops sponsored by Noepe Center for Literary Arts and more.

Outside
The Flatbread Mobile Pizza Oven

Panelist bios:

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing From the Heart :Finding your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and the founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She was the recipient of the Eye of the Beholder award at The Isabella Stewart Gardener museum and she received The Teacher of the Year Award at Harvard University the three years she taught there. She is a commentator for NPR ‘s All Things Considered; www.chilmarkwritingworkshop.com.

Susan Branch is the author of twelve  Heart of the Home lifestyle books published by Little Brown and Company since 1986.  Her thirteenth book, A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside, was published last year by Vineyard Stories.  It has been a best-seller in English Travel books on Amazon.  She and her partner Joe Hall recently launched Spring Street Publishing, dedicated to the publication of Susan’s future books. Susan sends her popular Newsletter, WILLARD to over 52,000 subscribers a month; approximately 400,000 people from all over the world follow her blog at www.susanbranch.com  and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

Geraldine Brooks is The New York Times bestselling author of Caleb’s Crossing, People of the Book, March (winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), and Year of Wonders, and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Born and raised in Australia, she lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, the author Tony Horwitz, and their two sons. www.geraldinebrooks.com.

Sean Corcoran is the managing editor for news at WCAI and WGBH Radio. He is a graduate of The George Washington University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. After nine years of newspaper and magazine reporting, Corcoran moved to public radio in 2005. The following year he received the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award — the highest award in broadcast journalism — for a 20-part series about hidden poverty. Since then, Corcoran has received a Gabriel Award, and numerous other national awards for his investigative series. Corcoran’s radio stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and BBC iAmerica. www.capeandislands.org.

Nicole Galland, who hails from West Tisbury, is an award-winning performer and screenwriter who swore off the performing arts* to write historical fiction. (*Despite this oath, she co-founded the Vineyard Playhouse’s Shakespeare for the Masses.) Her novels include The Fool’s Tale; Revenge of the Rose; Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade; I, Iago; and Godiva. With six collaborators, she co-created the Mongoliad, originally a serialized, interactive narrative project (and now a popular print-book trilogy). She is currently working with people geekier and smarter than herself to create ungodly chimerical hybrids of literature (yes, actual literature) and online games. www.nicolegalland.com

Kate Feiffer is the author of eleven books for children, including Double Pink, Henry The Dog with No Tail and The Problem with The Puddles. Kate is collaborating with MJ Bruder Munafo and the composer/lyricist team of Paul Jacobs and Sarah Durkee to turn her book My Mom is Trying To Ruin My LIfe into a staged musical, which is scheduled to have its world premiere on the Vineyard in 2015. An editor of MV Arts & Ideas magazine, Kate is one of the organizers of this event, so if you have nice things to say about it, tell her; katefeiffer.com.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years in the industry extending her work  to  all media at various times. Hunter-Gault joined NPR in 1997 after 20 years with PBS, where she worked as a national correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.  She began her journalism career as a reporter for The New Yorker, then worked as a local news anchor for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., and as the Harlem bureau chief for The New York Times. In 2005, she returned to NPR as a Special Correspondent after six years as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent. Her numerous honors include two Emmy awards and two Peabody awards. Her most recent book is To The Mountaintop: My Journey Through the  Civil rights Movement  for young readers.

Meryl Gordon is the author of “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark,” and “Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach.” She is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, the New York Times and New York Magazine. She is the director of magazine writing at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. A native of Rochester, N.Y., and a graduate of the University of Michigan, she lives in Manhattan but has been spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard since 1994. She is married to the political journalist Walter Shapiro; merylgordon.com.

Jessica B. Harris is the author or editor of seventeen books, including twelve cookbooks documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora. She has lectured widely in the United States and abroad and has written extensively for scholarly and popular publications. Harris consults internationally, most recently for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on their new cafeteria. Dr. Harris holds degrees from Bryn Mawr College, Queens College, The Université de Nancy, France, and New York University. Dr. Harris is a professor at Queens College/C.U.N.Y. in New York and at work on several new projects; Africooks.com.

Joshua Horwitz is the founder and publisher of Living Planet Books, which specializes in works by thought leaders in science, medicine and psychology. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three daughters; warofthewhales.com.

Tony Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker. His books include the New York Times bestsellers Confederates in the Attic, Blue Latitudes, and A Voyage Long and Strange. His latest work is Boom: Oil, Money, Cowboys, Strippers, and the Energy Rush that Could Change America Forever. Tony is a native of Washington D.C. and a graduate of Brown University. He has also been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Tony lives year-round in West Tisbury with his wife, novelist Geraldine Brooks, and their sons Nathaniel and Bizu; tonyhorwitz.com.

John Hough, Jr. grew up in Falmouth and now lives on Martha’s Vineyard. He is a graduate of Haverford College, a former VISTA volunteer and speech writer. He is the author of six novels, including Seen the Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Gettysburg. His most recent book is Little Bighorn. He teaches creative writing in his living room in West Tisbury; johnhoughjr.com.

David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history,” “a matchless writer.”  He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, twice winner of the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. His books include: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, John Adams, 1776, and Truman. Mr. McCullough is presently working on a biography of the Wright brothers.

Richard Michelson’s many books for children, teens, and adults have been listed among the Ten Best of the Year by TheNew York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker. He has been a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award (2X), the National Jewish Book Award (3X) and is the only author ever awarded both the Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medals from the Association of Jewish Librarians. His most recent book for children, S is for Sea Glass, was written on the porch of his Oak Bluffs gingerbread cottage, and his next adult collection, More Money than God is forthcoming in the Pitt Poetry Series. Michelson is the current Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA; RichardMichelson.com.

Chef/writer/farmer Susie Middleton is the author of Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories (The Taunton Press, 2014), as well as the best-selling Fast, Fresh & Green (Chronicle Books 2010) and The Fresh & Green Table (Chronicle Books 2012). The former editor and current editor-at-large for Fine Cooking magazine, Susie writes for many national and regional magazines and blogs regularly about cooking and growing vegetables — as well as life on the farm — at sixburnersue.com. Susie and her partner, Roy Riley, founded Green Island Farm in West Tisbury in 2010.

Tina Miller was born on the Vineyard, studied cooking in France and opened her first restaurant at age 24 in the location where State Road is today. She is also a cookbook author of Vineyard Harvest and has written for Bon Appetit, Edible Vineyard, MV Magazine and Vineyard Style. She lives with her two sons and husband in West Tisbury.

Florence Friedman Minor is former film editor for ABC News. Florence works with her husband, Wendell Minor, creating books that entertain, teach and inspire children. She manages the business aspects of their studio and also  writes books that Wendell illustrates. If You Were a Penguin, her second collaboration with Wendell, was chosen by the state of Pennsylvania for their “One Book” Literacy Program, and If You Were a Panda Bear, celebrating the eight species of bears, was a Summer 2013 Kids’ Indies Next List selection. Florence currently has a book about rabbits under contract, and is working on several other book concepts; minorart.com.

Wendell Minor is nationally known for the cover artwork he has created for books by Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg and David McCullough, among others. He has illustrated 54 children’s books, collaborating with Jean Craighead George, Charlotte Zolotow, Robert Burleigh, Mary Higgins Clark and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  He has authored six books of his own. Reviewers are raving over Wendell’s brand new book, Edward Hopper Paints His World,  which is being sold for the first time at this event; minorart.com.

Joan Nathan considers food through the lenses of history, culture, and tradition. She regularly contributes to The New York Times, Food Arts Magazine, and Tablet Magazine and is the author of ten award-winning cookbooks; six focus on Jewish cooking, two highlight Israeli cuisine, and two focus on American cooking. Her most recent book is Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, which made both the New York Times’ and NPR’s lists of the best cookbooks of 2010; joannathan.com.

Peter Oberfest and his wife Barbara became partners in owning and publishing the Martha’s Vineyard Times in 1995. In a remarkable example of magical thinking, they became sole owners of The Times and its web and print publications this past May. Peter also maintained a strategy and organization consulting practice for more than 40 years. Peter was educated in the New York City public school system, the University of Pennsylvania and the Graduate Faculty of The New School for Social Research; mvtimes.com.

Lara O’Brien Lara O’Brien was born in Dublin and raised on the wild and wondrous hill of Howth. She now lives on the sister Island of Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, four children and writing companion Tukka Rex, a great golden, and talking dog. Lara published her first book, a novel for middle grade readers,  Chesca and The Spirit of Grace last  fall; laraobrien.com.

Jan Pogue is the founder and owner of Vineyard Stories, which has published more than 40 Island books since 2005. She has a long history in publishing, writing, and editing. She authored twelve corporate histories, including the story of the founding of the American Cancer Society. Previous to becoming a publisher, she was a journalist at several newspapers, among them USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she covered topics as disparate as hunting alligators in Louisiana and the real story behind the founding of Atlantic City as a gambling center. She has lived on the Vineyard since 2003 and is proud of the fact that although she lives in Edgartown, she has friends all over the Island; vineyardstories.com.

Mindy Todd is the host and executive producer of The Point on WCAI which examines critical issues for the Cape, Islands and Southcoast. She brings more than 30 years of experience in radio and television to the job. Her career has covered nearly all aspects of broadcasting.  She has been a radio disc jockey, a traffic reporter, a television news anchor and reporter, a program director, talk show host, and even a ski reporter.She has received numerous awards, most recently another National PRNDI (Public Radio News Directors Incorporated) and an Associated Press award. In February 2012 Mindy was named Managing Director of Editorial; capeandislands.org.

Rob Rosenthal is the lead instructor at the Transom Story Workshop, an eight-week intensive for new radio producers in Woods Hole. He’s taught documentary radio for 14 years. Rob’s also a producer of documentaries, features, audio tours, and multi-media. For several years he’s produced a podcast on audio storytelling called HowSound; capeandislands.org.

Alexandra Styron is the author of the 2011 best-selling memoir Reading My Father and All The Finest Girls, a novel. Her work has appeared in several anthologies as well as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair. A graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University, Alexandra currently teaches memoir writing in the MFA program at Hunter College. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, New York, and has spent every summer of her life on Martha’s Vineyard; alexandrastyron.com.

Catherine Walthers is a food writer and author of four cookbooks, including Raising the Salad Bar, Soups + Sides and her newest, Kale, Glorious Kale, being released this August. She also works as a private chef and offers cooking classes for groups in her West Tisbury “Kitchen Lab.”

Islanders Write is sponsored by The MV Times and MV Arts & Ideas Magazine and co-sponsored by WCAI, The Bunch of Grapes and Edgartown Books.

 

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Painting A Life, Ray Ellis: An Artist Seen Through His Work, 192 pages, 159 paintings, Compass Prints, Savannah, Georgia, 2014

Before his death in 2013, the painter Ray Ellis had resided full-time on Martha’s Vineyard for more than three decades, and as a public symbol he is as recognizable as Gay Head Light and the gingerbread cottages.

We observed him as a genial and gentle man, a nationally recognized artist, and so generous a donor of his valuable work to Island fundraising causes that he became one of our community’s largest contributors. Fewer of us knew Mr. Ellis’s backstory and his ferocious instinct for survival as an artist and as a man in the social and artistic turbulence of America in the 20th century.

For that perspective, we are indebted to Island writer CK Wolfson, who has given us a gem, a complete story, based on careful research and extensive, candid conversations with Mr. Ellis before his death.

What we get in “Painting A Life” is a boisterous saga of a man who persevered, falling and getting up again and again through The Great Depression, World War II, and enough death, disillusionment, and financial setbacks for two lifetimes. We learn that it took Mr. Ellis almost two-thirds of his life to achieve his simple goal: to paint without distraction.

Coffee table books typically deserve their reputation as the Chinese food of really expensive literature. Accompanying text often is as glossy as the pages. “Painting A Life” is not one of those. For one thing, it only costs $45, the in-season equivalent of two cheeseburgers and a couple sodas.

For another, the book is a valuable reading experience. While it appears to be a definitive collection of Mr. Ellis’s work — with more than 175 sketches, cartoons, portraits, and still lifes from way stops in his much-traveled life — this is a story of life lived to the fullest in pursuit of conviction.

Not that there weren’t pitfalls and distractions, including service in World War II, the death of his first wife after a long struggle with alcoholism, raising four children, and the siren song of business success that led to bankruptcy.

Mr. Ellis kept on painting, developing his style regardless of the period’s art fashion from Art Deco, Modernism, and the flinging of paint on blank canvasses. And it worked. Six thousand paintings worth that hang in galleries, museums, and in private collections all over the world.

If you are an artistic knuckle-dragger, as I am, you will be amazed before you are halfway through reading “Painting A Life.”

As a result of the honest narrative and paralleling selections of work for each period of Mr. Ellis’s life, you will begin to know the man and see his struggles and successes right there on the canvasses. Very cool experience. Ms. Wolfson and Treesa Germany, director of Compass Point and the Ray Ellis Gallery, have done a great service to Mr. Ellis. He and they have provided readers with a spate of clear and useful life lessons and cautionary tales in the unvarnished telling of his tale.

We learn that Mr. Ellis was not your reclusive artist swathed in angst but very much a man of the world. He spent much of his life in the advertising business to generate coin for the family. If you’ve been in that business — or watched Mad Men — you know that the advertising agency business is not a breeding ground for high principles, loyalty, and the like. It almost got him, but he kept on painting.

Mr. Ellis completed his work on the book before his death. He is much-quoted and his words, offered with pure candor about the business of living, have an Olympian cast today, barely a year later.

Here’s my favorite. “It isn’t the circumstances that control the results. It’s what goes on inside your head, despite what’s going on outside.” The book is replete with these gems, polished and buffed hard after 92 years of living.

It seems to me that Ray Ellis’s life is his gift to us as much as his art is. Read his story.

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“An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby: 25 years of Paintings, History and Fishing” by Ed Jerome and Ray Ellis. Compass Publishing, Savannah. 132 pages, $48. Available at Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven, at Edgartown Books, online, and at Island libraries. A Limited Edition, signed and leather bound, with a Ray Ellis print enclosed, is available through Mr. Jerome for $250; $300 at bookstores.

You probably know a lot about the late Ray Ellis and about the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. At 68 years, the Derby is the Island’s longest running play, but there’s a lot more to be learned about Island fishing history, culture, and about Mr. Ellis, its premier artist. The story is told wonderfully in “An Amazing Story of the Martha’s Vineyard Derby”.

Derby president Ed Jerome and fast friend and internationally-known artist Mr. Ellis, in the final year of his life with a cast of two dozen anglers and wordsmiths, have created the definitive work on Island fishermen and women and about fishing, a primary cultural imperative here.

Never wet a line or staggered to the Derby shed at 9:59 pm to weigh-in before the doors closed? No problem. This book works on a variety of levels and has been crafted lovingly by Mr. Jerome as a showcase of both Mr. Ellis’s considerable artistic talent and his community commitment.

Each of the 25 paintings Mr. Ellis created as a mitzvah to the Derby is reproduced in an 18×24 inch high-quality volume. Sale of the prints of the paintings and the income from their first collaboration, “Fishing The Vineyard,” published in 2000, has produced a staggering $500,000 in scholarships for Island kids since Mr. Ellis put paint to Derby canvas in 1988.

His 26th and final work, an evocative landscape of the Cape Poge Light on Chappaquiddick, is aptly titled “Journey’s End” and is the cover art for the book.

Each of the 25 prints includes a back story by an Island angler about fishing at that spot or an historical footnote, such as the 1998 print “The Harpooner,” accompanied by Arthur Railton’s account of a German submarine’s sinking of the Progress during World War I, leaving Captain Bob Jackson of Edgartown and his crew rowing a dory 50 miles from shore.

Some stories, no matter how often retold, give fishermen a blood rush. Mr. Jerome wrote the story of “Columbus Day Blitz,” a 2000 rendering by Mr. Ellis of a night when huge striped bass ran like bluefish and every cast was a hit. That night has become the ne plus ultra of Island fish tales. Now Mr. Jerome was really there, but, like Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series homer, if everyone who believed they were present actually were there, both Fenway Park and Tisbury Great Pond would have sunk below sight.

Other stories remind us of the noble beauty of striped bass, which creates a willingness and respect for them. For example, Derby icon Janet Messineo has a hard and fast rule to release her first bass of the Derby, keepers included. Accompanying “Stripers at Devil’s Bridge (1999),” Cynthia DeFelice writes about the night she caught the largest striper of her life, and then, awed by its power and beauty lying in the shallows, released it.

A look at the contributors to “An Amazing Story …” reminds us that fishing is not a guy thing and its lure cuts across all walks of life. Contributors include a retired ironworker (world striped bass record-holder Charlie Cinto) and Vineyard salts like Everett Poole, Bailey Norton, and Cooper Gilkes, all fishing cheek to jowl with Rhodes scholars (Arthur Gordon) and nationally-known journalists and authors, including Nelson Bryant and Philip Craig.

Contributors include: Spider Andresen, Jeff Dando, Jack Fallon, Chris Kennedy, Mike Laptew, Mark Alan Lovewell, Ms. Messineo, Tom Richardson, Nelson Sigelman, Greg Skomal, Matthew Stackpole, and Bridget Tobin.

Mr. Jerome also sheds light on how the Ellis prints came to be. Turns out that every year in winter, Mr. Ellis and his talented gofer and model, Mr. Jerome, would visit likely fishing sites for the following year’s print. They would gauge tide, time of day, and available light, then skitter across dunes and man-sized boulders to set up the perfect scene, captured first in photography, then in sketch form before Mr. Ellis painted the final scene.

Their willingness to plan resulted in perfect renditions, including “Greeting the Islander (2009),” commemorating the last voyage of the beloved Steamship Authority ferry, which completed 57 years of service in 2007.

“Ray insisted that a recognizable Island landmark be included in every panting so that people who had visited the Island would have a framework to remember their time here,” Mr. Jerome told The Times last week. “One thing that’s special to me is that it’s really a piece of Vineyard history. Twenty-five years of Ray Ellis’s work and its unique place in our history. It was a joy for me to be part of it.” The former Edgartown School principal noted that part of the book’s proceeds will go to the Derby’s scholarship fund.

Edgartown Books will host a book signing event with Mr. Jerome and contributing authors on Friday, July 18, at 5 pm. Edgartown Books is located at 44 Main St. in Edgartown. For more information, call 508-627-8463.

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“The Vineyard We Knew” by Kevin Parham. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, C’est La Vie in Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown Books.

Kevin Parham has written a gem of a memoir about his life as an African-American city kid summering on Martha’s Vineyard in the bucolic 1950s and in the charged 1960s.

This book sneaks up on you. Mr. Parham quietly enfolds the reader into the personalities of his family and friends, particularly his gaggle of siblings, cousins, and himself — initially an unwilling vacationer — as we watch them evolve each summer from children into teenagers under the ever-watchful eye of Nana, before whom Attila the Hun would quail.

Mr. Parham’s work is redolent with minute details of daily summer life on the Vineyard in the late 1950s, a full generation before well-heeled crowds packed the Island. In his introduction, Mr. Parham — a writer and musician who lives in Plymouth with his wife, Olivia — notes that he has had extensive conversations with family and friends to recreate specific events and activities of their coming of age years.

Mr. Parham, an Oak Bluffs summer resident, will discuss “The Vineyard We Knew” on Thursday, July 24, at 6:30 pm at the Oak Bluffs Library.

What we get is an unflinching, unsanitized story, told sequentially through the eyes of a small child, an adolescent, and a coming-of-age teen, overlaid with the perspective of an adult who understands its significance in shaping the person he has become.

Writing through his child’s eye, for example, Mr. Parham employs infinitesimal detail to create an apparently vast physical universe around Nana’s home at 48 Pacific Avenue in Oak Bluffs — just as the world would appear to a six- or seven-year-old.

In fact, his detailed descriptions of the walking and bike routes taken by he and his siblings and friends through fields, woods, fruit orchards, and the cemetery en route to Circuit Avenue, less than a half-mile away, seemed so exotic to me that I went to the site of 48 Pacific Ave. last Sunday morning in an attempt to recreate for myself what that landscape must have looked like 50 years ago.

The neighborhood today is far different from the unheated two-bedroom shacks of Mr. Parham’s youth. I encountered rehabs and new builds with appropriately Spandex-clad inhabitants, but I saw little evidence of the unruly riot of flora and fauna that caught the eye and stimulated the imagination of an urban kid willing himself to live and flourish in an unfamiliar environment.

Nana’s summer roost is long gone, replaced by the Oak Bluffs Library. However, if you pause to sit on the bench at the gazebo next to the library, where 48 Pacific Ave. stood, you will find an inscription on it to Carrie White and Beatrice Parham Hammonds, Mr. Parham’s grandmother and mother.

“The Vineyard We Knew” is also a story of wary, urban African-American kids who discovered the freedom of acceptance, of being one with a polyglot community of cultures and skin tones on an island far removed from a formalized culture of racism 80 miles away in Boston.

Mr. Parham tells us he is glad of that early experience as he managed his way through assassinations, the wars against racism in this country and in Vietnam, and the peace and love movement of blessed memory, including his initial participation in the sexual revolution on the Island during the summer of his 17th year.

This is his first try at authorship. “I wrote the book because I had always shared stories with family and friends of our time on the Vineyard,” he told The Times in a phone conversation last week.

“Really, the book is to honor my mother and my grandmother for what they’d done for us, the sacrifices they made that I only understood as an adult. Maybe I was also hearkening back to a time long-past.

“But I do believe that our experiences as children are definitely a blueprint for the rest of our lives. During childhood, of course, we have no frame of reference about that. No awareness of what’s possible through perseverance.”

Mr. Parham’s willingness to show us his insides — fears, insecurities, and pratfalls — during a youthful decade or more of his life on the Island is authentic and will jog our own memories of the scary growing-up time. If you’re an Islander, his descriptions and references to long-gone people and places here will remind you of a simpler time in your life.

Author’s Talk with Kevin Parham, Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Oak Bluffs Library. For more information, call 508-693-9433.