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And Some Thoughts About Our Literary Future.

Author Ed Hoagland, published two books this year. Photo by Michael Cummo.

The Island’s 2014 literary life was chock-a-block with fledgling authors, fresh growth in our writing hothouses, and several new opportunities for our band of Island word carpenters to display their work.

In fact, bookish goings-on for the past few years prompted me to think that the Island has an opportunity to create a new literary season during the period currently known as winter — for five reasons.

We have street cred, which is the basis of all brands. Several generations of best-quality, nationally-known writers: the Styrons, Mike Wallace, Art Buchwald, David G. McCullough, Ward Just, John Hough, Geraldine Brooks, Tony Horwitz, Rick Patterson, Ed Hoagland, Linda Fairstein, and on and on.

We have creative hothouses, including the laudable Pathways Projects Institutes, brainchild of Marianne Goldberg, which provides support, a performance venue, and an audience for Island writers.

We have teachers and places for manufacturing good writing, including mentors John Hough and Nancy Aronie, Justen Ahren’s Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, Cynthia Riggs-Attebery’s long-running Cleaveland House group, and a host of other writing and poetry groups.

We have a market with strong demand. No one, with the possible exception of Peter Oberfest, was more amazed than I by the turnout at the Islanders Read conference on a muggy August day at the old Grange Hall. Hundreds and hundreds of people showed up with serious writing intentions.

We have a successful on-Island publishing house. More on that below.

The pieces are in place.

The 2014 reads I enjoyed most include some first efforts that pleasantly surprised me, a couple of books by established writers, and several from folks who are making a second career in writing. As always, the books discussed here include offerings written by Island-connected writers that I read this year.

I made up the award titles, but we couldn’t actually have an awards ceremony. It would be a good fundraiser and a helluva good evening, though.

"Down in Laos" by Frank Partel Jr.
“Down in Laos” by Frank Partel Jr.

First novels by Jib Ellis (Bandstand, The Search for the Oak Island Gold) and Thea Marsh (Shores of the Heart) led that category. They were good reads with some literary sizzle and future promise. The Mystery Of The Cliff House, a young adult book by Jay Henry Kaufman belongs in the group as well.

Frank Partel Jr. gets the Most Improved Writer award for Down in Laos, a history-based novel of the war in Vietnam. Mr. Partel’s third Vietnam naval novel freed itself from past bondage of incomprehensible U.S. Navy acronyms and set free a wonderful story.

The Out of Her Comfort Zone award goes to Cynthia Riggs-Attebery for Murder on C-Dock, a radical departure from her successful string of nonagenarian Victoria Trumbull sleuthers.

"BOOM!" by Tony Horwitz.
“BOOM!” by Tony Horwitz.

BOOM! by Tony Horwitz gets the Most Infuriatingly Underappreciated Book award. Mr. Horwitz spent six months traveling the 1,200 miles of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas recording the development of a shale oil project whose pipeline, if approved, will pass through, not under, the aquifer of some of this country’s most fertile farmland.

Media Watch reports that the project is one of the most under-reported business and environmental stories of the year, yet the facts are there in BOOM!, currently an e-book, since Mr. Horwitz’s online publisher went belly-up before launching the book. Read it.

The late painter Ray Ellis was the subject of two important Island books this year with assists from C.K. Wolfson and Derbyman Ed Jerome. Painting A Life: Ray Ellis: An Artist Seen Through His Work by C.K. Wolfson is a biography of an important and well-loved artist who served his community literally until his dying day.

An Amazing Story of the Vineyard’s Derby: 25 years of Paintings, History and Fishing by Ed Jerome and Ray Ellis, Introduction by C.K. Wolfson, is the second Ray Ellis book. The book includes all of his Derby prints and the back story of their genesis. Sales of Mr. Ellis’s Derby prints are the backbone of literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of scholarships and help to Islanders over the decades. A book to own.

I like John Hough Jr. for the Wish I Wrote That Book award for Little Big Horn, which made Custer, the event, and the period come to life for me. Mr. Hough combines a journalist’s nose with a literary skill to put you in that period and place.

"Some Kind of Lucky: a 50-year love affair with Martha's Vineyard" by Joan Cowen Bowman.
“Some Kind of Lucky: a 50-year love affair with Martha’s Vineyard” by Joan Cowen Bowman.

The Personal Courage Award goes to Some Kind of Lucky: a 50-year love affair with Martha’s Vineyard by Joan Cowen Bowman, photos by Alison Shaw. Ms. Bowman offers an unflinching look at her life that will resonate with all readers, particularly those of us approaching the summing-up phase of our lives.

There were other 2014 books of note, thanks to writers like Rick Herrick and Chris Knowles who let us know the trove of ideas, knowledge, and talent available to us here.

Sadly, we learned this year that Jan Pogue, co-creator of the Vineyard Stories, our successful on-Island publishing house, will begin a two-year process of winding down the company she and John Walter, her late husband, brought to life — to our everlasting gratitude and delight.

Ms. Pogue’s life here is a terrific story of spiritual journey. We’ll tell it another time. Suffice to say now that dozens of Island stories would not have been told, certainly with far less beauty and elegance, had Vineyard Stories not been here to tell them.

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Susie Middleton and Suzan Bellincampi top “best of” lists from NPR and The Boston Globe.

Island authors Susie Middleton and Suzan Bellincampi are honored for their books this year. – Photos courtesy of Susie Middleton/Ralph Stewart

As the year draws to a close, works from the past 12 months have been revisited, and two Island writers have received accolades for their books. Susie Middleton’s part cookbook, part memoir Fresh from the Farm was named among NPR’s Book Concierge, a guide to the great books published in 2014. The book chronicles Ms. Middleton’s adventures in farming and cooking, and is full of seasonal recipes highlighting fresh local food all year long. Ms. Middleton, former chief editor of Fine Cooking magazine, is a food blogger and farmer at West Tisbury’s Green Island Farm. NPR staff and critics selected some 250 of their favorite titles and featured Fresh from the Farm among their cookbook selections. See below for Ms. Middleton’s Big Molasses Crinkle Cookies recipe, as seen in Fresh from the Farm. 

Island author and Felix Neck Director Suzan Bellincampi was also honored for her book Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature by The Boston Globe in their roundup of the best New England books of 2014. Published by Vineyard Stories, Ms. Bellincampi’s book is a fully illustrated guidebook based on the late Anne Hale’s classic natural history book Moraine to Marsh. The book includes trail guides to six favorite Island walks along with directions and sightseeing tips along the way. See below for an excerpt on Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary from Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.

 

Susie Middleton’s part cookbook, part memoir Fresh from the Farm.
Susie Middleton’s “Fresh from the Farm”

Big Molasses Crinkle Cookies

Copyright Susie Middleton, from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories

This is a softer, chewier version of a childhood favorite. It’s also a bit bigger (as in diameter), since I roll the dough into fairly large balls. They bake out at between 3 and 4 inches across. But you can certainly make smaller cookies; just check to see if they are done after 9 minutes or so. At any size, the cookies are best removed from the oven a little underdone, as they will continue to cook as they cool. The dough needs to be chilled for 45 minutes to an hour, but it can also be chilled overnight if you like. The cookies freeze well, too. Recipe makes 16 4-inch cookies.

2¼ cups (10½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

Table salt

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

¼ cup unsulfured molasses

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about a minute. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. Add the egg and beat on medium speed until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the molasses and the vegetable oil and beat on medium-low speed until well combined. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. With the motor running on low, spoon in the dry ingredients gradually and mix until just combined (you’ll still see some flour). Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a silicone spatula to finish gently mixing the last bits of flour into the dough.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Heat the oven to 375°F degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Put a small bowl of water out. Roll the dough into big balls that are about 1½ inches (or a smidge bigger) in diameter. Dip each ball in the sugar and roll around to coat. Put each on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each dough ball with a little water. Repeat, spacing dough balls 4 to 5 inches apart on the baking sheets. (You’ll get 4 to 5 cookies on a sheet pan.)

Bake until the cookies are set around the edges, slightly puffed (they will collapse as they cool), and crackled on the top, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to opposite racks halfway through cooking. (Smaller cookies will cook in about 10 minutes.) Cool on the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, putting new parchment on the baking sheets.

Keep the cookies well wrapped in plastic inside a zip-top bag in the freezer or well-wrapped at room temperature for a day or two. To warm cookies, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 2 to 4 minutes.

 

Suzan Bellincampi's Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature
Suzan Bellincampi’s “Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature”

The Natural Features of Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary

Copyright Suzan Bellincampi, from Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature

In this sanctuary a wide diversity of habitats are present: mature woodlands, freshwater ponds and wetlands, a beach, dunes, and a bluff on a headland that projects farther into Vineyard Sound than any other place along the north shore between Gay Head and West Chop. A magnificent panorama of the Elizabeth Islands is visible from the bluff.

The natural features of Cedar Tree Neck are typical of Up-Island and the western moraine and differ from those Down-Island, as seen at Felix Neck. The topography here is steeper. Extensive networks of fresh water and occasional large erratics, boulders left here by the glaciers, are found.

When you walk the trails, the many ridges and valleys in this sanctuary become apparent. Some are preglacial deposits that were folded as the glacier, which acted like a bulldozer, pushed against them. Others were deposits laid down as the ice paused during its uneven retreat.

Many types of freshwater habitats lie within the folds of land: streams, brooks, freshwater ponds, swamps, and bogs—as great a variety of wetlands as can be found in any one area open to the public on Martha’s Vineyard. Plants and associated fauna specific to these habitats are abundant.

The sanctuary’s woodlands are among the most mature woodlands on the Island. Most of the trees are oaks, but characteristic of the western moraine, other tree species live in these older woods. Some of the Vineyard’s finest stands of beech flourish here. Sassafras and hickory grow in the lowland woodlands, while red maple and beetlebung populate the wetter habitats.

Stone walls course through the property. Though they seem to run aimlessly uphill and down through the woodlands, they mark the boundaries of former pas- turelands and remain as testaments to the strong backs and hard work of the early settlers. Many deer live along the north shore where there are open woodlands, development is tightly controlled, and hunting is limited.

You are unlikely to see an abundance of birds in the deep woods during the day. In the daylight hours they frequent edges in search of food, so look for them in hedges, thickets, and along the shoreline. Look and listen for the black-capped chickadee and the white-breasted nuthatch, both year-rounders. Woodpeckers, perhaps the hairy—more likely the smaller downy—will also be about. Keep an eye out for the northern flicker and for the scarlet tanager, an uncommon summer visitor that prefers deciduous woodlands and has been seen and heard along the trails on the upper part of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary has been set aside for wildlife study and preservation, not as a recreational facility. Allow adequate time to explore. Although the shorter walk option takes a bit more than an hour including brief stops at points of interest, this unique refuge invites dalliance to savor the peace and relative solitude.

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Literary Festival is Monday, August 11, at the Grange.

Islanders Write — a day of discussion about the art, craft and business of writing — will be at the Grange Hall, Monday, August 11. Panels are scheduled all day, from 7:45 am (Writing for Radio with Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Rob Rosenthal, Mindy Todd and Sean Corcoran) to 4 pm (Closing Thoughts with Peter Oberfest and David McCullough). Other panelists include Susan Branch, Tony Horwitz, Jan Pogue, Alexandra Styron, Nicole Galland, Jessica Harris, Nancy Slonim Aronie, John Hough, Geraldine Brooks and Ward Just, among others.

In addition to panel discussions upstairs at the Grange, the first floor will feature interactive opportunities — workshops with Justen Ahren of Noepe and Michael West (at 10 am, 1 pm and 3 pm); and with Nancy Aronie at 4 pm. Outside, independent authors such as Amelia Smith, Jib Ellis, and Tom Dresser will host a tent with their books and offer advice on self-publishing.

Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Edgartown Books will stock tables with the books of the authors and publishers on the panels. They’ll be signing books after their panel discussions. Their most recent works are listed below.

If all this makes you hungry, no fear, Flatbread will be in attendance with its mobile wood-fired pizza oven.

For more information, and a detailed schedule, visit: mvartsandideas.com/2014/07/islanders-write/.

Below are some of the books published by Islanders Write authors since August 2013. Authors will be available for signing these books and other titles at the event.

“A Fine Romance, Falling in Love with the English Countryside”

By Susan Branch, Vineyard Stories (August, 2013)

Part love story, part travel guide, a hand-written and watercolored personal travel journal of Susan’s six-day transatlantic crossing on board the Queen Mary 2 and two-month ramble through the backroads of rural England. There are over 300 photos, countless illustrations, wonderful quotes, recipes, a book list, a movie list, watercolored maps, and much more.

“The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark”

By Meryl Gordon, Grand Central Publishing (May 27, 2014)

Born in 1906, Huguette Clark grew up in her family’s 121-room Beaux Arts mansion in New York and was one of the leading celebrities of her day. Her father, William Andrews Clark, was a copper magnate, the second richest man in American, and not above bribing his way into the Senate.

At 22, Huguette had a personal fortune of $50 million to her name. Yet, she began to withdraw from society, first living with her mother in a kind of Grey Gardens isolation then as a modern-day Miss Havisham, spending her days in a vast apartment overlooking Central Park, eating crackers and watching The Flintstones. ln her later life, she was manipulated by shady hangers-on and hospitals that were only too happy to admit (and bill) a healthy woman. But what happened to Huguette that turned a vivacious, young socialite into a recluse? And what was her life like inside that gilded, copper cage?

war of the whales cover“War of The Whales: A True Story”

By Joshua Horwitz, Simon & Schuster (July 1, 2014)

“War of the Whales” is the gripping tale of a crusading attorney who stumbles on one of the U.S. Navy’s best-kept secrets: a submarine detection system that floods entire ocean basins with high-intensity sound — and drives whales onto beaches.

As Joel Reynolds launches a legal fight to expose and challenge the Navy program, marine biologist Ken Balcomb witnesses a mysterious mass stranding of whales near his research station in the Bahamas. Investigating this calamity, Balcomb is forced to choose between his conscience and an oath of secrecy he swore to the Navy in his youth.

When Balcomb and Reynolds team up to expose the truth behind an epidemic of mass strandings, the stage is set for an epic battle that pits admirals against activists, rogue submarines against weaponized dolphins, and national security against the need to safeguard the ocean environment. Waged in secret military labs and the nation’s highest court, this is a real-life thriller that combines the best of legal drama, natural history, and military intrigue.

“BOOM: Oil, Money, Cowboys, Strippers, and the Energy Rush That Could Change America Forever”

By Tony Horwitz, Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (2014)

In “BOOM,” prize–winning reporter Tony Horwitz takes a spirited road trip through the wild new frontier of energy in North America. His journey begins in subarctic Alberta, where thousands of miners labor in an industrial moonscape to extract the region’s oil-rich tar sands. Horwitz then follows the route of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline that may carry tar-sands oil from Canada across Montana, the Dakotas, and Nebraska en route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Horwitz’s 4,000-mile adventure brings him into contact with astonishing characters on all sides of the energy boom. He meets “rig pigs” and “cement heads” hoping to make a quick fortune laboring in the oilfields; casino operators and strippers eager to relieve workers of their high wages; farmers and Native Americans who fear the pipeline’s impact on land, water, and climate; and Keystone cowboys who tout the economic benefits of the oil-rush in progress on the Plains.

“Little Bighorn: A Novel”

By John Hough, Jr. Arcade Publishing (June 3, 2014)

As a favor to the beautiful actress Mary Deschenes, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer hires her 18-year-old son Allen Winslow as an aide for his 1876 campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne. Traveling west against his will, Allen finds himself in the company of Addie Grace Lord, 16, sister of one of Custer’s regimental surgeons. The two fall in love, and it is with foreboding that Addie Grace watches Allen and her brother George ride out with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. Weeks later in Montana, hundreds of miles to the west, the Seventh brings its quarry to bay beside the river called the Little Bighorn.

“American Romantic”

By Ward Just, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 1, 2014)

Harry Sanders is a young foreign service officer in 1960s Indochina when a dangerous and clandestine meeting with insurgents — ending in quiet disaster — and a brief but passionate encounter with Sieglinde, a young German woman, alter the course of his life.

Absorbing the impact of his misstep, Harry returns briefly to Washington before eventual assignments in Africa, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean. He marries the captivating May, who is fleeing her own family disappointments in New England and looking for an escape into Harry’s diplomatic life.

On the surface, they are a handsome, successful couple — but the memory of Sieglinde persists in Harry’s thoughts, and May has her own secrets too. As Harry navigates the increasingly treacherous waters of diplomacy in an age of interminable conflict, he also tries to bridge the distances between himself and the two alluring women who have chosen to love him.

“S is for Sea Glass: A Beach Alphabet”

By Richard Michelson, Sleeping Bear Press (January 1, 2014)

The tickle of sand on the bottom of bare feet… the taste of salt from a spray of water… the rumble-roar as waves come ashore. These are just a few of the many sensory experiences a day at the beach can bring. “S is for Sea Glass” uses a variety of poetry forms such as free verse, haiku, and ode in this celebration of the beach and seaside life. From a walk down the boardwalk to collecting sea glass to imagining the life of a shell’s former occupant, poet Richard Michelson reminds beach-lovers of all ages the many reasons why we’re drawn to the shore.

MiddletonFresh from the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories”

By Susie Middleton, Taunton Press; (February 11, 2014)

“Fresh from the Farm”goes beyond traditional “fresh” cookbooks by sharing the engaging story of one woman’s quest for a simpler life. Susie gave up her high-powered corporate job, bought a farm on a rural island, and started planting and growing vegetables and fruit in the hopes of finding a more satisfying life. And did she ever. This inspirational, memoir-type cookbook features 125 seasonal recipes that highlight Susie’s homegrown produce. Although the recipes aren’t all vegetarian, they are healthful, simple, and, of course, delicious. The book chronicles how growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, and honoring them in the kitchen each day, continue to shape Susie’s life.

“Edward Hopper Paints His World”

By Wendell Minor, Henry Holt and Co, (August 2014)

As a boy, Edward Hopper knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: on the cover of his pencil box, he wrote the words EDWARD HOPPER, WOULD-BE ARTIST. He traveled to New York and to Paris to hone his craft. And even though no one wanted to buy his paintings for a long time, he never stopped believing in his dream to be an artist.

He was fascinated with painting light and shadow and his works explore this challenge. Hopper’s story is one of courage, resilience, and determination. In this striking picture book biography, Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor invite young readers into the world of a truly special American painter (most celebrated for his paintings “Nighthawks” and “Gas”).

chesca-and-the-spirit-of-grace“Chesca and the Spirit of Grace”

By Lara O’Brien, Lara O’Brien Publishing (November 10, 2013)

A story of love and land, of winning friendships and having the courage to believe in your dreams. Eleven-year-old Chesca, Howth’s greatest (and only) Trick Rider, plans to ride Malley, the farm’s wild stallion, and put on a show no one will forget. But then her Ma gets sick and Da stops talking, which leaves the farmyard wide open to all kinds of problems. Inspired by Ireland’s most famous Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, Chesca must take on the might of a developer, rally a town, and fight the fight of her life to save all she holds dear. An Irish tale of talking animals, a magical mountain, and galloping sideways.

  “Kale, Glorious Kale”KaleGloriousKale_cover

By Catherine Walthers, Countryman Press (August 2014)

Kale, Glorious Kale” is the gateway to the greatest green superfood we have. Rich in antioxidants, fiber, flavonoids, and more, kale has created a whole green food movement.

Now, with the guidance of bestselling cookbook author Walthers and the stunning photography of Alison Shaw, every home cook can explore the multitude of ways this most healthy of foods can be made into delectable and satisfying meals. From Baked Eggs Over Kale in the morning to kale snacks and appetizers, salads, soups, side dishes, and main courses like Pork Braised with Kale and Cider for dinner, this book will be your complete guide to the greatest of green vegetables.

“BUZBuzzd coverZD – The Bee Kill Conspiracy”

By Michael West (August 1, 2014)

Set in the scenic natural beauty of Martha’s Vineyard, “BUZZD – The Bee Kill Conspiracy” tells the story of corporate greed, mercenary killing, and a new agricultural chemical that endangers the island ecosystem. Afghan war vet and special ops marine Sam Hill uncovers the truth about the death of an EPA official, swarmed by killer bees. Sam finds a single loose thread and pulls on it until he unravels a national conspiracy that could threaten the entire planet.

A day of discussion about the art, craft and business of writing. Join us for panel discussions, book signings, workshops and other literary delights.

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

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, childrens book authors and illustrators often wonder, What’s the use of a book without pictures or conversations?
Kate Feiffer, Richard Michelson, Florence Minor and Wendell Minor

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, Tina Miller, Joan Nathan and Catherine Walthers

2:00-2:45 Writing Workshops
Tough love or loving support. What works?
John Hough, 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

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.
Flatbread Pizza’s mobile wood-fired pizza truck will also be in attendance.