Last Thursday 10 writers in residence on the Island read new work from a range of literary forms to a small, appreciative audience at the West Tisbury library.
Fresh voices and new work always add an exciting tang to the audience’s experience, and such was the case at the most recent event of the Writers in Residence spring reading event. The literature from this group of writers in residence at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts in Edgartown was of uniformly high quality, in forms including poetry, essay, fiction, and historical fiction.
The group of eight women and two men who read their work range in publishing experience from best-selling Anna Sequoia to shiny new writers like novelist Diana Sperrazza. The group provided excellent writing, complete with the artistic surprises that delight us as readers.
Each writer read for five minutes, longer than browsers typically read in a bookstore, and plenty of time to provide an understanding of each author’s unique content and style.
One of the joys these literary readings provide is the description of a truth about life that shows up and stays. For example, writer Kelley McGee-Sousa brings years of TV-reporting experience to her satirical novel about a hard-working TV newsroom reporter trying to rebuild her life after a series of personal setbacks, and desperate to improve the show’s lousy ratings. Her protagonist acknowledges that someone having a really bad day is a good news day for TV journalists, but ruefully notes that “I didn’t expect it to be my own.”
Linda Haltmaier is a writer of screenplays, fiction, and poetry. Her chapbook, Catch and Release, was published in February by Finishing Line Press. She read from a group of poems about family generations. The Gingerbread Man, a poem that recalls comfortable childhood tableaux with her now demented mother, will prove particularly arresting for the Sandwich Generation, involved simultaneously in childrearing and senior-care advocacy.
This Noepe group included several memoirists as well. Sean Murphy, author of Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone, published in 2013, read from his next book, a novel, Not to Mention a Nice Life. Tricky business, those memoirs. For the famous, a poorly written memoir will have some legs for the celebrity of it, but woe betide the memoirist who writes badly about an unpublic life.
Luckily Mr. Murphy is safe. He has provided a wry sendup of the manners and mores of 21st century American culture, explained through his own life. The Sean Murphy we meet inspects all the Prufrockian frailties and foibles we carry through life. He admits to social discomfort in daily living, such as his frequent interactions with with a committedly amiable man who actually seems to mean it when he asks Mr. Murphy to “have a nice day … not to mention a nice life.”
The literary potpourri also included historical fiction on a big stage from Zia Wesley, whose interest in women in history brings us the novelized story of Aimée du Buc de Rivéry, a mid-18th century Frenchwoman captured by Barbary pirates and presented to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire as a gift. Aimée provided an heir, and presided over three successive sultanates. In the same era, her cousin Josephine married Napoleon Bonaparte, the subject of another Wesley book. Talk about the hand that rocks the cradle. This family had it goin’ on.
Former Island resident Rachel Weissman shared her progress from a memoir she is working on, Transdaddy and Me: When Everything Was Weird, about life just after her father’s gender reassignment surgery on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1970s. She did not read from that book, but read from an essay set in her childhood.
Ronnie Citron cited her continuing work on the manuscript of her creative nonfiction book, Uncolor. The book chronicles a decision to stop subjecting her body to hair dye. Uncolor begins at a tipping-point moment when she can no longer ignore the spate of headlines that broadcast how dangerous the toxins in hair dyes can be.
Michael Callahan is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Elle magazines. His first novel, Searching for Grace Kelly, was recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His new historical-fiction work, The Night She Won Miss America, is set in 1949 Atlantic City. It is a story inspired by Bette Cooper, who won the Miss America pageant and promptly ran off with her escort on a road trip west, getting more than she had bargained for.
Chicago resident and 2015 recipient of Noepe’s Room 6 Scholarship JoAnn DeAngelo is working on a novel titled Hell with the Lid Off, about mental illness, set in 1950s Ohio.
Diana Sperrazza spent 20 years as a producer of TV news for CBS and CNN. The central-Massachusetts native is a senior executive producer for Investigation Discovery. Her first novel, My Townie Heart, is set to be published by Post Hill Press this year.
Anna Sequoia has published 10 nonfiction books, mostly humor, including a best-seller in the genre. She is currently at work on a short story collection of intertwined tales. She is a co-founder of a Noepe Center residency scholarship.
Presenters were asked what the residency, now in its ninth year, brings to their work. They responded volubly and happily that the sense of “entrainment” as Ms. Sequoia put it, stimulates and focuses their work. Many of the writers have day jobs and families, and enjoy “the safe container,” as Ms. Sperrazzo described the Center, in which to create and commune with fellow creatives.
The Writers in Residence spring reading series, sponsored by the West Tisbury library, convenes next on May 13 at the library, from 5 to 6 pm.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the title of Sean Murphy’s latest book as Not to Mention a Good Life. It is Not to Mention a Nice Life.