Jan Pogue’s love of this place is reflected in the final three books she has chosen to publish in 2015 before shuttering her Vineyard Stories publishing company after 10 extraordinary years of success.
Vineyard Stories is a story itself. Ms. Pogue and her husband, John Walter, launched their publishing enterprise in 2005. Three years later, the respected former journalist died unexpectedly, his shattered widow holding the pieces of their life and meticulously crafting them into a mosaic of their shared dream.
Ms. Pogue has completed that work and is — meticulously — ending the active life of Vineyard Stories. Island readers and writers will miss the little publishing company that could, and did, present us with nearly 50 top-quality works, several of which earned a spot on best-seller lists. Now, as a farewell, she has provided us with three perspectives on Martha’s Vineyard, representing more than 40 years of our history.
The first comes from Tom Dunlop, author of three other books for Vineyard Stories, who has compiled and edited a group of essays about the Island by Pulitzer prizewinner William A. Caldwell called “Reflections on Martha’s Vineyard.” Mr. Caldwell wrote the pieces as a weekly columnist for more than a decade at the Vineyard Gazette.
Mr. Dunlop culled hundreds of Mr. Caldwell’s columns, and arranged his selections by topic, on the Island, nature, food, language, seasons, and predicaments. The cover photo of Mr. Caldwell makes the man look like his words, at once bearded and bemused, with world-wise but sparkling eyes looking out from under a fisherman’s cap. (Mr. Dunlop has been actively promoting the book around the Island, and will read from the collection again on Wednesday, August 5, at 7 pm at the Edgartown library.)
His style fits and describes the place, often through the recounting of otherwise unremarkable events. His
daughter, Alix Caldwell McArdle, says in back-cover notes: “I do not know why writers write. I do not know why my Pop wrote. But these Vineyard Gazette columns give me the best hint: It is to bear witness.”
The second Vineyard Stories offering comes from new author Adam Moore, executive director of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, who writes as a diarist, with monthly reflections in “A Year on Martha’s Vineyard.” I wish Mr. Moore’s book was around 30 years ago. Before I lived here, I scrounged for Vineyard publications and books to read over the winter, in anticipation of next year. It will resonate this winter when I am snug in Vineyard Haven.
It’s that kind of read, and a wonderful first effort by Mr. Moore. He writes quietly and with great clarity in a monthly rhythm about living here, in a series of short essays — reports and reflections really — throughout the seasons of a year.
Mr. Moore, who is a naturalist by trade and clearly by his own nature, tells us small stories; what a blizzard feels like up-Island, and how stunned he is by the fertility of this place. Here’s a Walt Whitmanesque sample from July: “A day or two later I walked through the woods at Pennywise Preserve in Edgartown and was amazed to see the profusion, the fecundity of huckleberries. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I stepped, were plump, ripe, black huckleberries. That July I found myself absolutely astounded by the sheer beauty around. I remain astounded to this day.”
The third book, by artist Gail Rodney, represents the efforts of a summer she spent sketching Island life as she found it, in “A Martha’s Vineyard and Chappy Sketchbook.” The book matches the watercolor scenes with brief commentaries from 28 residents detailing what they love or value most about the Island. Ms. Rodney is a 40-year Chappaquiddick resident whose book was inspired by the Island itself; “the serene beauty stirred a desire to paint and draw.” “A Martha’s Vineyard and Chappy Sketchbook” includes about 150 mostly miniature detailed watercolors of iconic places and pursuits, the things we all see in a given summer. It is visually evocative, made concrete by the words of Island residents accompanying each page of sketches.
It is perhaps not coincidental that photographer Alison Shaw and writer/editor Tom Dunlop collaborated on the final flock of Vineyard Stories. Both have been constant colleagues in the life of Vineyard Stories, perhaps most notably as the photographer and writer respectively for “Morning Glory Farm and the Family that Feeds an Island,” a hugely successful Vineyard Stories book.
For the most recent reads, Ms. Shaw contributed the cover photos for the Caldwell and Moore books. Mr. Dunlop selected and edited the Caldwell compilation.
“Well, I did pick them because each of them expresses the greatest of love for the Vineyard. Gail’s sketchbook and the quotes from residents are about love. The Caldwell book is a retrospective love. And how can you turn down Adam Moore, the quintessential Island naturalist? Ultimately, I chose them, I guess, because they made me happy, as the Vineyard makes me happy,” Ms. Pogue said last week. Ms. Pogue will not build more books, but will remain at Vineyard Stories for a year, shepherding her literary flock.
Good choices: “Reflections on Martha’s Vineyard” ($19.95), “A Martha’s Vineyard And Chappy Sketchbook” ($24.95), and “A Year On Martha’s Vineyard” ($19.95) are available at Island bookstores and libraries.