Finding Lucy Stone

Katherine Sherbrooke talks about her new book.

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Since reading an advance copy of Katherine Sherbrooke’s “Leaving Coy’s Hill,” I haven’t stopped talking about about the abolitionist, suffragist, and orator Lucy Stone. I hadn’t heard of Lucy Stone before reading the book. But why hadn’t I? Lucy’s Stone’s story is one we should all know, and Sherbrooke’s beautifully written deep dive into Stone’s life and times was revelatory to me. Now that the book’s publication date (May 4) has finally arrived, I’m looking forward to talking about the book with people who have also read it. In anticipation of these upcoming conversations, I asked Sherbrooke, an Aquinnah seasonal resident, a few questions to coincide with the publication date of her second novel.

How come you decided to write Lucy Stone’s story as a novel instead of writing a biography?

I briefly considered writing her story as nonfiction, but I really wanted to inhabit her person, to imagine what it was like to step onto a stage in front of snarling men and speak at a time when that was considered scandalous for a woman, or to imagine the content of her conversations with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Thanks to troves of letters between Lucy Stone and those important to her, I was able to get a pretty good sense of how she thought, and even how she spoke, but staging actual interactions is another thing altogether. I wanted to breathe that kind of life into the story, and could only do that through fiction.

Did you do any of the writing for this book on the Vineyard? 

Yes! I was actually on the Vineyard doing some of my background reading for the book several summers ago when I discovered that Lucy Stone spent time in her later years in Chilmark! Unfortunately, the Vineyard doesn’t make an appearance in the book, as I don’t cover the part of her life when she visited, but that made it extra-fun to work on the book from the Island.

Why is Lucy Stone’s story so relevant today? 

First of all, women continue to fight for our rights (equal pay, reproductive rights, and more) and even for cultural acceptance of our power. Elizabeth Warren’s memoir, “Persist,” comes out the same day as my book, and I think they make great bookends for our time — Lucy as the first woman to speak out regularly for women’s rights and shunned by many for doing so, and Warren, a woman who still faces the headwinds of being considered “pushy” and “brash” for speaking her mind. I will also say that “Leaving Coy’s Hill” is very relevant to the racial reckoning we’ve been experiencing. Lucy began her career lecturing for abolition, a cause dear to her, and there was a major fissure in the women’s movement when the 15th Amendment was written to give Black men the vote before women. Lauded women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton began to use highly charged and racist language to fight against that amendment. It’s a scar in the feminist movement that hasn’t entirely healed to this day, and is something that needs to be brought out into the light.

As things begin to open up again, what are your plans for the launch?

Things are changing on a daily basis. Just in the last week, I’ve had three outdoor, in-person events scheduled starting in June, and I suspect there will be more. I also love to attend book groups, so as groups feel ready to gather in person, I’m hoping to attend as many local gatherings as I can, and I am thrilled to be participating in the Islanders Write conference in the fall. Of course, now that we all know how to Zoom, I also hope to take part in distant book groups virtually too. I’m guessing the hybrid approach will stick with us for a while. Whatever the format, I’m always game to meet readers and talk about the book!

“Leaving Coy’s Hill” is available at Vineyard bookstores, and we encourage you to shop local. Katherine Sherbrooke will speak at this year’s Islander Write. Visit islanderswrite.com.