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Like the moths that flit thickly around their outdoor lights in rural Virginia, the words must fly around Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown’s house on the campus of Sweet Briar College. Because not only Carrie and John are writers, but so is their daughter Molly McCully Brown.
Family lore holds that a tiny Molly used to wake in the middle of the night and call for her mother or father because a poem was waiting and she couldn’t yet write well enough to capture it. And she had two parental examples of how to live an adult life: Catch those words swooping around and write them down.
Molly’s first book of poetry won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, and starting in September, she’ll work as the inaugural Jeff Baskins Fellow at the Oxford American magazine.
John Gregory and Carrie Brown are returning to Columbia, the town where their family story started, for a reading to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of this town. The pair of novelists met while working at the storied Columbia Flier, and then began their family and their careers as authors.
They’ll read together at an event June 4 at Slayton House that HoCoPoLitSo is calling “Of Stars and Hurricanes: Two Columbia Novelists Return.” Carrie Brown’s newest novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, centers on the life of eighteenth-century astronomer Caroline Herschel, while John Gregory Brown’s 2016 book A Thousand Miles from Nowhere follows a man fleeing the wreckage of his life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Both authors’ main characters, while living in different centuries and countries, seek redemption, for a way to save themselves.
In her opening chapter, Carrie Brown writes that Caroline thinks “a girl was not taught anything that could save her in the larger world.” Desperate to escape an abusive mother and repressive poverty, Caroline is rescued by her elder brother, William Herschel, an astronomer who, with Caroline’s help, discovers Uranus and myriad comets. Carrie explains that the relationship of the siblings – in which Caroline so closely cares for her brother that she sometimes feeds him bits of bread and cheese while he keeps both hands and his eyes on the telescopes he manufactures – was “fertile material” for a novel.
The Boston Globe writes, “Carrie Brown takes up the real life saga of the Herschels and breathes fresh life into it in her lyrical and riveting new novel … .”
“Historical fiction fills in the spaces where history is silent,” Carrie explained at a recent reading in Baltimore. Carrie tells the Herschels’ story, massaging it into the arc of fiction, to “tell the other truth of their story.”
John Gregory Brown’s fiction is based in history – the horrible story of Hurricane Katrina – but is invented whole cloth. A former New Orleans professor loses his way, buys a store that becomes a gathering spot and exchange depot, then flees north ahead of the hurricane winds. “I am a wrecked ship,” the protagonist says in the novel. He winds up at a rural Virginia hotel owned by an East Indian widow, then discovers a community willing to lend him aid and an epic poem that might save his soul. The Boston Globe calls his book “…a tale of redemption that is both believably prosaic and incredibly, quietly moving … .”
The two novelists will read together and answer questions at this event, which also honors Ellen Conroy Kennedy, the founder and longtime executive director of HoCoPoLitSo, and her husband and longtime supporter and board member of HoCoPoLitSo, for their decades of contributions to Columbia’s cultural life.
For tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2725249.
For more information about Carrie Brown, visit http://authorcarriebrown.com/
For more information about John Gregory Brown, visit http://jgb.blog.sbc.edu/about/
For more information about Molly McCully Brown, visit https://mollymccullybrown.com/
— Susan Thornton Hobby
You’ll find a number of new episodes have recently been posted onto the HoCoPoLitSo YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/hocopolitso.
In part, you’ll find:
- Novelist Carrie Brown speaks with short story writer Edith Pearlman. (2012)
- Michael Dirda speaks with Marie Arana about her memoir Marie Arana speaks with writer and editor Michael Dirda about her memoir, “American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood,” and the ghost of culture. (2001)
- Sue Ellen Thompson in conversation with Mark Doty about on memory, mackerel and verse. (2010)
- Claire Keegan talks of the art of subtraction with Terence Winch. (2010)
Look also for episodes featuring Colm Tóibin, Manil Suri, Mary Gordan, Li-Young Lee, Alice McDermott and Joy Harjo. And here is Michael Harper talking about the poetry of Sterling Brown with Roland Flint:
If you are logged into YouTube through your own account, you can follow the HoCoPoLitSo channel and get updates every time there are new posts.
HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life archives, featuring contemporary writers in conversation with other writers, are being digitized and put online as a resource for the world over. As with any such project, this effort can use your support. If you are willing and able, please make a donation to HoCoPoLitSo to ensure the continued success of this project and its contribution to the world’s literary heritage. Thank you.
On June 27th, HoCoPoLitSo will host the renowned short story writer Edith Pearlman. The event, part of this year’s Columbia Festival of the Arts will be held at the lovely Oakland Manor. In preparation for Ms. Pearlman’s visit, we offer these resources.
(Note: Edith Pearlman’s books, available online through the normal outlets, will be for sale at the reading. Edith Pearlman will be recording an episode of HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life on her visit where she will be in conversation with author Carrie Brown. Look for information about airing dates on this website in the coming months.)
- The Millions Interview, “Overnight Sensation? Edith Pearlman on Fame and the Importance of Short Fiction.” As The Rumpus says, “The interview includes ambling thoughts on Pearlman’s work and interests, and includes mention of Hermes typewriters, polar expeditions, gun collecting, Pearlman’s stylistic influences, and the task of literature.”
- Biblio Buffet’s Talking Across the Table: “Edith Pearlman: An Interview.“
- The Practice of Creativity: “Women Writers form the Present Who Inspire – Edith Pearlman.“
- Boston Globe, “With ‘Binocular Vision,’ Brookline’s Edith Pearlman catches the eye of the literary establishment Short Stories, Long Career.“
- Wall Street Journal, “Butterflies and Pariahs.”
- Edith Pearlman reads from Binocular Vision at the 2011 NBA Finalists Reading
- Reading “Lineage” from Binocular Vision, Center for Fiction, 2011.
And, of course, there is Pearlman’s own website: www.edithpearlman.com.