I wrote an entirely new Chapter 1 for the new edition of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Holt 2006; rev. 2016). The idea to open the biography at a low point in the her life, instead of during childhood was suggested by Garrison Keillor in a review of the first edition appearing in the New York Times ‘Sunday Book’ section: ‘If you were going to draw a movie from this book, you’d start on York Avenue in Manhattan on a cold winter night in the late 1950’s. Pages of manuscript fluttering out of an … Continue reading The First Chapter by Charles J. Shields
My father seemed well enough when I saw him, though he did remind me of someone who’d been woken up too quickly from a deep sleep and was trying really hard not to bump into any walls. I’m not sure how reliable my opinion was though, since I was only there for the weekend and was coming down with the flu or something by the time I got to the house. I felt feverish and sort of submerged most of the time and only felt better when I headed back to the city Sunday night. … Continue reading The Rock of Lost Hope by Bill Gaythwaite
Pecking A pigeon pecking its tail clean on a shady tenement fire escape gives me pause to feel, in its twisting instinct, the fact of life after death— not an afterlife of mine, but of its spawning species after my demise, each bird in each generation curled and tucked toward its tail, each making a soft, gray, feathery circle surrounding—as if protecting— its heart, its presence in my lost paradise. Nature Walk The windblown side of a tree trunk stands drenched, its opposing side dry, the sky— half blue, half clouded— also … Continue reading Pecking and Nature Walk, 2 poems by Mark Belair
Maybe Joan Söderlund’s mother was on to something. “My mother wanted to keep me off my bicycle because I had broken a few bones. I think she thought, ‘If we get her into art and painting, it will keep her out of the hospital,’” joked Joan. “I started taking painting lessons from the time I was seven years old. I never ever considered being anything other than an artist. I spent my whole life saying, ‘I’m going to be an artist.’ Not ever really claiming that I was. I was working at it; … Continue reading Joan Söderlund’s Human Comedy
The Remains of Quanah Parker & Eagle Park Follow Wayne Gipson down through the gate behind the trading post, past the concrete pad of the old amphitheater where Reba McIntire once appeared, and just behind the rusted ruins of the roller coaster and you’ll see one of the most legendary houses in America – Quanah Parker’s Star House. Schoolchildren of the southern Great Plains grow up learning the legend of Parker, son of an Anglo settler captured in a Comanche raid and the chief who took her for a wife. Quanah became a Comanche leader … Continue reading Texture of a Passing World
In addition to being the second Monday in October—a month with, yikes, five Mondays in 2017—October 9 this year (and every so often) commemorates Columbus Day. Are you planning to celebrate? Or use the time off to go shopping? Forget the bank, the library, the Post Office and the DMV. But, if you have the day off, have a good time anyway. The airlines will be flying. The stores will be open. October 9 wasn’t (and isn’t) always a holiday, of course. Columbus Day originally was assigned to October 12, the generally agreed-upon birthdate of … Continue reading What’s So Great About October 9?
I’m seven years old, and streams of people lean on the walls of the viewing room, standing in line for their turn to see my father in his coffin. I’m so close that the slippery gloss of the lacquered wood slides against my scratchy dress. The smell of lilies mixes with Mr. Clean, making the flowers seem artificial even though they’re not. The velvet lining, the shiny veneer, the bouquets, and his fancy clothes—a black suit I can’t remember ever seeing him wear—makes me wonder if the man inside is really my father. He should … Continue reading Toy Piano by Sharon Harrigan
I met Sharon one Saturday morning in late September at Writer House in Charlottesville, Virginia after dropping a writer off at the train station who had been at Porches writing retreat. We talked about Playing With Dynamite, a memoir about her father who died in a mysterious and bizarre accident when she was seven. Sharon: It’s cool to be talking to you because I was at Porches when I made the final edits on the book. It was my last opportunity to make any changes so it felt like it was high stakes and I … Continue reading An Interview with author Sharon Harrigan