Monthly Archives: April 2013

My Mayberry

Thirty-something years ago, when we told our friends and family in New York we were moving to Cleveland, they offered their condolences. I accepted. I was far from sure about the move myself.

Fast forward to yesterday, when there was no place else on this green Earth I wanted to be. To celebrate my new book, three mighty Cleveland forces came together with the easy grace and generosity typical of people around here.  All I’d done was mention the book to Suzanne, who runs one of my neighborhood’s three–THREE–indie bookstores, Mac’s Backs.

Before I knew it, she was hatching plans for a party at everyone’s favorite Cleveland Heights restaurant, Tommy’s, owned by a saint named Tommy Fello, who serves falafel and milk shakes worth a trip from anywhere on the planet.

  Oh yes, and smiley pancakes, too. Tommy offered to serve a free breakfast, and Suzanne said she’d donate 20% of book sales to Family Connections, an amazing organization I know well, since it runs a drop-in play center in the library where I work and I’ve often read stories there. It’s staffed by endlessly patient, creative and zany women who nurture families with programs on parenting and early literacy.

1 + 1+ 1 made way more than 3 yesterday, when kids and their caregivers came to listen to me read

And then got to make books of their own.

Food, crayons and books–does it get any better?

Writing is, most of the time, such a solitary thing. But yesterday I was part of a neighborhood, a city, a community of book and kid lovers. I never felt luckier.


Last weekend we went to see “Good People”, David Lindsay-Abaire’s very smart, character-driven play about class and roots and whether we can ever shake them. It’s set in Boston and both main characters are Southies, which in Boston is synonomous for tough as nails and proud of it.  Think Dennis Lehane. Think Tea Party–the real tea party.

“You Messed With the Wrong City” was the message  Boston sent after the bombing. Heartening as that sounds, it didn’t really jibe with the gentle place we’d visited just a week before. That city was full of earnest young people like our daughter, studying hard to learn how to heal and prevent illness and suffering.  It was folk singers in the T-stations, and the creaky, comic T itself, which made me feel like I was on a ride at an old amusement park, and hilly brick streets with windowboxes brimming with spring flowers, and a brisk wind off the river that sent shivers through me to think how cold and beautiful winter must be there.

And it was Candlewick, whose offices are as sweet and humble as they come, and where I never thought to take a single picture, so just imagine a low- slung, butter-colored building, with skylights and stuffed animals and stacks of books wherever you turn, and conference rooms named after books. (We met in Waldo.) 

The kids books Candlewick publishes never deny the darkness or destruction loose in the world. But they meet those forces head on, with characters and stories full of grace, determination, hope, compassion, the will to connect and to right wrong. “Never look away”  is the first responsibility of a writer. Candlewick embraces that.    

Maybe this is, after all, the definition of tough as nails. Tonight I’m speaking at a Young Authors celebration, and the first thing I plan to do is congratulate each of them for making something shining and new and one-of-a-kind. For being creators.

One of the great pleasure of a great city is walking. And walking and walking, which is how we spent an afternoon last week in New York. It was a day full of bluster, and while we were in MoMA where (brag alert) our daughter works as a curatorial assistant, rain swept through. By the time we stepped back outside, the umbrellas were closing and the puddles were shining. Our destination was that bookshop among bookshops, St. Mark’s, but first we meandered, among the shivery daffodils in Bryant Park and out onto 

AKA East 41 Street, a two block stretch between Grand Central and…

…the beautiful stone lair of Fortitude and Patience.

Bronze (I think) plaques stud the sidewalk all along the way, each one an illustrated quote from a writer, a lovely, literary, yellow brick road. Paul risked life and limb–unless you harbor a strong streak of masochism, you really don’t want to dawdle on a mid-town sidewalk at 5 PM–to take photos of the ones I liked best, and here some are, starting with my two favorites:


And a couple more:

And of course:

It’s a measure of my something that, except for pictures of my girls and nieces, these are the only photos I thought to take during our entire visit. I even forgot to take a picture at my wonderful publisher Candlewick which, more later. But happily we caught these, burnished and bright in the April air.
And if you can take one more quote, some daunting/inspiring lines from Verlyn Klinkengorg’s “Several Short Sentences About Writing”: 
“In our world–the writing world–authority always rests in the hand of the reader, who can simply close the book and choose another. ..And yet she’s willing–yearning–to surrender her authority to the author. And keep reading.”     
And a chicken-and-egg one I’ll be thinking about for a while: “When it comes to writing, the intensity of the writer’s feelings and the power of the subject mean almost nothing. We only glimpse that power and intensity in the power and intensity of the prose.”

Every April I subscribe to a Poem-a-Day from Knopf Doubleday. This year they sent a harbigner of  delights ahead in this poem by Nabokov, written in English and first published in 1944. Revel!

The Poem

Not the sunset poem you make when you think
with its linden tree in India ink
and the telegraph wires across its pink

not the mirror in you and her delicate bare
shoulder still glimmering there;
not the lyrical click of a pocket rhyme—
the tiny music that tells the time;

and not the pennies and weights on those
evening papers piled up in the rain;
not the cacodemons of carnal pain;
not the things you can say so much better in plain prose—

but the poem that hurtles from heights unknown
—when you wait for the splash of the stone
deep below, and grope for your pen,
and then comes the shiver, and then—

in the tangle of sounds, the leopards of words,
the leaflike insects, the eye-spotted birds
fuse and form a silent, intense,
mimetic pattern of perfect sense.


I’m in Boston as you read this, visiting our daughter who’s enrolled in Northeastern’s physician assistant program, and also getting to meet the wonderful wizards who make the magic happen at Candlewick. Boston also just happens to be the city where I met my husband 41 (yes) years ago when we were both scraggle-haired hippies. How do I love that city? Let me count…