This just in from Marjorie Ryerson


By Stephen Morris

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In response to our first writers round-up, Evelyn Prentice Sweetser of Randolph e-mailed: "When I saw your article 'New Chapters for Vermont Writers' in the Vermont Sunday Magazine, I scanned it, eagerly expecting it to contain some paragraphs about Marjorie Ryerson's new book, Companions for the Passage."

Whoops, I forgot to include her.

Evelyn adds "I found Marjorie's book absolutely fascinating, timely, with well-presented true experiences. Not having been involved in the passing away of even a pet, I was becoming concerned about when that time comes. How I will be able to recognize it and deal with it? This book covers so many facets of that special, beautiful, difficult time."

So why was Marjorie left out? Simple incompetence on my part. Just because Marjorie and I live in the same town, have known each other for years, and I see her walking her dog every other day should not mean I automatically think of her when doing a round-up of local writers. (Actually, it should. Apologies to any local authors who were left out. Please make sure I have your current contact information, as this column will appear periodically.)

Properly chastened, I contact Marjorie to say, "Hey, wassup?" She wrote back:

"I have two fairly unrelated books out, although the underlying theme of both is healing. In the first, Water Music (www.water-music.org, University of Michigan Press, 2003) my goal has been to help heal the earth's waters through an art project. I've done many concerts, college lectures, art shows and other presentations. I give my net royalties to the Water Music Fund of the United Nations Foundation, whose goal is to clean up drinking water for families around the world. The current focus of the fund has been on arsenic removal from drinking water in Bangladesh and neighboring countries.

"The second book, Companions for the Passage: Stories of the Intimate Privilege of Accompanying the Dying (University of Michigan Press, 2005), was released this year. It is a collection of narrative nonfiction stories from people who had walked that journey of accompaniment with someone who died.

"I put the book out into the world to provide community and a sense of connection with others who have shared the experience."

Marjorie is currently working on a book of poems. She also teaches poetry at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College and works as a freelance editor. She didn't mention it, but I learned from the fall 2005 Authors Guild Bulletin, that she is the recipient of the Harry E. Schlenz Medal for her work in public education about the importance of water quality.

So, what have you done lately?

Frank Bryan confesses he has not been writing much recently. He's been too busy on the speaking circuit: "I discussed and defended my book Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works (University of Chicago Press, 2003) at the Northeastern Political Science Association meeting in Philadelphia. This was the third time I've been invited to do this at a major meeting. In September 2004 it was at the American Political Science Association meeting in Chicago; in January 2005 it was at the Southern Political Science Association meeting in New Orleans.

Frank may not like this idea, but I say let's send him to the Middle East to teach the Muslim world about town meeting.

"Blogging" is the current rage in publishing. Some people say a "blog" is short for "web log;" others call it a forced marriage of "blah-blah" and "flog." There are some good ones and lots of bad ones. One of the former comes from novelist Philip Baruth: "I started a political blog a few months back. I needed a place to put all of my angst about the Bush administration, and what they're doing at home and abroad. My neighbor, Marc Nadel, supplies the caricatures. I'm blogging there every day M-F with the occasional Saturday screed."

Judge for yourself at vermontdailybriefing.com.

In a recent article on Vermont politics I made frequent reference to J. Kevin Graffagnino's and H. Nicholas Muller's The Quotable Ethan Allen (Vermont Historical Society, 2005). According to J-Kev (not to be confused with J-Lo) this "malleable historical icon used words as effectively as his musket." You can be sure Ethan Allen would have his own blog today.

Marialisa Calta reports that Oprah has not yet called about her cookbook Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the Modern American Family (Perigee, June 2005). Other than that, however, she's been doing pretty well with favorable reviews in salon.com, the dining section of the New York Times, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Vermont newspapers. She's also taped a segment the Public Radio program Here and Now.

Michelle Kennedy hit a lot of high points in 2005 with Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (With Kids) in America (Viking). She had great reviews in the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. She also received the Elle Magazine Readers Award. In an e-mail Michelle says: "My best news was that I got to read on National Public Radio's Morning Edition making a lifelong dream come true!" The paperback of Without a Net is coming out in January.

Another local writer who experienced an NPR moment is David Budbill who sent a message with the subject line "On the Writer's Almanac Again." Oh yawn, another day, another broadcast to millions of people.

On Sept. 26, Garrison Keillor read David's poem, "This Shining Moment in the Now" from his new book While We've Still Got Feet (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Who can blame David for not being excited? This is about the zillionth time Keillor has selected a Budbill original for his daily show.

My own Garrison Keillor moment came when I gave him a copy of my novel Stripah Love (The Public Press, 2005). He looked at it quizzically, pointed to the word "Stripah" and asked in that memorable baritone, "How is that word pronounced?" (Stry-pah). Then he asked "What does it mean?" (It's how people in the Boston area pronounce "striper," short for "striped bass.")

"Oh," said Garrison (who, by the way, looks just the same in person as he does on the radio.)

It's not quite the same as being on The Writer's Almanac ...is it?

Published December 11, 2005 in Vermont Today

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