Story Preservation Initiative®

Preserving the Stories of Our Lives by capturing the voices, words, and meanderings of artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, and eyewitnesses to history. Listen, learn, and be amazed!

Ashley Bryan ⎥ Opening Paths to Exploration

A story of courage, ethnicity, generosity, and inspiration.

 

AshleyBryan

Renowned for the extraordinary range and depth of his talent, Ashley Bryan is an artist, a writer, a poet, an anthologist, a storyteller, and a noted scholar of African and African American folklore.

His children’s books are full of love – all embracing, inspiring, warm, colorful, joyous, and bursting with song. He works largely with Black African-American poetry and spirituals.

Ashley hopes that his work with African tales will be like “a tender bridge” connecting past to present, reaching across distances of time and space. Ashley’s numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration; six Coretta Scott King Honors; the Arbuthnot Prize, one of the highest honors in children’s literature; and a Fulbright Scholarship.

His poetry and paintings have and continue to influence a whole generation of children.

Born in 1923 in Harlem to West Indies immigrants, Bryan’s childhood was filled with books, music, and art, even though resources tended to be scarce during the Great Depression. Second of six children, Bryan cannot remember a time when he was not drawing or painting.

One of Ashley Bryan's Sea Glass stained glass windows.

One of Ashley Bryan’s Sea Glass windows.

His first memories were of his parents sending him to Government run WPA classes which were free, and where he learned to draw, paint and play musical instruments. Ashley’s mother sang and his father played the piano.

After graduating from high school, he applied for a scholarship at a prominent art institution, but was essentially told that a scholarship would not be wasted on a colored person. Under the guidance of his high school teachers, Bryan then applied and was accepted into New York’s prestigious Cooper Union Art School. Two years at Cooper Union and Ashley was drafted into the army to serve in World War II. At the age of nineteen, as a part of the fleet that sailed to Normandy for the surprise invasion, Bryan drew whenever he could, keeping a sketch pad and art supplies in his gas mask.

From there, Bryan went on to study philosophy at Columbia University to, as he says, “understand war.”  He received a Fulbright scholarship to study art in Europe, and became the head of the art department at Dartmouth College.

Ashley's home, where the door is always open.

Ashley’s home, where the door is always open.

 

 

Ashley Bryan lives on Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine.

The above copy is taken from numerous sources, including Wikipedia, Reading Rockets, and Simon and Schuster author profiles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The transcription from the first section of our interview follows: 

 

Growing Up in the Bronx / Discovering the Importance of Community

I was born in New York City on July 13, 1923 of immigrant parents who had come from Antigua in the West Indies. They had six children; I was the second. I was raised in the Bronx during the Depression years. My parents provided food, clothes, and shelter but they couldn’t afford other things.

At that time there was the WPA, the Works Progress Administration. They offered free art and free music classes for communities throughout the country. My parents sent the six of us to all the things that were free that would help us to develop ourselves creatively. We worked with whatever materials we could find to recreate them, to make something of them — things that we would find on the streets – including fabrics and things from upholstery stores. My sister and I would bring them home and rework them into quilts, into skirts and jackets. We were always working with castoff materials, recreating them, bringing them into another form of life, which is a pattern that has stayed with me through life.

The good thing about growing up in tenement apartments was that we knew everyone in the house. Everyone looked after the other. My parents took care of the elders in the house. In good weather people sat out on the streets. They would bring their instruments, their music, what they would drink in the warm weather. They always had an eye out for the children. It was a different world in the 1930’s growing up in the city, which was broken down into small communities. It was that sense of community, which I’ve carried through life, which followed me to these islands off the coast of Maine. That’s what helped me decide that this would become my year-round home, because the community that I found here reminded of my New York City tenement apartment.

 

Cooper Union and Columbia University

My father was a printer but when he came to the United States, being a black man, all he was offered was a mop and broom. My dad never talked about racism. He simply said, “I knew I wasn’t going to last long in a job like that.” So, he went to the British Consulate and got a certificate from them stating that I had served in His Majesty’s Army and that he had worked as an apprentice printer as a child. That gave him an entrance into a downtown printing plant and that’s where he worked. He said it gave him a chance to be expressive in his work. And he was always bringing home extra papers from work. So I had these beautiful papers to work with.

I also had the good fortune of having wonderful teachers in elementary school. I had all white teachers throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. They all encouraged me. They always recognized my talent and gave me the materials that I needed to keep growing in my love of art.

In high school I joined the Art Club and, on graduation, I had the help of my teachers to prepare a very strong portfolio. Before graduating, they gave me the list of art schools in New York City to go to. So I went from art school to art school and was told – and this is New York City – “this is the best portfolio we have seen, but it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.” When I came back to the high school and told that to my teachers, they said, “Ashley, come back and take a post-graduate course.” They knew I was black, I knew I was black, and there was no problem. It didn’t occur to them that I would need anything beyond my talents. So they said, come back, take a post-graduate course, work on your portfolio, and in the summer take the exam for the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering. They do not see you there. So, that summer I took the exam. At that time, in 1940, there were three exercises: one in drawing, one in sculpture, and one in architecture.

When you finished those exercises, you put your work on a tray with all the information of who you are on the platform of the Great Hall. It’s a very famous hall, where all of our presidents have lectured, from the earliest time. It was founded in1850 for the working young men and women of the country, primarily for young women working in all aspects of the garment trade and for young men in engineering, as Peter Cooper was an outstanding engineer. So, I took the exams, I put it on my tray and left. Then professors looked over all of the work, and they selected those they wanted for admission to the Cooper Union. I was fortunate in being one of them. I was the only black in my class, but I had grown up in a mixed community of French, German, Italian, and Irish.   I became close friends with the students there. We have followed each other through life. The very few, who at ninety, are still alive, I’m still very close to.

 

Interrelationships

I was never a loner. I was always with others. I was alone in my art, creating my art. All artists and composers, in whatever form, they have to be alone in developing in what they do. But I always loved being with others and sharing my work. And I always had the respect of others, because of my real love of doing my work – and my respect for what they did. I was lousy in sports. I’d be the last one chosen on any team. But they understood that and they spoke of me as the artist of the community. I was never picked on. I don’t know why that is, other than I always had such a deep respect for what other people do that it never occurred to me that there was any kind of a hierarchy. You could be sweeping a street and I would respect what you were doing and your work in that community.

My work in the community was always open to people dropping in. I drew so much from just the informal visits and what they would have to say. You know, I think that’s why I say I don’t believe in interruptions in my life. Right now, talking with you, I am creating. I am drawing, I’m painting, I’m doing my bookwork, I’m doing my puppet work, my sea glass work. There is no interruption. Everything that is happening to me I feel is significant. There is no way you can take my time. It’s the one thing that I possess. I can only offer it to you in exchange for your precious gift of your time, so remain on a level of back and forth, you see. And that is why my door is always open and people will come and go. But they come and they say, “Oh, we’re interrupting you.” No! Look! Do you want to see my paintings, do you want to see my drawings, do you want to see my sea-glass work, do you want to see my bookwork? I am always producing.

 

WWII / Looking for answers

When I came back from the Second World War I was so spun around, as veterans are, it was difficult to go on. Well, I knew when I came back (I was inducted at nineteen) that I wanted to complete my studies at Cooper Union. So, I knew my direction. I was not like veterans who don’t have a direction. After the experiences of a war, they find it difficult to adjust and go one. Very often then, because they don’t have enough services to keep following them up, they fall through. And that’s why, when they say a third of the homeless are veterans, it’s very understandable, because without help of family, friends, or a direction in life, or a medical support system that will follow them closely, it’s very hard after those experiences, to say you’re normal and go on. That’s what I experienced when I came home. I knew I wanted to complete my course study, but I also knew I wanted to understand why man chooses war. So when I graduated from Cooper Union, I did undergraduate work as a philosophy major at Columbia, to see if I could find answers. And I only found more questions. But I was so intrigued by the way man thinks, in aesthetics and ethics, in logic, and these areas, which I studied, that I stayed with it. Summers I’d come up to Maine and I’d be outdoors painting the whole time. That’s what really gave me a focus and direction. When I graduated from Columbia University, I knew I would not go any further in studies.

Please check back regularly.  More of the transcription to follow. 

Made possible with funds provided by the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation.              

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Vivian Perlis  Preserving the Voices of American Music

Used with permission.   Photographer unknown.

Perlis, Copland. Photo credit: David Walker

I have to say I am especially looking forward to sitting down with and recording Vivian Perlis.  I’ve known her personally for more than 30 years and admired her deeply since the day we met. Vivian is an historian in American music.  She is widely known for her publications, lectures, and recording and film productions.  In addition, she is a groundbreaking oral historian.

Vivian Perlis is the founder and former director of the Oral History of American Music (OHAM) project at Yale University.  OHAM is known to be the preeminent project in the field of music dedicated to the collection and preservation of oral and video memoirs of the creative musicians of our time.

Her story begins:  In 1969, while working as a reference librarian at the Yale School of Music, Vivian started a project of tape-recording interviews with those acquainted with the composer Charles Ives, a Yale graduate. Her work – thorough, methodical, and revealing – culminated in 1974 with the book: “Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History,” for which Vivian was awarded the Kinkeldey Prize of the American Musicological Society.  Hailed “a vivid memory portrait of an enigmatic American composer, told in the voices of the people who knew him best.”

Beginning with her pioneering work in 1969 and extending through to the present day (via OHAM), there are “thousands of recordings and transcripts accessible to a wide range of users including scholars, musicians, students, arts organizations, and the media.”*

From the OHAM website: Following the Ives Project, it was evident that no systematic scholarly research was in progress to document creative musical figures by means of tape-recorded interviews. Several composers had spoken about Ives, and in so doing, about themselves as well. (It is not a good idea to ask a celebrated composer to talk only about someone else.) These formed the nucleus for a broader-based project, Oral History of American Music (OHAM). Included were Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Nicolas Slonimsky, and Dane Rudhyar. Through the decades since the founding of OHAM, composers have continued to be the project’s primary focus.  

Perlis, Bernstein, Copland.  Used with permission. Photographer unknown.

Perlis, Bernstein, Copland.
Used with permission.
Photographer unknown.

A list of interviewees can be found at: http://web.library.yale.edu/oham/major-figures

In 1984 Copland: 1900 through 1942 was published.  Perlis and Copland co-authored this “enduring record of an American maestro’s explosively creative coming of age.”  The book garnered a Deems Taylor/ ASCAP award.

A review upon its release: Aaron Copland is one of America’s most beloved musical pioneers, famous for Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Lincoln Portrait, as well as the movie scores for “Our Town” and “Of Mice and Men,” and numerous orchestral and chamber works. This candid, colorful memoir begins with Copland’s Brooklyn childhood and takes us through his years in Paris, the creation of his early works, and his arrival at Tanglewood. Rich with remembrances from Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, and Nadia Boulanger, as well as a trove of letters, photographs, and scores from Copland’s collection.

In 1999 Copland Since 1943 was published, again to much acclaim.

In 2013 The Complete Copland was issued, combining the earlier two books into one volume.

Other works include:

Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored with Libby Van Cleve, includes two CDs and is derived from interviews in the OHAM archive.

Among her productions are recordings of the music of Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives, and television documentaries on Ives, Eubie Blake, Aaron Copland, and John Cage.

Honors and awards received include: The Charles Ives Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972); a Grammy nomination for “Charles Ives 100th Anniversary” (1974); the Harvey Kantor Award for excellence in the field of oral history (1984); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); and the Irving Lowens Award for distinguished scholarship in American Music from The Sonneck Society (1991).

In 2010, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the archive, Vivian was honored at both Carnegie Hall and Yale’s Zankel Hall.  She stepped down as the director of OHAM the same year; however, she remains active and ever-influential.

We will be recording Vivian in late April 2014. 

 

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Stories Matter

 

Empathy: The Real Common Core

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Re-blogged from the ORAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION

“There’s so much to a person we don’t see on first glance that helps define them, and once we hear their story its like they become a different person.” – Student, 826 Chicago

Why don’t we use the word “love” very often as a vital component in teaching and learning? Occasionally, we educators will reference “emotional intelligence” as a way for students to activate prior knowledge or access information, but rarely do we leverage the power of love and empathy as means for students and teachers to learn together. These sensations develop the skills and habits of mind not only related to new Common Core standards, but more importantly lead to, as oral historian Allesandro Portelli describes, a “mutual sighting” between two people. This process of mutual sighting is directly connected to nurturing empathy, civic engagement, identification as a global citizen, and dare I say it, increased capacity for love and understanding. Who knew that the real Common Core was empathy?

We can use the oral history process to explore the connections between empathy and the skills emphasized in the new Common Core standards, and then go even further. As an oral history educator, I have experienced countless times being in the presence of students and teachers actively engaged in each other’s stories—enjoying moments of connection and community in ways that make empathy and compassion palpable. But there is a third thing at work in these moments. Simply put, I would describe it as feelings of love and human connection, which is relatable to, but certainly goes far beyond, what has been adopted as “Common Core.” It takes the best impulses of these standards and explodes them to embrace the idea of global citizenship, providing insight into the question, “What kind of person do I want to be in the world?”

Surely these experiences have a place in our learning communities. The communication skills inherent in conducting oral history bear this out. Active listening, non-judgment towards narrators, and a willingness to see and be seen create an environment that is nurturing, questioning, and democratic. It’s not too big a leap for us to see this idea writ large—in our schools, communities, and beyond. This approach, this kind of oral history-fueled “mutual sighting,” has the capacity to enter contested personal or community space and flourish, even in the midst of seemingly insurmountable social conditions. In fact, I believe that they flourish as a result of acknowledging them, not trying to making them disappear. Active listening, empathy, and compassion are key components of an oral history classroom, and are directly connected to curiosity, critical thinking, analysis, research, and literacy building. These skills are in turn connected to Common Core standards for Speaking and Listening, Language, and Reading History. This approach is a coherent and holistic way for educators to interpret the new standards, while serving as a powerful reminder to us about of the kinds of people we strive to be in the world.

Blog by Cliff Mayotte, OHA Education Committee

Cliff Mayotte is the Education Program Director for Voice of Witness

 

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Stories Matter

Poet  Author  Advocate for the Disabled  Stephen Kuusisto

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As taken from Stephen’s website:  http://www.stephenkuusisto.com/      

Poet, author, and advocate for those with disabilities, Professor Stephen Kuusisto, who has been blind since birth, is the author of“Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir “Planet of the Blind”, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press.

Steve is recognized by the New York Times as “a powerful writer with a musical ear for language and a gift for emotional candor.”

A BRIEF EXCERPT FROM THE AUDIO NOW IN PRODUCTION:

When I was a child it was very clear, growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, that being a person with a disability made me an outlier. Teachers didn’t want me in public school. My mother did want me in public school because she thought that I really would have a limited experience of life if I went to The Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. She felt strongly that I should live in the world. But the world was very conditional. It was long before the Americans with Disabilities Act. And so early in my life I felt a sense of ostracism and loneliness. Able-bodied kids didn’t want me to play with them. There were no sporting programs for kids with disabilities. And so my world became the world familiar I think to all artists who discover the arts early in life. It became an isolated and rather beautiful – but very private – kind of experience. Even by the age of seven or eight I had a very, very intense kind of inner life. And that inner life a lot of artists will tell you – whether they’re dancers or painters or poets – that they early on had that sense of the wonder and strangeness of being alive.

A graduate of the “Writer’s Workshop” at the University of Iowa, and a Fulbright Scholar, Steve holds the position of director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in the Center on Human Policy. He speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. His essays and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines including Harper’s’ The New York Times Magazine; Poetry; andPartisan Review.

About his memoir Planet of the Blind

As a boy he careened down the street on the bicycle his mother bought him. As a teenager he traveled to Europe and played basketball. As a young man he won scholarships, taught classes, went bird watching. And all the while, Stephen Kuusisto would not utter, even to himself, the one central truth of his life: he could not see. With 20/200 vision in his better eye, he was legally blind. Writes Kuusisto: “I see like a person who looks through a kaleidoscope; my impressions of the world at once beautiful and largely useless.”

In this breathtaking memoir, Stephen Kuusisto leads us on a vividly painted odyssey into a landscape that is both beautiful, terrifying, and magical. A work of exquisite intelligence and passionate heart, Planet of the Blind is for anyone who has viewed the world through a unique lens – and ultimately seen the truth.

“The world is a surreal pageant,” writes Stephen Kuusisto. “Ahead of me the shapes and colors suggest the sails of Tristan’s ship or an elephant’s ear floating in air, though in reality it is a middle-aged man in a London Fog rain coat which billows behind him in the April wind.”

So begins Kuusisto’s memoir, Planet of the Blind, a journey through the kaleidoscope geography of the partially-sighted, where everyday encounters become revelations, struggles, or simple triumphs. Not fully blind, not fully sighted, the author lives in what he describes as “the customs-house of the blind”, a midway point between vision and blindness that makes possible his unique perception of the world. In this singular memoir, Kuusisto charts the years of a childhood spent behind bottle-lens glasses trying to pass as a normal boy, the depression that brought him from obesity to anorexia, the struggle through high school, college, first love, and sex. Ridiculed by his classmates, his parents in denial, here is the story of a man caught in a perilous world with no one to trust–until a devastating accident forces him to accept his own disability and place his confidence in the one relationship that can reconnect him to the world–the relationship with his guide dog, a golden Labrador retriever named Corky. With Corky at his side, Kuusisto is again awakened to his abilities, his voice as a writer and his own particular place in the world around him.

Written with all the emotional precision of poetry, Kuusisto’s evocative memoir explores the painful irony of a visually sensitive individual–in love with reading, painting, and the everyday images of the natural world–faced with his gradual descent into blindness. Folded into his own experience is the rich folklore the phenomenon of blindness has inspired throughout history and legend.

Just Released: Letters to Borges, Copper Canyon Press.

From Copper Canyon’s website:

1492_md“Poetry carves a topiary garden out of dust,” writes Stephen Kuusisto in his second collection of poetry,Letters to Borges. Despite blindness, Kuusisto “carves out his own garden” writing to Jorge Luis Borges, a blind writer as well, with synesthetic visuals and imaginative description. Kuusisto writes from different cities, altering and shifting them, unrestrained by time or concreteness. Each one in turn becomes his own city depicted for Borges as a traveler journaling to a distant friend. Laced amongst these artful letters Kuusisto includes fragments of his past, earnest and humorous divagations, elegies for poets, musicians, and friends while always retaining a sense of place. Kuusisto is a guide delving us into his unique and dynamic sensory world. For Kuusisto, blindness is no debilitation, but instead an opening through the unperceived.

AUDIO IS IN PRODUCTION

imagesHelp us get our recordings into classrooms.  Support us on Kickstarter.  Here’s link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1537852966/building-the-uncommon-school

 

Stories Matter

Susan Swartz  A Life at the Intersection of Art, Environment, and Spirituality

Susan Swartz is a landscape painter inspired by the natural world and its intersection with spirituality. She explores this union through potent colors and richly layered large abstract canvases.

Susan Swartz March 2013 (2)Susan has been recognized with solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C in 2011; the Springville Museum of Art in Springville, Utah in 2010; and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2008. Her works are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the Springville Museum of Art; the Utah Museum of Fine Arts; and the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In 2002, Susan received the Utah Governor’s Mansion Award. In 2005, she was published in the Gibbs Smith collectors book Painters of the Wasatch Mountains alongside Wasatch Mountain School artists Maynard Dixon, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. The same year she was honored by the Harvard Divinity School for a career that continues to blend artistry and faith. Swartz was the Official Olympic Environmental Artist for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Her commissioned painting Soldier Hollow was featured in the 2013 exhibition Painters of the Wasatch Mountains at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah.

Susan’s decade long struggle with mercury poisoning and Lyme disease transformed her as an artist and as a citizen. She actively supports environmental campaigns that advocate for clean water and air. She also supports the vision and production of documentary films through Impact Partners, the film organization of which she is a founding member. Impact Partners seeks to shed light on social and environmental injustice and has produced Academy Award-winning and nominated films as well as Sundance Film Festival award winners.

Swartz in her studio March 2013 (2)Susan serves on the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Dean’s Council of the Harvard Divinity School and is the HDS Campaign co-Chair. She is the co-founder of charity-based The Christian Center of Park City and is on the board of the Utah Film Center.

Susan paints from studios in Park City, Utah and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. In May-June 2014, she will be the first featured artist in the newly renovated Baroque Church Kollegienkirche in Salzburg, Austria.

We will be recording Susan this summer as well as showcasing more of her work.

imagesHelp us get our recordings into classrooms.  Support us on Kickstarter.  Here’s link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1537852966/building-the-uncommon-school

 

Stories Matter

The Singing Life of Birds  A Conversation with Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma

Don Kroodsma has studied birdsong for 30 years.

He has listened to and recorded bird songs from the East Coast to the West, and constantly adds to his birdsong library back home in Massachusetts, where he’s professor emeritus of biology at the University of Massachusetts.

His book The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong won the 2006 John Burroughs Medal “for outstanding natural history writing” and the American Birding Association’s Robert Ridgeway Award “for excellence in publications in field ornithology.”

Kroodsma explores the mysteries of birdsong — how birds learn to sing, why some sing and some don’t, and why songs vary from bird to bird and even from place to place. “Birds have song dialects just like we humans have dialects,” he says.

After some intense listening and study, Kroodsma concluded that, just as with people, where a bird learned a song is just as important as a bird’s genealogy. He noticed in his travels that birds of the same species but in different states sang the same song, but with their own unique “accents.”

His field of study may be unique, but the way he goes about his research is equally unique — Kroodsma tours the continent on his bicycle, collecting bird songs along the way. He biked completely across the nation once in 2003, and last year biked from the Atlantic shore to the Mississippi, lugging his recording equipment with him.

“There is no better way to hear a continent sing than by bicycle,” Kroodsma says. “You can read the minds of these birds if you simply listen… Riding a bike is just a great way to hear birds.”

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“There’s this wonderful Zen parable,” he says. “If you listen to the thrush and hear a thrush, you’ve not really heard the thrush. But if you listen to a thrush and hear a miracle, then you’ve heard the thrush.”

A fun site:   http://www.wildmusic.org/animals/thrush

We will be recording Don early summer 2014.

 

imagesHelp us get our recordings into classrooms.  Support us on Kickstarter. Here’s link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1537852966/building-the-uncommon-school

 

Stories Matter

In Honor and Memory of Maxine Kumin 1925 – 2014

Maxine’s oral history, recorded in 2012 at her home in Warner, NH, can be heard in its entirety by clicking on the links below.


It was a pleasure meeting and recording Maxine at her farm in Warner, New Hampshire.

Excerpted from The Poetry Foundation:

An enduring presence in American poetry, Maxine Kumin’s career has spanned over half a century. She has been the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. She was the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1981-1982, and has taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities, including MIT, Princeton, and Columbia. Despite traveling away from home to lecture at schools and universities around the United States, Kumin has retained close ties with her farmhouse in rural New Hampshire; in an interview with Joan Norris published in Crazy Horse, the poet disclosed, “Practically all of [my poems] have come out of this geography and this state of mind.”

Her “well-made poems and stories are two ways of coming at the same immemorial preoccupations: aging and mortality,” wrote Clara Claiborne Park in the Nation, and deemed Kumin’s work “the fiction and poetry of maturity.” Her poems are also mature for another reason: Kumin did not begin to write and publish until mid-life, when she found encouragement in workshops at the Boston Center for Adult Education. Her early poems display her mastery of technique and deal with themes that she has continued to explore throughout her career: identity, the ephemeral nature of life, loss, and man’s relationship to nature. Many of these early works were collected in Kumin’s first book of poems, Halfway (1961), published when she was thirty-six. While attending the Boston workshops, Kumin met and befriended the poet Anne Sexton. Both homemakers with children when they began their literary careers, they wrote four children’s books together and in general contributed to each other’s development. The two poets communicated on a nearly daily basis, conducting private workshops by letter and phone. Consequently, critics tried to trace a strong mutual influence, but both poets denied one. Nonetheless, there were some significant exchanges, and the two poets suggested titles for each other’s work on at least two occasions.

Kumin is most often compared to Robert Frost.  The work of both poets shows a close attention to the details of New England rural life. Booth commented: “The distinctive nature of Maxine Kumin’s present poems derives from the primary fact that she lives in, and writes from, a world where constant (if partial) recovery of what’s ‘lost’ is as sure as the procession of the equinoxes, or as familiar as mucking-out the horses’ daily dung.” Kumin’s preference for traditional verse forms has also caused critics to liken her to Frost. Not only is there an order “to be discovered…in the natural world,” she told Martha George Meek in a Massachusetts Review interview, “there is also an order that a human can impose on the chaos of his emotions and the chaos of events.” Kumin achieves this order by structuring and controlling her most emotional subjects, fitting them to exacting patterns of syllable count and rhyme. As she told Hammond, “The harder—that is, the more psychically difficult—the poem is to write, the more likely I am to choose a difficult pattern to pound it into. This is true because, paradoxically, the difficulty frees me to be more honest and more direct.”

Kumin is also a noted writer of fiction, and has admitted to a certain overlap between the two genres. “I tend to steal from myself,” she said in an interview published in To Make a Prairie. “The compass of the poem is so small and so demanding, you have to be so selective, and there are so many things that get left out that you feel cheated. So you take all those things…and they get into fiction.”

Kumin’s later work has received praise for its emotional attentiveness and elegiac nature. Reviewing Nurture (1989), in the New York Times Book Review, Carol Muske remarked, “These poems are exhaustive in their sorrow: they are predominantly short, brutal elegies for the natural world.” In later books, such as The Long Approach (1986), Nurture, Looking for Luck (1992), and Connecting the Dots: Poems(1996), Kumin continues to focus on the daily rituals of farm-life, as well as turning her attention to social and environmental problems such as pollution, religious persecution, nuclear holocaust, and famine.

In 1997, Kumin published Selected Poems, 1960-1990. Covering the first nine books of Kumin’s career, the volume was praised by Judy Clarence in Library Journal for allowing the reader the opportunity to “move slowly, meanderingly, deliciously through the stages of Kumin’s poetic life.” Noting that the poet’s “unsentimental affinity for animals has been her divining rod for locating and observing the natural world’s seemingly inexhaustible beauty and mankind’s terrifying willingness to destroy it,” a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the collection for illustrating this through Kumin’s “plain style,” “surprising imagery…and recurring reflections.” Kumin followed Selected Poems with The Long Marriage (2002), which celebrates her five-decade marriage to her husband, their life together in New Hampshire, and nature. The book was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award of the Academy of American Poets. The New York Times Book Review contributor Megan Harland called Kumin’s observations “earthy” and “practical,” and she declared that “Kumin’s tonal clarity is transformative.”

When Kumin was seventy-three she suffered an accident while preparing a horse for competition and broke her neck, receiving serious internal injuries. She was able to make a successful recovery, however, and her book Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (1999) describes her convalescence. Anne Roiphe, writing for the New York Times Book Review, described Kumin’s language as “precise and spare.” Roiphe noted that although Kumin is a poet, this book “is rarely poetic in the usual sense of heightened metaphor or compacted image.” Roiphe likened the work “to a dignified prayer of thanks” that resonates with “wisdom while announcing a triumph of body and soul.” The same year that Inside the Halo and Beyond was released, Kumin also published Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, a collection of essays and poems describing Kumin’s daily life as a poet. She includes interviews, diary entries, and keynote addresses, as well as poetry.

Kumin’s latest poetry collections are Jack and Other New Poems (2005and Still to Mow (2007).  She recently won the  L.A. Times Book Award for her latest collection of poems, Where I Live.

Maxine Kumin on Story Preservation’s New Hampshire Public Radio program “Inspired Lives:”

http://nhpr.org/post/inspired-lives-poet-maxine-kumin

Click on a link to listen: 

Maxine Kumin Intro to Recording Track 01

Maxine Kumin_Track 02

Maxine Kumin_Track 03

Maxine Kumin_Track 04

Maxine Kumin_Track 05

Maxine Kumin_Track 06

Maxine Kumin_Track 07

Maxine Kumin_Track 08

Maxine Kumin_Track 09

Maxine Kumin_Track 10

Maxine Kumin_Track 11

Copyright Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.

 

Victor Kumin’s oral history can be found at: http://storypreservation.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/one-of-oppies-boys/

 

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Victor Kumin ⎥ One of Oppie’s Boys


An eyewitness to history, Kumin’s story is a cautionary tale.

Victor Kumin graduated from Harvard in January of 1943 with a degree in Chemistry.  A year and a half later, in June 1944, he was drafted.   Three months after becoming a soldier, he was in the final phase of basic training when  he was called out and brought before a civilian and a military officer who quizzed him about physical chemistry. At the end of the oral exam, they told him he had flunked. They needed chemists, they said, but he had been away from his studies for too long.

Kumin returned to the mud. Within a few days, he got another call. This time he was told to pack his bags and be ready to leave the next morning. Along with a train ticket to Santa Fe, N.M., he was given orders in a manila envelope with instructions not to open it.

“I was told to keep my mouth shut and not tell anyone anything,”he said.

A young soldier who had studied metallurgy in college had also been plucked from the ranks to travel west with Kumin. At every meal stop along the way, strangers sidled up to the two soldiers and tried to strike up a conversation. They disclosed nothing.

Between themselves, Kumin and the other soldier speculated about their destination. Their best guess was a rocket development project.  But, as he says, “We couldn’t have been more wrong.”  Their destination was Los Alamos, where they were to work with a team assembled by J. Robert Oppenheimer to help build the Atomic bomb.

Kumin and his colleagues attended weekly meetings at which leaders of the project explained aspects of the work. As the Trinity test drew near, Oppenheimer made a statement that stuck in Kumin’s mind.

He recalled it this way: “There are many of us here who hope and pray that this will prove to be impossible. But we’re going to go down to Alamogordo, and we’re going to make this test, and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to come back and we’re going to work twice as hard to make it work.”

After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kumin refused to continue his work and faced court marshall.   He was ultimately honorably discharged.

Click on the links below to listen: 

Victor Kumin_Track 01

Victor Kumin_Track 02

Victor Kumin_Track 03

Victor Kumin_Track 04

Victor Kumin_Track 05

Copyright Story Preservation Initiative.  All rights reserved.

(Concord Monitor, July 2005, Destruction, Pride, and Compassion by Mike Pride)

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A Rare and Magnificent Breed ⎢ Wildlife Conservationist ⎢ George Schaller

George Schaller

 

George Schaller is known as one of the founding fathers of wildlife conservation.

He is best known for his work saving gorillas, tigers, pandas, and snow leopards. His 50-year career has been dedicated to species conservation.

Discover magazine says Schaller, “is considered the finest field biologist of our time and the most powerful voice for conservation in more than 100 years.”

He has studied and helped protect species as diverse as mountain gorillas, lions, giant pandas and Tibetan antelopes, as well as trained nationals in their own country to carry on the work. These studies have been the basis for his scientific and popular writings including 16 books, among them, The Deer and the Tiger, The Year of the Gorilla, The Serengeti Lion, The Last Panda, and, most recently, Tibet Wild,  a review of which can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/books/review/tibet-wild-by-george-b-schaller.html?_r=0

In 1956, Dr. Schaller joined other conservationists on the Murie expedition to Northeastern Alaska, which resulted in the establishment of the world’s largest wildlife preserve, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In 1959, when Schaller was only 26, he traveled to Central Africa to study and live with the mountain gorillas. Little was known about the life of gorillas in the wild until the publication of The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior in 1963, that first conveyed to the general public just how profoundly intelligent and gentle gorillas really are, contrary to then-common beliefs. Schaller recently recounted his epic two-year study in The Year of the Gorilla, which also provides a broader historical perspective on the efforts to save one of humankind’s nearest relatives from the brink of extinction.

The American zoologist Dian Fossey, with assistance from the National Geographic Society and Louis Leakey, followed Schaller’s groundbreaking field research on mountain gorillas. Schaller and Fossey were instrumental in dispelling the public perception of gorillas as brutes, by demonstrably establishing the deep compassion and social intelligence evident among gorillas, and how very closely their behavior parallels that of humans.

Spending most of his time in the field in Asia, Africa, and South America, Schaller has led seminal studies on, and helped protect, some of the planet’s most endangered and iconic animals ranging schaller2-e81491c33ae216b394c8ac11f28c96cf0c757318-s6-c30from the mountain gorilla in present Democratic Republic of the Congo, snow leopards in Mongolia, jaguars in Brazil, giant pandas in China, tigers in India, lions in Tanzania, wild sheep and goats of the Himalaya.

He currently serves as Vice President of Panthera, a foundation dedicated to wild cat conservation. In addition to this position, which he assumed in 2008, Dr. Schaller continues to serve as a Senior Conservationist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Dr. Schaller has also worked as a Research Associate for the American Museum of Natural History and taught as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Rockefeller University, Shanghai’s East China Normal University and Beijing’s Peking University.

In collaboration with Chinese and Tibetan scientists, Dr. Schaller has worked for nearly two decades studying and developing conservation initiatives for the snow leopard, Tibetan antelope, and wild yak, among other species. His most recent conservation projects have been based in Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Iran and Tajikistan.







Stories Matter

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