An Interview with Newbery Medal-Winning Author Clare Vanderpool, Part 1

11789685473_f05bf47558_kClare Vanderpool, Newbery-Medal winning author of the novels Moon over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010) and Navigating Early (Delacorte, 2013), got her start by attending a writing workshop at The Milton Center, with which Image was associated in its early years and whose programs are now run by Image. While under a Milton fellowship in the mid-90s, I read one of her earliest works and now discuss her accomplishments in a two-part interview.

Moon over Manifest, set in depression-era Kansas, features 12-year-old Abilene Tucker, whose itinerant father arranges for her to stay in a small Kansas town where he spent his boyhood. There, Abilene is met by a variety of townspeople that have a story as mysterious to her as the reason her father has sent her away. Navigating Early, set in post-WWII New England, tells the tale of young Jack Baker, whose military father puts him in a Maine boys’ school following the death of Jack’s mother. Jack has to make his way in a new world, and finds himself befriended by a strange boy, Early Auden, who sets the two of them on an adventure to find something that everyone, except Early, believes is lost forever.

A.G. Harmon: In your first novel, Moon Over Manifest, you have your main character quote Melville—“true places are never found on any map,” i.e., are more than their locales or their coordinates on a grid. Did that quote influence the novel?

Clare Vanderpool: It definitely was the catalyst of the novel. The notion of a true place and what it is resonated with me. For me, that conjures up a lot memories. I’ve lived in the same place my whole life (Wichita), and memories are around every corner. But for young Abilene (sent by her itinerant father to a town where he’d once lived) who has never had a home, it became a real question. So the idea of finding what a true place is for the character became what the book was about.

AGH: Later, Abilene has a gloss on that—that “true places are found in many places, including on a map.” Are we to take it that a place is indeed its story (pace Melville), but that it can become more than that too—that it is more incarnational—both a place and more than a place? [Read more…]

A Holy Habitation for Life’s Story

By Allison Backous Troy

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May the Lord bless thee out of Zion; and so shalt thou behold the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. —St. Gregory of Palamas

Last night, I dreamed that I was in Montana. My neighborhood looked like the one I live in—same Tudor house, same cul-de-sac, same wooded corner where I take my dog for morning walks. But there were mountains to the south, gray and wide, and the grass was a rust-colored brush, dry and prickly beneath my feet. [Read more…]

God in the Godforsaken Places

1834413480_3f2cfbf078_bI live in the shadows of Washington, D.C. It’s a big place and said to be a very important one in geopolitical matters. I trust them on that. But I’ve found that in most cities its size—in most cities of any size, for that matter—many of the citizens share a rather parochial disposition about the rest of the country.

The other day, a longtime resident who comes to this metropolis by way of an even larger one was telling a story at work. Though an educated man, and a world traveler, he didn’t really know where the action in his narrative took place. So he gestured towards the west with a dismissive flip of the hand and named a few states, randomly: “Kansas, or Nebraska, or some other Godforsaken place,” and went on to finish the tale.   [Read more…]

In Memoriam

roadside-memorialIf you live long enough in a place, people will start to die there, but the phenomenon of time’s passage is often framed more romantically. Consider the lines of the classic Beatles song (emphasis mine):

There are places I remember…
Some have gone and some remain
All these
places have their moments
with lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all.

I’m not immune to this tendency myself. I am a Southerner, after all, and a Mississippian, a member of the tribe for whom the phrase “a sense of place” is endlessly and (often) sententiously invoked.

A real joke: How many Southerners does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Three. One to call the yardman, one to mix the martinis, and one to talk about how lovely the old one was. [Read more…]

We All Have a Place on the Great Chain of Being

XJF347996Somewhere along the Great Chain of Being, we all have our place. That’s an old concept, and perhaps one that doesn’t fit our times as easily as it did in the past, but there’s much of it that still holds true.

From the ancients comes the idea that all things in reality can be located along a continuum—a “Great Chain,” as it were—hierarchized so that each thing possesses an attribute in addition to those that rest immediately below it, and lack an attribute possessed by those immediately above. Plants have life, so are above sand, which has only existence; but plants cannot move, so they are below animals.

Likewise, each entrant within a category can be hierarchized: The lion is the king of the beasts, because it possesses all of the prized attributes of creatures—strength, courage, beauty, etc. But because it lacks a soul, the prophets would rate even the most glorious of the leonine family below the most inglorious of the human. [Read more…]