Jeannine Atkins: Irene Latham!
One of the gifts of summer is when people travel into my small western Massachusetts orbit. I’ve felt a kindred spirit with Irene Latham after reading her blog, her beautiful novel, Leaving Gee’s Bend, and her collection of poems, The Color of Lost Rooms. I was happy she let me know that she’d be flying out of Alabama to visit the nearby Emily Dickinson homestead , while taking a literary journey with her father, who shares her passion for books.
We met at Judie’s Restaurant in Amherst, where they shared some stories from the Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain houses they’d visited in Connecticut the day before. I also loved hearing the proud father speak of his favorite author, Irene. When I asked if he read her blog, he said, “I read everything she writes.” They told me about how when he’d travel when his five children were small, he’d bring back some small thing for Irene to write about. Most things were so common they were hard to remember, but what remains is the link to his daughter who is still inspired by things as small as the “i” she wore as a necklace with a tiny blue stone, or ordinary events that become extraordinary with deliberate attention. And that person who is waiting for whatever she writes next.
When I mentioned envying their relationship, Irene asked who encouraged me to write, giving me a chance to talk about my Grand-mère who didn’t offer exercises, the way her father did, or ask to see poems, but Grand-mère’s pleasure in art and allegiance to beauty gave me a kind of hope I didn’t get from my more practical parents. I was reminded of the different places we find the people who whisper Keep going. Even if a person never used those words, even if they’re not now among the living.
Irene and I talked about the different challenges of writing and marketing poetry and novels, and our frustration about publishing prejudices against works about real people who aren’t deemed famous enough. We talked some about what we’re writing and reading now. Her father seemed happy to listen. For more details of what they saw over a jam-packed few days, visit her blog.
I like what she has to say about how Mark Twain put Huck Finn in the pigeon holes of his desk, the photograph of Edith Wharton’s bedroom and Henry David Thoreau’s gravesite, and also how she includes who couldn’t bother to say good morning in the literary tours, which restaurant to avoid, and the weirdness that is the Massachusetts Turnpike. I only wish we could have visited longer, but I am looking foreword to my next summer visitor – a weekend with my daughter!