Mary Moran

A. Manette Ansay is best known as the author of the Oprah Book Club selection Vinegar Hill and the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist Midnight Champagne. But writing was her second, reluctant career choice. At age 20, Ansay found herself suffering from a debilitating and undiagnosable muscle disorder, an illness that forced her to give up her lifelong ambition of becoming a concert pianist. She also began to question her Catholic faith. How she persevered through years of pain to ultimately build a career as a renowned novelist forms the backbone of her powerful new memoir, Limbo.

Raised in rural Wisconsin, Ansay known as Ann to her family turned to books and music for escape. With great sacrifices by her parents, she took piano lessons and practiced for hours every day, eventually winning acceptance to the Peabody Conservatory in Maryland. Pain was a constant for all the students. “Twice a day, I emptied the ice tray into the kitchen sink,” Ansay writes, “then filled the basin and submerged my arms.” But the Midwestern stoicism of her German-Catholic upbringing carried her forward: “Practice and prayer, music and God, the discipline of the Conservatory and the discipline of the Church . . . I needed the first to maintain the second.” 

But over time, Ansay's debility worsened. Despite topical analgesics, acupuncture, cortisone shots and wrist braces, she could no longer perform. She had to face the impossible question: Who would I be without the piano?

As in her novels, Ansay paints her characters in detailed colors. She weaves the narrative of her father's stay at a tuberculosis sanitarium into her own story; his return to health fuels her own eventual emergence as a writer.

In many ways, Ansay is still in limbo. She spends her days in a wheelchair, has yet to receive a clear diagnosis for her illness and no longer identifies herself as a Catholic. But Limbo is not a tale of woe. Ansay now brings to her writing the brilliance that she once brought to the piano. Carnegie Hall may have lost a great musician, but millions of readers have gained a gifted storyteller and friend.

 

Mary Carol Moran teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop at Auburn University.

A. Manette Ansay is best known as the author of the Oprah Book Club selection Vinegar Hill and the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist Midnight Champagne. But writing was her second, reluctant career choice. At age 20, Ansay found herself suffering from a debilitating and undiagnosable muscle disorder, an illness that forced her to […]

Who will enjoy reading Savage Beauty, the passionate biography of poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay? Just about anybody who remembers the poet's name from high school English class. Readers will be shocked and fascinated to learn of Millay's complex, controversial life. Biographer Nancy Milford, who wrote the million-selling Zelda, gained exclusive access to the thousands of papers that belong to Millay's estate and spent 30 years compiling the details into the compassionate, resonant portrait that is Savage Beauty. Born into extreme poverty and virtually deserted by both parents, the brilliant young Millay was sponsored at Vassar by a wealthy matron. At college, the misbehaving, promiscuously bisexual young seductress (friends called her Vincent) became a nationally acclaimed poet. By age 28, she had published 77 poems over a three-year span, all the while conducting casual affairs with many of her editors. Millay's intense friendships with famous people, her sold-out poetry performances, her rock star fame (her collection Fatal Interview sold 33,000 copies in 10 weeks during the height of the Depression) make this biography a compelling one. In 1923, she married Eugen Boissevain, an aristocratic Dutchman. Though the famous Millay strove for a quieter image, privately, she and Boissevain had an open marriage. She wrote best when fueled by infatuation and began an intense affair, a liaison Boissevain attempted to turn into a menage `a trois.

The first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, in the end, Millay succumbed to years of illness and gin and morphine. She died in 1949 of a broken neck from a fall down a flight of stairs at Steepletop, her beloved home. A new volume of her verse from the Modern Library, edited by Milford, quotes the poet on the timeless appeal of her own work. I think people like my poetry because it is mostly about things that anybody has experienced, she says. You can just sit in your farmhouse, or your home anywhere, and read it and know you've felt the same thing yourself. Who will enjoy reading this tragic, engrossing biography? The simpler question is, who won't?

 

Mary Carol Moran is the author of Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations, (Court Street Press). She teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop at Auburn University.

 

Who will enjoy reading Savage Beauty, the passionate biography of poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay? Just about anybody who remembers the poet's name from high school English class. Readers will be shocked and fascinated to learn of Millay's complex, controversial life. Biographer Nancy Milford, who wrote the million-selling Zelda, gained exclusive access to […]

by Elizabeth Spencer spans an acclaimed 57-year writing career that includes five O. Henry Awards. Returning many out-of-print works to circulation, this prestigious Modern Library collection of 26 stories and a novella will be a welcome addition for Spencer's many fans and will deservedly bring her work to the attention of a new generation of readers.

Born in Mississippi, Spencer lived in Italy and Montreal, Canada, before settling in North Carolina, and she brings an international perspective to her Southern story-telling roots. A lifelong friend of Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren, Spencer writes with the simple charm of Southern eccentrics who often learn about life through travel. An early coming of age story, “The Eclipse,” narrates a young boy's journey with his beautiful music teacher. The seemingly simple tale is rich with detail (“he could tell the engineer by the great big cuffs on his gloves”) and grows into allegory as the young man both clings to and outgrows his boyhood devotion.

The theme of illusion versus reality recurs often in Spencer's work, most notably in her million-selling novella The Light in the Piazza. Recounting a story of young love complicated by handicap, Spencer details the intertwined lives of an American mother and daughter and the young lover's Italian family. It's a haunting story of a mother's anxious hopes for her special daughter that unfolds against an Italian backdrop of shifting light and shadow.

The six new stories included in this volume continue to explore the complications of family life. In “First Child,” Spencer brings the family into the 21st century with a modern tale of reluctant quasi-parenthood. “Owl,” the final tale, narrates the quiet search of an empty nest woman for a remnant of meaning in her life.

Spencer writes with simplicity and clarity about people you will recognize. While she respects the intelligence of her readers don't expect a pat ending all tied up with a ribbon Spencer unfolds her stories through straightforward narrative, with just the right dusting of evocative description: “He let the sea sound, the salt air, invade him, like water permeating dry fabric.” [from “First Child”] The Southern Woman is great literature, written to be enjoyed by everyday readers like you and me.

Mary Carol Moran is the author of Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations (Court Street Press). She teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop at Auburn University.

by Elizabeth Spencer spans an acclaimed 57-year writing career that includes five O. Henry Awards. Returning many out-of-print works to circulation, this prestigious Modern Library collection of 26 stories and a novella will be a welcome addition for Spencer's many fans and will deservedly bring her work to the attention of a new generation of […]

will likely be one of the most widely read and hotly discussed books of the year. The scholarship is meticulous, the story-telling is fascinating, and the actual events portrayed are so monumental they deserve everyone's careful attention.

Even the most avid civil rights history buff will find revelations in Carry Me Home. Author Diane McWhorter, a journalist who has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, grew up in Birmingham and was a member of a prominent country club family. The author's hometown became a crucial battleground in the struggle for equality, and McWhorter looks back almost 30 years later to assess the city's role.

She offers strong evidence that Martin Luther King was not the sole or even the most active leader of the civil rights movement. McWhorter acknowledges that he was certainly the most articulate, but she also recounts his repeated reluctance to participate in, and his early departure from, some of the events with which he was later credited. Many forgotten and deserving civil rights figures step forward. Fred Shuttlesworth, a firebrand Birmingham preacher, emerges as the common sense, we-have-to-keep-going leader. Activist Jim Bevel mobilizes the 1963 jail-filling children's march that effectively propels passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Carry Me Home is also the story of the segregationists. We follow the wealthy white DeBardeleben family from their early union-busting days under patriarch Henry, through their support of Hitler's fascism, and down through the generations to Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler, who served in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, eventually becoming spokesperson for the State Department. We venture inside Klan meetings and through the tangled web of police and FBI collusion in Klan activities.

McWhorter's original motivation was to determine whether her complex, difficult father had participated in the bombings that earned Birmingham the nickname “Bombingham.” Throughout the narrative, she intersperses snapshots of her personal life. She tells of attending the Birmingham premiere of To Kill a Mockingbird with her classmates, including Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie. She writes of “the racial guilt we [privileged white girls] shared in rooting for a Negro man.” McWhorter draws on almost 20 years of research to make the reader a participant in both segregationist and movement activities, using actual, almost verbatim recounts by the original participants. Extensive notes give the sources of McWhorter's narrative and include hundreds of documented interviews. McWhorter also read many thousand historical public and private documents. In 1982, her early research landed her on Governor George Wallace's “sissybritches” enemies list.

Carry Me Home is filled with small moments of revelation. For example, Alma Powell, the wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is the daughter of R. C. Johnson, former principal of Birmingham's Parker High School. Many of his students participated (without permission) in the children's marches, while he sat outside his home at night with a shotgun, determined to protect his daughter and new baby granddaughter while his son-in-law earned military recognition in Vietnam.

In Carry Me Home you will learn of the early communist versus fascist struggle beneath the racial battleground; you will find out which entertainers supported the civil rights movement; you will read about the sexual blackmail triangle involving J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. Almost every page brings a new insight or shock about an era, a place and a movement that changed our nation forever.

Mary Carol Moran's Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations (Court Street Press).

 

will likely be one of the most widely read and hotly discussed books of the year. The scholarship is meticulous, the story-telling is fascinating, and the actual events portrayed are so monumental they deserve everyone's careful attention. Even the most avid civil rights history buff will find revelations in Carry Me Home. Author Diane McWhorter, […]

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