Peter Orner

Friday Reads - June 14

We met Michael Epstein at a reading at The Norwich Bookstore last year and were recently in touch with him again. If you are looking for your next read, he has a wonderful blog called BookMarks, which is chock-a-block full of reviews and his own personal reading lists. When we invited him to be a guest for our Friday Reads feature, we were delighted to discover that he wanted to write about our friend Peter Orner’s upcoming release, Maggie Brown & Others, which is due out on July 2 from Little, Brown and Company.

Thank you, Michael, for this thoughtful review of Maggie Brown & Others. We were already looking forward to reading this book—now we really can’t wait!

Peter Orner’s new book, Maggie Brown & Others is superb. In 44 short stories and one novella, Orner introduces vibrant and vital characters in both mundane and exotic settings, and says to the reader, “Here’s life with all its complexities and beauties. See it and weep.”

Orner is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth and the author of two previous novels, two story collections, and a memoir, Am I Alone Here? In that book, he writes about what he has learned in reading authors from Chekhov to Woolf, from Welty to Kafka. In one typically offbeat and fascinating chapter, Orner introduced Herbert Morris, whose book of poetry he had pulled from a free bin outside a used bookstore in San Francisco. I’ve now read Morris’ poetry and found wonder and solace in his sketches of people in their “most intimate, unguarded moments.”

It is this same ability to provide the reader with the intimacy of knowing a character in just a few sentences and being plunged into a situation that evolves in a few pages that is Orner’s gift. The first section comprises 13 stories situated in California where drugs, mental illness, suicide, divorce, and death provide a contemporary frame for the passing of time, the passing of people, and the sadness of life. In the nine stories in the section entitled “Lighted Windows,” Orner leaves California for places that appear to be more autobiographical and associated with relationships---a brother who calls his sister after disappearing from the family for 12 years, various extra-marital experiences, and my favorite story in the collection about a summer camp counselor, “An Ineffectual Tribute to Len.”

In that story, the narrator, a cab-driving grad student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, looks back on his counselor with gratitude and sadness—“Len was one of the first people to notice something in me, anything in me.” The student vows to write a novel about Len who died young of AIDS, but he can’t manage to move from the manila folder full of notes to the novel. Ultimately, he decides to write a short Chekhovian short story. Orner writes, “All hail Chekhov. If done right, he tells a story that never ends. A story lurks. A story, a good story, is just out of reach, always. Wake up in an unfamiliar darkness, in a room you don’t seem to recognize. Flip on the light. Nothing there….The last period of the last sentence of a story isn’t a full stop; it’s a horizon…..We’re talking about the quest for infinity here….a story, one that ends but doesn’t end, that’s infinity, immortality right there.”

And this is precisely what Orner does throughout this entire volume, sketching a character, a location, a situation with a few quick brush strokes, developing the complex lives of these characters in a mere page or two, and leaving the reader to reach their own conclusion about the outcome, the horizon that refuses to be defined in simple terms.

From Lighted Windows, Orner moves to the last three sections of the book. The epigram that introduces one section is a quote from the poet Robert Creeley: “Turn left by the old house that used to be there before it burned down.” How apt an introduction to Orner’s world. The author takes his character back to his boyhood Chicago settings to revisit relatives, friends, and family members in an attempt to sort out the now vanished past and how it influences and even determines the present

And finally, we settle into the 100+page novella that concludes the volume, the story of Walt Kaplan, a life-long resident of the crumbling New England town of Fall River, a furniture store salesman, the father of Miriam, the husband of Sarah, the best friend of Alf. One could not find a more bland character, and yet I felt deeply about Walt and his mundane, every-day, life. That is Orner’s great skill.

In his “Notes For An Introduction” in Am I Alone Here?, Orner writes that he is “drawn to certain stories because of their defiant refusal to explain themselves. Fiction isn’t machinery; it’s alchemy….A piece of fiction can have all the so-called essential elements, setting character, plot, tension, conflict, and still be so dead on the page that no amount of resuscitation would ever do any good.” Orner’s stories in Maggie Brown & Others are not in need of any resuscitation. They are vibrantly alive, taking the reader to horizons that in their enigmatic unreachability, force one to think, to consider, to ponder who we are and who we might be able to become before the final sentence in our final chapter.

This is a wonderful book.

Michael F. Epstein reads and writes in Brownsville, Vermont, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. He can be reached at, where you can find over 1000 review of books to answer the question of “What should I read next?” or on Facebook and Instagram.

The Dipper - November 2018

"The Dipper" is our monthly newsletter, where we highlight readings, events, calls for submission, and other literary-related news for the coming month. If you have news or events to share, let us know


November News


Want to hear some gorgeous music, listen to two fabulous authors read, take part in a conversation about the writing process, and stuff your face with homemade biscuits? Well then, look no further than our own Writers’ Process Night happening this Saturday, November 3 at Open Door in White River Junction, Vermont.

Join us, Laura Jean Binkley, Camille Guthrie, and Peter Orner, and a mountain of biscuits made by Literary North’s favorite baker and all-around fan, Dr. Hermann Puterschein. Scurry over to the Event page now and claim your seat at the biscuit bar! See you on Saturday!


Slow Club Book Club members, have you started reading our final book of 2018 yet? If not, please don’t worry; you’re in fantastic company! At least one of your SCBC hosts hasn’t started either. And guess what? That’s just fine. October always seems to be a month when everything hits the fan at once. Between finally waking up from the summer drowsies and suddenly realizing that the end of the year crazies are nigh, this time of year is often overstuffed with deadlines, new projects, school meetings, and making appointments to get winter tires put on. Never fear… Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence will wait patiently for you to dip in as you have time, maybe while waiting for those tires to be changed.


It always feels a bit awkward to promote one’s own stuff, but if you can’t do it in your own newsletter, where can you? So this is just to say… Rebecca has written a science book about rivers for kids aged 7 to 10, and it's coming out later this month! Rivers and Streams! is part of a set of four “Explore Waterways” books published by the excellent Nomad Press in White River Junction, Vermont. It’s packed with really fun illustrations by the very talented Tom Casteel, and it includes 25 river-related activities. If you have a young person in your life who’s into science—or even one who isn’t yet into science—check out the set, or the many other wonderful non-fiction books for kids that Nomad publishes.

November’s Shooting Stars

A cool literary find from each of us to help light up your month!

  • Tommy Orange’s review of Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in The New York Times was fantastic. Here’s a snippet:

“Now more than ever I believe fiction can change minds, build empathy by asking readers to walk in others’ shoes, and thereby contribute to real change. In “Friday Black,” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now, at the end of this year, as we inch ever closer to what feels like an inevitable phenomenal catastrophe or some other kind of radical change, for better or for worse. And when you can’t believe what’s happening in reality, there is no better time to suspend your disbelief and read and trust in a work of fiction—in what it can do.”


  • I’m in a bit of a glum mood, what with the current dreary weather and the state of the world and all, so Emily Dickinson’s Patreon page in The New Yorker is giving me a welcome lift as I put the finishing touches on this newsletter. I’ll be scraping my shekels together to afford patronage at $100 a month (“I will tell you which parts of the Bible would be made better with bees. Plus all previous rewards.”) How about you? —Rebecca

November Highlights

On Friday, November 2, at 7:30 pm, GunSense Vermont, the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, and Bear Pond Books present “Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence.” This event features Major Jackson, Matthew Olzmann, and Kerrin McCadden and takes place at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, Vermont.

Ed Koren

Ed Koren

You have plenty of opportunities to catch cartoonist Ed Koren in November. He’ll be at The Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on Saturday, November 3, at 6:00 pm; at Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont, on Thursday, November 15, at 7:00 pm; at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, on Friday, November 23, at 12:00 pm for a book signing; and at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vermont, on Tuesday, November 27, at 6:00 pm.

On Sunday, November 4, at 3:00 pm, poet Sue Ellen Thompson is giving a lecture on “Marriage, Metaphor, & Mortality: The Poetry of Jane Kenyon” at BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vermont. The lecture explores Kenyon’s lifelong struggle with depression and her marriage to fellow poet Donald Hall.

Also on Sunday, November 4, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, will be dedicating the Colony’s Library to James Baldwin, who was a resident at the Colony three times in the 1950s to work on his books. The outdoor ceremony at 11:00 am will be followed by light refreshments.

Eugene Lim will be reading as part of the Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Reading Series at Dartmouth College’s Sanborn Library, in Hanover, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, from 4:30 to 6:00 pm.

First Wednesdays, a program of the Vermont Humanities Council, brings DeRay McKesson to Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, on Wednesday, November 7, at 7:00 pm to talk about politics and activism.

Catherine Lacey. Photo by Jesse Ball.

Catherine Lacey. Photo by Jesse Ball.

Catherine Lacey is at Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, on Wednesday, November 7, at 7:00 pm, reading from her new short story collection, Certain American States.

On Tuesday, November 13, poet Kevin Goodan reads from his new collection, Anaphora, at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire. The reading begins at 5:30 pm.

Jeremy Holt visits Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday, November 13, at 7:00 pm for his graphic novel, After Houdini.

Robin MacArthur will be at The Bennington Free Library in Bennington, Vermont, on Thursday, November 15, at 7:00 pm, in support of the paperback release of her fabulous novel, Heart Spring Mountain.

Kim Adrian

Kim Adrian

Poet Sidney Wade will be at the Fleming Museum of Art in Burlington, Vermont, for the Painted Word Poetry Series on Thursday, November 29, at 6:00 pm.

As part of the UNH Writers Series, Kim Adrian, author of the memoir The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet, will be reading at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, on Thursday, November 29, at 5:00 pm.

Visit our calendar for detailed information about these events and more!


Worth a Drive

Edward Carey visits The Odyssey Bookshop in Hadley, Massachusetts, on Thursday, November 8, at 7:00 pm to read from his new novel, Little, about Madam Tussaud. The event is free but registration is requested.


Worth a Listen

We're Looking Forward to These November Releases


Calls For Submission and Upcoming Deadlines

The AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire is looking for its next batch of true-life storytellers for its December 13 Mudroom event. The theme is “Holiday Disasters.” Storytellers of all ages and from all towns in the Upper Valley and beyond are welcome to submit their stories for consideration by November 23. In your submission, include a brief summary of the story (no more than 300 words) and a short bio (no more than 150 words). For more information and to submit your story, please visit the AVA Gallery’s Mudroom page.

Marble House Project is a multi-disciplinary artist residency program in Dorset, Vermont, that fosters collaboration and the exchange of ideas by providing an environment for artists across disciplines to live and work side by side. The three-week Artist Residency is open to artists in all creative fields, including but not limited to visual arts, writing, choreography, music composition and performance. Applications for 2019 residencies are open through December 16. The application fee is $32. For more information, please visit the Residency Applications page.

Bloodroot Literary Magazine is accepting submissions of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for their 2019 Digital Edition through December 31. Submission guidelines are available on the Bloodroot website.

The Frost Place is accepting submissions for their annual Chapbook Competition. The competition is open to any poet writing in English. The submission fee is $28. Submissions will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Chapbook Competition page.

Applications are now open for the Dartmouth Poet in Residence program at The Frost Place. This is a six-to-eight-week residency in poet Robert Frost’s former farmhouse in Franconia, New Hampshire. The residency begins July 1 and ends August 15, and includes an award of $1,000 from The Frost Place and an award of $1,000 from Dartmouth College. The recipient will have an opportunity to give a series of public readings across the region, including at Dartmouth College and The Frost Place. Applications will be accepted through January 5, 2019. For more information, please visit the Residency page.  

Every summer, the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, awards residency Fellowships to artists in seven disciplines, including literature. A Fellowship consists of exclusive use of a private studio, accommodations and three prepared meals a day for two weeks to two months. The deadline for the 2019 Summer MacDowell Literature Fellowship is January 15, 2019. The application fee is $30. For more information, please visit the Residency Application page.

Upcoming Workshops and Classes

Do you have an interview project in mind but don’t quite know where to begin or how to proceed? The Vermont Folklife Center is offering an “Oral History: An Introduction” workshop that can help you move your project forward. The workshop will be held on November 3, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Dorset Historical Society in Dorset, Vermont. Tuition is $95-$50. For more information and to register, please visit the Vermont Folklife Center Workshop page.

The pressure’s on if you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month, the creative writing project that challenges participants to write a 50,000 word manuscript in November. Take some of that pressure off with the free “NaNoWriMo Expressive Writing” workshop, lead by Joni B. Cole on November 5, at the Norwich Public Library in Norwich, Vermont, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. This workshop invites you to write from a prompt to develop a character….add a plot twist…or discover a scene that’s just been waiting to burst onto the page. For more information, please visit the Writer’s Center of WRJ Workshops page.

Looking for quality instruction, feedback, and inspiration in a beautiful Vermont setting? This half-day retreat on November 10, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, offers all that and more. You’ll have the opportunity to share pages of a new or revised work for personalized feedback, learn tips and techniques to get started and stay motivated, and reap the benefits of gathering within a supportive creative community. Both nervous beginners and seasoned authors are welcome. Tuition is $115 and must be paid in full prior to the retreat. For more information, or to register (required), please visit the Writer’s Center of WRJ Workshops page.

NaNoWriMo too easy? Become a Centurion by earning 100 poetry, essay, or short-story rejections in twelve months. Lead by R. W. W. Greene, this two-hour workshop hosted by the New Hampshire Writers’ Project will “take you through the steps of submitting your work, the mystery of rejectomancy, and the best methods of recuperation from a ‘thanks but no thanks.’” The workshop will be held on November 17, from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, at The Ford House on the campus of SNHU in Manchester, New Hampshire. $50 for NHWP members; $75 for non-members. For more information, please visit the NHWP Workshops page.

Storytelling is a powerful tool for the documentation of voices, memories, and histories. It can also be a catalyst for activism and social change. In this “Storytelling for Social Change” workshop—held on December 1, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the Saint Albans Museum in Saint Albans, Vermont—we will explore the ethics and techniques of oral history, ethnography, and storytelling as activist research methodologies. Attendees will be invited to take a critical and analytical look at the history of documentary work, and will learn the basics of skills such as interviewing, story circle facilitation, and ethnographic observation. We will also cover the technical aspects of storytelling, providing an introduction to tools for minimal-resource and mobile audio recording. Tuition is $95-$50. For more information or to register, please visit the Vermont Folklife Center Workshop page.

Friday Reads - October 26, 2018

In anticipation of our Writers’ Process Night on November 3*, we’re revisiting our participating authors’ most recent books, which is only making us more excited to hear Camille and Peter reading and discuss their thoughts on the writing process.

*Haven’t bought your tickets yet? It’s not too late!


The poems in Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair were written in response to the life and work of artist Louise Bourgeois (the book’s title comes from one of Bourgeois’ 1986 installation of the same name). The poems are sculptural themselves. They are concrete, with lines constructed of their own steel and marble, while also open to allow in light, reflecting the art, the artist, and the poet all at once. Simply beautiful.


Peter Orner’s Am I Alone Here? is a fantastic collection of essays about reading and writing and being human that will appeal to rabid readers or anyone who just loves great writing. His essays wheel from funny to tender and everything in between. We love this book!

Rebecca's 2017 Year in Reading

Before we begin, three confessions:

~I love knowing what other people are reading, but I almost always end up feeling like I can't keep up with all the cool new books that everyone else is devouring.

~I hate writing about what I'm reading because I don't keep up with the cool new stuff (see above) and I can't believe that anyone cares what old books I'm rereading or half-reading.

~Last year I promised to start keeping a list of books. I managed to keep that up for two books. Maybe 2018 will be my year?

That said, I loved reading Shari's list. It's only fair that I write one, too.


Let's begin with fiction. My cobbled together list says I read 13 books of fiction in 2017. Some were enjoyable. Many were forgettable. But not Robin MacArthur's Half Wild. That book. It helped me enjoy reading again after a long drought. Her stories are full of strong, wild, rooted women. Vermonters. Crusty and soft all at once. Almost a year later, I'm still thinking about those women and their stories.



When Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize this year, I picked up The Buried Giant. The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite novels, but I hadn't read many of his other books. The Buried Giant, like The Remains of the Day, is quiet yet powerful. A story of memory and age and love and war and dragons. I read it slowly, feeling such tenderness for the old couple, not wanting it to end.




Near the end of the year, I raced through Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust. It's an unputdownable adventure, exciting, beautifully written (naturally), and a clear echo of the current political climate. I love the details in Pullman's world: the ancient buildings, the intricate machinery, the wild flooding river. You don't need to have read the His Dark Materials trilogy to enjoy The Book of Dust (but you still ought to anyway).


But I agree with Shari. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward is my fiction choice of the year. I want everyone to read it. I keep buying copies and then giving them away. I love it so much I can't keep it in my hands.

I generally read more non-fiction than fiction and there are several standouts from last year.


I really loved Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood. It's the first book I've read in ages that actually made me laugh out loud. Cry while laughing. And then reread passages, while crying, to my family so that they could laugh, too. But it wasn't just funny; it was thoughtful and beautifully written. If I hadn't borrowed the copy I was reading, I would have underlined gorgeous sentences on nearly every page.



In preparation for our Mud Season Salon last March, I read Jeff Sharlet's The Family and I still can't get it out of my mind. If you want to understand how Christian fundamentalism has taken such a firm grip on US government and politics, you'll want to read this impeccably researched and beautifully written book.




Peter Orner's Am I Alone Here? is a gem. A book of essays about reading and writing, it's a joy to read and, if you're a writer, makes you want to write. At first, I dog-eared pages that had sentences I wanted to return to, but, when there were too many sentences and dog ears, I took my pen out to underline, star, and bracket my favorites. He writes, "if you pause a little and simply watch people, doesn't the world have a way of turning miraculous?" He's perfectly right.


I knew before I read it that I'd love Mary Ruefle's My Private Property because, really, I'm a sucker for her work. Madness, Rack, and Honey remains one of my all-time favorite books. My Private Property is composed of short essays (some only a paragraph long), or maybe they're prose poems. They are easy to read, and reread, and then reread again. Each time through, I catch some other nuance, some different detail. My favorite pieces are the color sadness pieces: "Grey sadness is the sadness of paper clips and rubber bands, of rain and squirrels and chewing gum, ointments and unguents and movie theaters."

Which brings us to poetry and this is where I find this whole exercise most difficult because, really, I could go on and on about some of the books I've read this year that had me rolling around in words and lines like a happy dog rolling in a great smell. Here's a list of 10 I particularly enjoyed this year, some that were rereads and some that were new to me.

  • Calling a Wolf a Wolf, by Kaveh Akbar
  • Collected Poems, by John Berger
  • Door, by Mary Kane
  • Falling Awake, by Alice Oswald
  • Men in the Off Hours, by Ann Carson
  • Nets, by Jen Bervin
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong
  • Telling My Father, James Crews
  • The Best American Poetry of 2017, edited by Natasha Tretheway
  • To Look Out From, by Dede Cummings

I've gone on a bit here, so I'll wrap up with probably my favorite book of 2017: A Grace Paley Reader, edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley. Grace wrote equally brilliant short stories, poems, and essays. The genius of this book is that it gives you a taste of each in one easy-to-carry volume. You can take it with you to the service station waiting room, on an airplane, to your backyard, or to your favorite reading chair. You can dip in anywhere and find Grace's direct, wise words. Her love of family and community. Her commitment to what's right and just. Her generosity and her deftness. Her ear. Her humor. Her vision of what the world is, and what it could be.