USA: Contemporary New England regional writers

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USA: Contemporary New England regional writers

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Sep 4, 2007, 3:53pm

I thought it would be interesting to discuss and promote regional writers within the various areas of the United States. A loose definition regionalism is fiction or poetry that focuses - and captures - the culture, dialect, characters and geography of a specific region. Rather than merely listing books or authors, perhaps we can add a few lines about why their work should be considered regional...

Sep 4, 2007, 4:20pm

New England is home to many, many authors but they're not all 'regional' or 'local flavor' writers.

Burning Marguerite, by Elizabeth Inness-Brown captures the Lake Champlain area of Vermont, while it tells a back story set in New Orleans.

In the Fall and Lost Nation, by Vermont author Jeffrey Lent, both capture historical Vermont and upstate New Hampshire. I think he has a new book out.

I think Northern Maine and, to some extent, the southern Maine that I grew up in (the 50's & 60's), is captured in Monica Wood's novels.

I also think Massachusett's author Michael C. White's books capture his various New England settings well. In A Brother's Blood, set in Northern Maine, I thought his characters sounded like some of my relatives! Former Massachusetts' governor William Weld did a good job with Stillwater, the story of the deliberate flooding of several central Massachusetts towns to make way for the Quabbin reservoir.

To be quite honest, I was born, bred and have lived 98% of my adult life in New England, so I prefer reading books about other places!

Edited: Sep 4, 2007, 5:40pm

I'm not sure how many local writers in New England actually have a local voice (not that you could tell, of course, since we don't have an accent around heah). There are writers like Robert Pinsky, Louise Gluck and Donald Hall, who have strong New England connections and who live here, but cast their net fairly broadly (with an occassional On Golden Pond moment for all of them); but even more so poets like Marjorie Agosin or Ifeanyi Menkiti and writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, brought here by academic institutions. I think of the area as more a melting pot (or salad bowl) than a truly distinct region - though echos of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson will always be heard somewhere.

Sep 4, 2007, 7:36pm

I'm not a New Englander, so I could be way off base, but I thought Empire Falls by Richard Russo gave a good picture of life in a once-thriving mill town.

Sep 4, 2007, 7:42pm

Ernest Hebert has written many books about families in New Hampshire. (I'm a displaced Granite Stater myself ... )

Sep 4, 2007, 9:00pm

A_musing, I think (imho, of course) the only one of your first batch of poets who qualifies is Donald Hall (of course, I don't have complete sets of any of these poets' works). To your list, I would add Vermonter Galway Kinnell; Maine poets Wesley McNair and McKeel McBride; New Hampshire poet Maxine Kumin and perhaps Donald Hall's now deceased wife, Jane Kenyon, also Massachusetts poet Mary Oliver.

rebeccanyc, I haven't read Empire Falls, you may be right:-)

legallypuzzled, I agree about Hebert. Howard Frank Mosher practically owns the Northern kingdom.

There's a Massachusetts author named Norman Gautreau who has written some fine, regional stories set on the Maine coast. I believe he won the Massachusetts Book Award sometime in the last several years.

Sep 4, 2007, 10:35pm

The Berkshire Reader: Writings from New England's Secluded Paradise is a great selection of short stories and excerpts from works of NE writers. The collection spans centuries but as it's been a while since I read it, I can't offer more. The book is, well, in the Berkshires!

Edith Wharton built and lived at The Mount in Lenox, MA. In addition to her novels, she wrote The Decoration of Houses with architect Ogden Codman. The design of The Mount is based on the principles in the book which is considered seminal work in interior design.

Omigosh, why did Erich Segal's Love Story just jump to mind? Just an observation, not a literary promotion!

Edited: Sep 5, 2007, 12:26am

the beans of egypt, maineby carolyn chute is a strong and funny novel about the trailer park poor.

There is also the poetry of Robert Lowell , Ellizabeth bishop, Anne Sexton. Hayden Carruth.

A Richard Russo novel is Nobody's Fool also made into a film with Paul newman.

Wasn't the poet May Sarton from New England?

Edited to remove writers long dead ( not contemporary).

Sep 5, 2007, 11:35am

#6, avaland, I was very skeptical about Empire Falls because it was so popular (yes, I can be a snob!), but it was highly recommended to me by the same person who recommended Bel Canto (which I also was snobbishly skeptical about, but loved) so I gave it a try and really enjoyed it.

Sep 5, 2007, 11:59am

rebeccanyc, ayah, I will have to rethink it then, if you recommend it:-)

almigwin, Yes! May Sarton is a great addition to the list, dunno why I didn't think of her before. Of the others, Sexton & Bishop were writing into the 70's, yes? But Lowell died in the 20's, so I wouldn't consider her contemporary. And I'd have to reread my Bishop and Sexton to decide if they were an author who lives in New England or a New England regional author, if you know what I mean.

I admit that I avoided Carolyn Chute when she was being read by everyone; again, probably too close to home for me.

As far as Boston goes, the first author that comes to mind is Dennis Lehane who is said to capture his native Dorchester perfectly in his mysteries, including Mystic River.

Sep 5, 2007, 12:33pm

Henry Roth who wrote Call it Sleep moved to new England and ran a duck farm. He didn't write for years, and then wrote mercy of a rude stream. Since he lived in New England most of his life, would he fit?

Edited: Sep 5, 2007, 12:44pm

Where was Ann Packer's the Dive from Clausen's Pier set? Was it new England?

I think The Sweet hereafter by Russell Banks, about the bus crash that killed all the children, was set in New England.

the Secret History by Donna Tartt was set in New England also.

Raymond Mungo's Total Loss Farm is a funny book about hippies going back to the land. (Not very good farmland).

Sep 5, 2007, 12:48pm

I have a question - is a Boston (or any major city) writer a regional writer or does their work resonant more closely with writers from other cities? There are two reasons why I ask - when I think of regional writers I tend to think of works that are rural or set in small towns, and I can't help thinking that all major cities in the world now resemble each other to a certain extent.

Sep 5, 2007, 12:56pm

Maybe we should have a thread for urban, one for suburban (Cheever, Updike) and one for rural ( Jeffrey Lent, Larry McMurtry). I think the cities take on the flavor of the regions. Portland and Seattle are northwest places, and Houston and Dallas are Soutwest places. New York city is like nothing else in the world. There is an experience that is urban, but it really differs from city to city.

Sep 5, 2007, 1:04pm

In New England, I'd say Boston/Cambridge and New Haven each have their own unique flavors, both heavily influenced by academia.

I'm not convinced NYC is like nowhere else in the world any more than any other place. It's sort of like the famous old F. Scott/Hemingway Conversation, where Hemingway's response to "The rich are different" was "yes, they have more money."

Sep 5, 2007, 10:24pm

Re: #7 Sorry--I missed "contemporary" in the title of the thread.

Sep 6, 2007, 1:10pm

For Rhode Island and its French Canadian immigrants there are
The Francoeur Novels: The Family, the Woods, the Country
by David Plante

I think these three novels capture a slice of New England life pretty well. Plante spent some time almost as an ex-patriate, and I don't think he lives in Rhode Island. I do have some French relatives (by mother's marriage) as well as well as some more Yankee heritage.

Sep 6, 2007, 1:13pm

In a more popular vein, these are three Massachusetts novels one of my sisters has read by William Martin:
Harvard Yard 57 copies, 1 review
Back Bay 49 copies, 1 review
Cape Cod 48 copies, 1 review

Sep 6, 2007, 8:31pm

jargoneer, that is a good question. I also think of rural settings, but I do think it is possible to capture the culture, characters and dialect in suburban and urban settings also.

I also think that an author has to have a deep connection to the region that he writes about in order for she/he to be considered a regional writer.
Anyone can set a book, say, on the Maine coast (and everyone does) but they aren't regional writers.

So, what about Stephen King?? Can writers who include the fantastic in their fiction qualify? He's a Mainer and has included his surroundings in his fiction, right? I have not read his work or I'd speculate a little more.

I thought about John Updike, although, imho, he has outgrown any regional title (in the traditional sense).

Here's a link to the wiki entry on the regionalist writing of the late 19th century for perspective. I'm not thinking of apply quite the same terms for contemporary writers (for example, we can skip any nostalgic component).

Sep 8, 2007, 9:48pm

I would very much agree with Richard Russo for New England. In addition to Empire Falls, many of his short stories vividly capture the feeling of Maine and New England for me.

Sep 8, 2007, 10:44pm

Is 1976 contemporary? Probably not, but I'll flog The Great Sunflower by Clifford Stone anyway. It's a coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of New London, Connecticut in the wake of the destructive "urban renewal" of the 1960s.

New London is a dumpy little city, once famous for whaling; it lost its grip in the 1950s (it's hard to get around in it by automobile) and has been the scene of some spectacularly bad redevelopment plots. Stone captures the aftereffects of the 1960s version. It was his only novel; he was in his twenties when he wrote it, never quit his day job (in landscaping), and died only a few years later.

Sep 20, 2007, 12:55pm

John Irving, John Irving, John Irving...

Sep 21, 2007, 5:18pm

I think of Dennis Lehane as a distinctly Boston writer.

Sep 23, 2007, 10:24pm

Yes, piefuchs, I agree, but Boston is part of New England:-) To clarify that, I feel Boston is so much more 'regional' than, say, NYC or LA, do you know what I mean?

Edited: Sep 24, 2007, 9:56am

But I'd disagree - NY is so - uh - American. It's a big ugly city that's very self-involved and very caught up in the "industry". Boston may be a small town, but it is a very international small town - on both sides of the river. That's why I think of the Interpreter of Maladies as a collection of Bengal/Boston stories, representing the best of our regional writing. Of course, Lahiri lived in RI, so she's really more regional than Bostonian, but she chose Boston scenes for some lovely stories. And, yes, now she's living in the big city, near the "industry".

I'd also note that Boston has a very long tradition of international influence - isn't Melville one of our finest regional writers, whose works cover much of the Earth's (watery) surface?

NY also does have a history of fine regional writing - I.B. Singer, Thomas Wolfe, Washington Irving, Edith Wharton (yes, she's also a N.E. regional writer, isn't she?). I don't think there is any dictomy between being regional, national, or international.

Sep 24, 2007, 4:07pm

A_musing, while what you say is entirely true, I think it belongs more to New England than it does to the populace of the rest of the country. I think everyone in the US feels they own a piece of NYC and LA - indeed those cities have become American icons. I'm not being terribly clear, I'm afraid.

Traditionally, regional writers have been those who set out to create a sense of place, usually one they are intimately familiar with, the result includes perhaps, a dash of sentimentality. While I'm not trying to place contemporary writers too much in a 19th century mold, I do think there are writers who will be forever tied to New England and/or Boston. Lehane, particularly in Mystic River, does this, I think.

And perhaps, you are right, some cities should almost be treated separately. But, having lived in three of the six New England states, I know that all roads still lead to Boston:-)

Wharton - there's a good anthology of some of Wharton's work called, Wharton's New England edited by Barbara A. White - don't know if it's still in print.

Sep 24, 2007, 5:06pm

Boston is certainly the Hub of Eastern Massachusetts, probably the Hub of New England, believes itself the Hub of the Universe, but no one anywhere has ever thought of it as the Hub of the United States.