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Reading and Writing and Museums

Fiction, and reading in general, is getting more and more play in museums these days, and I am so glad for it. Maybe it’s just art museums but I am seeing more and more book clubs and discussion groups organized by and meeting at museums. The Walker Art Center here in Minneapolis has been doing this for a while, and I’ve seen others too, the Joselyn Art Museum has a book club for art lovers.

Partly inspired by all this reading, and partly because of my belief that if you are writing you ought to be reading, I invited my friend Nona Caspers to be our keynote speaker at the upcoming Museum-Ed online conference on interpretive writing. Nona’s book of short stories, Heavier Than Air, was published last year and won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction in 2007. Before her book was published, Nona asked me to read one of the stories she wanted to include in the collection. When the manuscript arrived, I opened it and what I read took my breath away:

Mr. Lawrence Hellerman’s brain is yawning against the slick coat of drugs the psych nurses give him to sleep. His mind moves like a glacier sliding south, leaving odd deposits on the landscape: a shoe burning in the fire, the eyes of a deer like a trail of turds, work boots, hunting knives, bird feeders, then entrails of ducks and geese and quail. Squirrel bones. His father, Bernard, deaf, hairless, inebriated, slides out the side of the ice in a soft chunk; as soon as he’s gone Mr. Hellerman can open his eyes. But Mrs. Hellerman and their six children are still trapped in there: the firstborn wearing a peach graduation dress, the three boys hunched over cigarettes behind the barn, the youngest girl, the baby boy. The unborn are there too, at the very bottom, scraping against his cranium.

Great writing like this speaks the unimaginable, and great art imagines the unspeakable. What a magical marriage! I hope you’ll join us on February 20 and 21 to hear Nona read from her book and talk about writing from her perspective as a writer and teacher. And if you’d like to read Nona’s book you can get it here at Amazon.