Q&A: Marie Harris

Marie Harris
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state. As the Director of the NH Center for the Book  I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers. This month I visited with Marie Harris who is a member of the NH Center for the Book's Advisory Board.

 If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
There are two books that seem to me to best represent my work, my style, my approach to the world. Weasel in the Turkey Pen (Hanging Loose Press) collects my prose poems. The prose poem is a form I experimented with in the 60s and to which I returned with enthusiasm some years later as the best vessel into which to pour my words. Your Sun, Manny (White Pine Press) pushes that form to the outer edges of prose, poem and memoir in order to reflect the loving chaos that was my life as the mother of an adopted fourteen-year-old boy. My other persona, as a children's book author, was spurred by my appointment as NH Poet Laureate (1999-2004) and resulted in the New Hampshire alphabet and number books from Sleeping Bear Press: G is for Granite and Primary Numbers

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I began writing for myself when I was seven or so. Everything in my life--home, school, adventures—conspired to encourage this.

How did you end up living in NH?
I was living in Ithaca, NY when I left my first husband in the mid-sixties. I put a pin in a map and ended up in Portsmouth with my two young sons. We were there a year. I moved us to Barnstead, then met and married Charter Weeks and settled in Barrington in 1977.

Where do you like to write?
Women writers who came of age in the tumultuous Sixties, especially young women with children, learned to steal writing time wherever and whenever they could. I suppose now I have two favorite places to write...
in my little study looking out into the woods, and in the quiet studio with its window on the Gihon River at the Vermont Studio Center where I retreat every winter for two weeks.

How important is place in your writing?
Place is central to my writing. I can't imagine how a writer could ignore its gravitational pull.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
When I'm not writing... oh... that's like asking "What do you do when you're not swimming?"

What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
Russell Banks once corrected me when I spoke about "being" a writer. He pointed out that it's not a state of "being" but of "doing." I've never forgotten that.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
I can never find a good answer to the question about what books & authors I love best. I mean, where to begin?  Nancy Drew. Lad, a Dog.  Call of the Wild. All those books by British women with three names. Edna St Vincent Millay. Gloria Steinem. Robert Bly and William Stafford and Maxine Kumin. Alice Walker. Konrad Lorenz. Audubon. Where to end? The point is...writers are writers because they read.  Everything.

What are you working on now?

My current projects involve Amy Beach, America's first female composer. I have written a kind of libretto that I perform with members of the North Country Chamber Orchestra. And I'm working on a book for young readers about Amy Beach as well.   I'm collaborating with my son, Sebastian Matthews, on a poetic "conversation." 

My new children's book is The Girl Who Heard Colors (Nancy Paulsen Books; Penguin Group USA). It was inspired by my discovery that Amy Beach was a synesthete.

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