Bloomsday’s Back

By Timothy Gillis


AIRE Theater is bringing back Bloomsday for Beginners, its celebration of June 16, the day that the action takes place in James Joyce’s much revered but perhaps lesser read master work, “Ulysses.” In one hour, the troupe will take you through the perambulations of Leopold Bloom, the main character and Irish Odysseus who wanders the Dublin streets and pubs and, at for one point, a brothel. It is there that he meets up with Stephen Daedalus, the artist Joyce paints a portrait of in his earlier, more accessible work. Bloom is chaste in the scene, and spends his time trying to sober up Stephen and keep him from the missteps of youth, as if her were his own son, Rudy, who dies as a child. Meanwhile, back at his house, his wife, Molly Bloom, has been the opposite of her “Ulysses” counterpart, Penelope, who kept her suitors at bay, weaving and unweaving.

This marvelous, myriad cast of characters is brought to life through dramatic readings, in full brogue.

The rollicking performance piece was written by AIRE Artistic Director Tony Reilly, using scenes, songs, and lots of humor to explain the story line.

“I had read Ulysses and several other Joyce books, but I wasn’t a fanatic, as I soon learned a lot of people are,” Reilly said this week. “Since that initial production, AIRE and the MIHC have done many Bloomsday celebrations, including readings of the book by local Portland celebrities, pub crawls and readings at local landmarks, such as Monument Square, the Portland Public Library, and local book stores.

The MIHC plans to keep the tribute going with an exhibit of their collection of Joyce’s books, memorabilia, and a showing of the film “The Dead,” John Huston’s final film starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. Many cities in the US such as New York, Buffalo, and San Francisco have their own unique ways of celebrating, and with a blooming literary scene, Portland is throwing in its dented hat.

Last year, the MIHC held a program at their library, buoyed up with help from a Maine Humanities Council grant, featuring a reading of Joyce and other notable Irish authors.

“We’ve added an amazing amount of eclectic gatherings here in the last year,” said Vinny O’Malley, executive director. “And made some movements to encourage non-Irish folks. We want to be active, and have people come here to a real community center.”

Their slogan is “All are welcome,” and they have been working towards expanding their reach. “We’re an Irish center, but we want to make a space for all immigrant groups appearing here in greater Portland,” he said. “Some people can be intimidated by this place. They still think it’s a church. We have had wedding and funerals here; it’s not like some of that is not still going on here. But we’re so much more than that now.”

Last year, the MIHC hosted the 1st annual Welcome the Stranger, a local organization that helps new immigrants with issues surrounding their refugee status and seeking of asylum.

While broadening their scope, the center is still the main repository in town for all things Irish. Situated and steeped in the old neighbor of Tyng and Tate and Danforth Streets, and anchored at its opposite end with the statue of John Ford, the center brags of being the school of the acclaimed Hollywood director who got his education on these streets and at Portland High School when he was still “Bull” Feeney.

The center offers DNA testing and genealogical studies, and since 1994 when the old St. Dominic’s was closed by the Portland diocese and the MIHC was born, Dubliners have been feeling at home there.

“My wife Susan and I came up here to Portland to live in 2003. We had a previous relationship with the MIHC (Maine Irish Heritage Center) and our goal was to establish an Irish theater company, which we did. AIRE (American Irish Repertory Ensemble.   In 2004 members of the MIHC wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of “Bloomsday” — June 16th, 1904, the day the events in the book James Joyce novel Ulysses are set. Everyone had good ideas but they were having a hard to implementing them. I very foolishly stepped up and said that I would put together a theater piece for the occasion.   I sat down and reduced – probably one of the most difficult and important books in the English language – in to a one-hour piece for anyone who has read the book or anyone who never has and doesn’t intend to. It’s silly, fun and fast. And it actually covers the whole book in one hour.

Tony and his wife, Susan, were in a tragic car accident that claimed Susan’s life. Tony’s return to the stage they once shared has been an inspiration to center members, theater fans, and actors everywhere. “We love Tony, and we love that he’s back here,” O’Malley said. His return, though incredibly difficult, has inspired Tony, as well.

“I have to say that Susan was the prime mover and shaker on the Portland Bloomsday activities. Every year, she and a handful of local devotees would work very hard, to make it a fun and memorable event. When I was still in the hospital after the accident that took my wife, I got a call from members of the AIRE board that gingerly said ‘would you maybe consider doing Ulysses for Beginners this year? At the time I immediately said ‘yes,’ even though I don’t even think I was able to walk yet. After the initial yes, I started thinking that I was nuts to do it. But the thought of honoring Susan and her memory was too strong, and it was the best thing I could have done,” Reilly said. “The response that night (June 16, 2015) at the MIHC was overwhelming. ‘Ulysses’ is a funny book that attracts a very strong following. And it’s a very strong part of Irish culture, and that’s what AIRE and MIHC are all about: celebrating and spreading Irish joy.”


Bloomsday for Beginners

Friday, June 16, at 7 p.m.

The Maine Irish Heritage Center,

at the corner of State and Gray Streets in Portland

Festive and period attire encouraged. Cash bar.


Artist Brown Lethem in Portland Sunday

"Coyotes," a work in progess by Richard Brown Lethem.JPGBy Timothy Gillis

This interview with Brown Lethem appeared previously. The painter will speak at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland, Maine, on Sunday, June 11.

“I learned to think by watching my father paint,” says Jonathan Lethem, the acclaimed author, in an essay on his dad, Richard Brown Lethem, the 81-year-old avant-garde artist. Father and son have long been inspiring each other.

After his reading at SPACE Gallery a few weeks ago, Lethem looked to the audience for questions, and saw his dad with his hand raised. Brown, sitting next to Andy Verzosa of Aucocisco Galleries, asked his son about his recent time living in Berlin and what European reactions were to his latest book, “Dissident Gardens,” which has just been translated into Spanish. While the author has written much about his dad’s influence on him, the painter says no one asks him how his son has also informed his art.

“It’s worked both ways,” Brown said last week. “His work has influenced me. His interest in science fiction, which I wasn’t into when I was younger, and (Jorge Luis) Borges, and some of the writers I hadn’t read – he turned me on to. They’ve been a big influence.”

The two areas the father and son most overlap is the tendency to never repeat by continually reinventing themselves in their art, and the use of fantasy and imaginary relationships. Brown has always had an interest in the subconscious and the fantasy life and how it influences art, working out of imaginary sources, “and I think that’s been prevalent in his work also,” he said. He’s read all of his son’s books, usually cruising through an advanced copy.

“This last one is so dense I have to go back and read it again,” he said. “His writing has really made me alerted to the environmental crisis. He was on top of that long before it became a meaningful aspect of my thinking.”

Brown works at his Berwick home, in the big barn studio during much of the summer and the stable, a smaller studio that he can heat and work in through the winter. His nickname, Brown, comes from his grandfather’s first name.

“I adopted it a few years back as my real name,” he said. “It seemed earthy and appropriate for a painter.”

During our visit, his cat, Chomsky, made friendly, but Sophie and Whippoorwill, another two, stayed out of sight. Brown was a carpenter for years in Brooklyn, and those skills came in handy when he moved to Maine. The Berwick house is a typical New England cape built in 1846. The barn burned down in 1900 and was rebuilt the following year. When Brown moved in, there was a lot of renovation work to be done on the barn and house, but he didn’t mind the labor. He still spends time in his woodworking shop, which is part of the stable studio.

“Richard Brown Lethem: Figure ↔ Abstraction” is an exhibit at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art that runs though the end of August. The show features many of the paintings he created while living in Maine. A six-foot tall wooden sculpture was done in 1991 while he was artist-in-residence at the University of Southern Maine.

“I’ve always done three-dimensional work,” he said. “The carpentry has influenced my artistic work, assemblages where I use woodworking as a basic form for building.”

Lethem, at 81 years old, still remains flexible with the artistic process.

“I work whenever I feel good, and inspired,” he said. “I try to do something around my studio every day. Sometimes it’s just paperwork, or thinking about the art work, and sometimes it’s a laying on the hands.”

Brown Lethem grew up in the Midwest, in the triangulation of Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, and spent his summers in “the Divide,” the high prairie land of Willa Cather.

“It’s an interesting part of the county with the character of flat prairie geology that extends into northern Kansas, beautiful buffalo grass,” he said. “It was a little desolate, scary growing up with fire ants and rattle snakes and hand-to-mouth farming, hardscrabble. Many farmers went into debt. I always retained those feelings that Cather talked about, the innocence of sensing death in the landscape.”

He spent most of his first 11 years in a small town in Missouri, half a block from his best friend’s farm.
“Farm animals were a big part of growing up,” he said, then related his early days to his more recent ones. “I come up here, and I’ve gotten back into the country, where the relationship between animals and people are a big part of the subject matter. I have a lot of paintings of horses and riders.”

Lethem’s parents rode horses to school. His dad, Walter Roy Lethem, was a traveling salesman who did well enough to keep six kids through the Depression. His mother, Faye Marie Gifford, also grew up in a rural situation and never lost that love of close proximity to riding horses. Young Richard always had a great ambition to be a painter and got his first set of oil paints from his older sister when he was nine.

“It’s pretty much what I have focused on for 60 years as an adult. I wound up being a carpenter and a teacher by default,” he said.

Lethem brought up his own children – Jonathan, Blake (a graffiti and graphic artist), and Mara Faye (a writer) – in New York in a free-sharing artistic existence.

“We lived in an old brownstone in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. We had a big house. It became a commune with always three or four or more housemates living with us. The kids had a wide-ranging diverse environment, people-wise. There were a couple of guys from Africa, a guy from Okinawa, a couple from Germany – many involved in the arts in one form or another. It was pretty stimulating, a little bit chaotic. The neighborhood was rough, a lot of threatening stuff on a huge street for a kid.”

Brown taught at the Kansas City Art Institute and at Columbia University (his alma mater), as well as the University of Kentucky and the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1994, he became an assistant professor at USM, where he taught for seven years before becoming an adjunct professor, still instructing a couple classes until three years ago.

“I loved teaching at USM. The students were wonderful,” he said. “They came mostly from working backgrounds and were serious about their work. They were cooperative and really worked together. They also had an independent streak that Mainers have growing up in close contact with nature and working situations. They were great. Other than the Kansas City Art Institute, working with USM painting majors was my very best experience.”

The next wave of Maine artists can check out the works of one of the most inspired, at Richard Brown Lethem’s show in Ogunquit.

Get lit for the holidays

By Timothy Gillis


Jack Wyatt knows what he likes at the new Print Bookstore. (photo by Caeli Shadis)

Just in time for the holidays, there’s a new shop in town. Print: A Bookstore has taken up residence in the former Angela Adams building on Congress Street, downstairs from the East End Lofts.

Print is a wide-open, well-lighted place, with wide aisles for strollers and a great children’s book section that will help keep the youngsters occupied while you’re browsing the bestsellers. A wall had to come down, and new lighting was installed, but other than that, the space was ready-made.

Co-owners Emily Russo and Josh Christie took the plunge two weeks ago, braving the competition and defying any notions of reading as a dying industry. They offer new books only, leaving the sales of well-worn tomes to Yes Books, Carlson & Turner Antiquarian Books and Bookbindery, and The Green Hand Bookshop. Longfellow Books sells both new and used books and has a loyal following, but the folks at Print are confident there will be enough booklovers to support their endeavor.

“Any business is a challenge,” Christie said. “But the American Booksellers Association says that, since 2011, there have been more independent bookstores opening than closing.”

This is not a leap taken blindly. Russo worked as events coordinator at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Ma. and at the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn before that. Christie started at the Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Freeport before he designed, opened, and managed their affiliate in Portland in 2014.

A job that combines the business and pleasure of leading people to great literature is worth the risk. Print plans to relieve the stress with some evening events, book-readings and author appearances. They say that within two years, they expect to be hosting as many as 200 shindigs a year.

Coming up in 2017, Jason Diamond will read from his non-fiction work Searching for John Hughes on Feb. 3, and Maine author Ron Currie will read from his new book, The One-Eyed Man on March 9.

Here are some of the booksellers’ picks for must-reads in the New Year, as well as overlooked books from the past:

Coming in January, Paul Auster checks in with a 980-page doorstopper called 4321. The main character rolls through four different trajectories of his past.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo. Written in the P.G. Wodehouse style, the book follows an 18-century poet who, running low on money, meets the devil on the street and maybe a makes a deal with him.

The Mothers – Brit Bennett’s debut novel about a group of women from southern California who run a church. Things get complex when a young girl falls for the pastor’s son.

Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein. A short story collection reminiscent of TV’s “Black Mirror” and its surreal take on how technology affects people’s lives.

How to be a person in the world by Heather Havrilesky. A collection of writings by the syndicated advice columnist. Havrilesky is a modern-day Dr. Abby for millennial misanthropes.

Check out Print for your holiday shopping, and chase away the Bah Humbugs.

The eventual life of a good story

DSC_0619Frank O Smith

By Timothy Gillis

Frank O Smith has come full circle. The Maine writer and ghostwriter has been crafting stories (his own and other people’s) for nearly 30 years, and one of the stories that started it all is finally out in book form. “Dream Singer,” Smith’s first novel, tells the story of Elijah McCloud, a Modoc Indian with the one-time gift of “dream singing,” or seeing the future through dreams, and Jackie Logan, a young runaway from Seattle. When the book was in manuscript form in 2000, it was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, an award inspired and financed by Barbara Kingsolver that goes to socially responsible literature.

“I didn’t win, but it’s been this constant sustaining wind behind me, saying you do know how to write, something I had been unable to embrace,” Smith said. He appears at Longfellow Book on Thursday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. to read from the book and discuss its long creation.

It began back in 1982, when Smith was writing a magazine story about riding freight trains, called “In Search of the American Hobo.” Smith hopped the freight cars along with the tramps, hobos, and bums (not synonymous). While on his train travels, he met Lonesome Walt, a Modoc Indian, and the inspiration for Elijah McCloud.

“I’ve been everywhere in this book, multiple times,” Smith said of his real-life travels, including a solo retreat to Glacier National Park in Montana where he camped for five days before Red Crow Mountain. During this trip, he confronted one of his fears by making him a character in the story.

“I was terrified of grizzlies, so he became this natural character,” Smith said of Ol’ Icy Eye, a portentous bear that McCloud encounters early on in the novel.

Smith moved to Maine in 1986, just after he started focusing on his fiction. “I had a couple of other books with agents, then I went back to ‘Dream Singer.’ I did a total rewrite for Thomas Dunne books (an imprint of Macmillan). The editor was disappointed with the rewrites. He wanted me to steer more towards the romance.” Unwilling to make the changes, Smith took his book and looked elsewhere.

“I wasn’t getting any response from publishers when I was trying to pitch the book two years ago,” he said. “Some friends came to me, saying ‘you need a break: what book do you want to publish?’ I said I wanted to start a small press for other writers who also needed a break.”

With their help, Smith founded Artisan Island Press, and “Dream Singer” is its first imprint. Smith’s son, Gaelen, who has had art gallery shows in San Francisco, New York, and Berlin, Germany, designed the cover of the book.

The author decided Frank Smith, as a writer’s name, was too plain. So he added the middle initial O, which stands for Orrin, although he doesn’t use a period. “People don’t know if I’m Irish or Hispanic,” he said, “if it’s Frank O’Smith or Franco Smith.”

Either way, the book speaks its own powers with a quest narrative similar in mood and imagery to Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Ceremony.” One follows the chase as McCloud and Logan try to find a killer before he finds them. It’s a novel that reads like a fine wine, the fuller the flavor for having been written, edited, and rewritten over so many years. He credits his wife, Dale Stephenson, for her unending support through all that time.

“She has blossomed into this absolute life companion that has backed me,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without her. My writing craft grew out of this book, my love of language. I’m very pleased.”

Sports writer switch-hits to fiction

By Timothy Gillis

A baseball writer for ESPN has returned to his true love: creating fiction. Author Josh Pahigian, who teaches writing composition at the University of New England, made his name by traveling from ballpark to ballpark, covering America’s pastime.

But now, he says, he is getting back to his creative roots.

“I wrote the ‘Ultimate Baseball Road Trip’ in 2004, with my grad school buddy, Kevin O’Connell,” Pahigian said. “That got some national media attention. Kevin and I were on ESPN for an appearance and both started writing for ESPN out of that. It launched me as a baseball writer and, as much as I like that, it’s not my real passion.”

Pahigian, who has seven baseball-related books to his credit, loved the start he got as a sports scribe, but it did kind of pigeonhole him as a writer.

“There was a temptation to keep writing baseball books,” he said, “because of the money and response, but it was moving me away from what I saw myself as – a fiction writer.Writing fiction again was very freeing for me. Writing the type of non-fiction I was writing was rooted in a pretty straight-forward account of the facts – baseball guides and history books – which focused on ‘what was,’ with a little bit of my opinion. Writing fiction gave me a chance to use the creative side a lot more. It’s been invigorating for me, a pleasure.”

Pahigian also teaches in the Low residency, a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Ct., working with students one week each semester. His teaching schedule allows him time to hone in on Old Orchard Beach, where he worked at one time for the recreation department. OOB is the site of his debut novel, “Strangers on the Beach,” a fast-paced whodunit set with the familiar backdrop of the OOB Pier, the summertime tourists, and the Brunswick, where one of the main characters hides out.

Pahigian said he enjoyed revisiting his old OOB haunts, both literally and in his writing, but the entire process took quite a while to come to him.

“From the time I had the idea for it, it took about a year writing it, then another year finding a publisher, then another year for it to come out,” he said. “My wife, Heather, andI spent a lot of time at the Beach. We were married on Pine Point Beach, about a mile up from Old Orchard, in 2002, right in front of the Lighthouse Inn.”

Now living in Buxton, Pahigian says he had a lot of fun writing about a place that healways enjoyed going to.

“Strangers on the Beach” tells the story of Ferdinand Sevigny, “a bold and brash billionaire whose failed stunt to sail blindfolded across the Atlantic lands him in Old Orchard, triggering a series of events that redefines him and all those people caught up inthe mysteries that surround him,” according to a press release on the novel. The book has been tapped as an “Indie Sleeper Title to Watch” by Publisher’s Weekly, the release said.

The novel has several good plot twists, perhaps surprising for a writer’s first foray, but Pahigian employs a few classic tricks, as well as some original red herrings. Most of the chapters are quite short, and work like a series of Dan Brown or Michael Crichton cliff-hangers, providing quick-paced reading and cinematic qualities. The narrative perspective is always what’s called “limited third-person,” wherein the storyteller is not one of the characters but some voice removed from the action. The “limited” nature of the perspective means that the narrator does not know all (as an omniscient narrator does), and Pahigian uses this curtailed view to his advantage. Chapters usually shift from one to another over-the-shoulder points-of-view, and the reader is kept curious but only partially informed.

“I tried to limit myself to whatever would be apparent to that character,” he said.

Billy, a local kid who gets caught up with the billionaire’s escapades, is first seen under the pier, lamenting his troubled life with a morally loose mother. He encounters someonewhom he (and the reader) thinks must be the billionaire, but that’s not so.

Ernie, a local cop, seems destined for a long, important role in the mystery, but that assumption also proves false.

“When I started, I expected him to be in the book all along,” Pahigian said, “but there was a danger of him taking over. When I decided to kill him, I went back and added some foreshadowing.”

The author said Old Orchard seemed like a natural locale for his mystery.

“The town has a history of devastating fires and floods,” he said. The fire in the novel is based on several such blazes, but not on any specific one.

“I guess I took something that was historic of the town, and tweaked it to build the story, for Sevigny’s stay at the Brunswick,” he said.

Pahigian said the main character might not be the same person as the protagonist.

“None of it is possible without Sevigny,” he said. “He’s the locus of the story, but – from a writing standpoint – Billy and Marisol were more interesting to create.” Marisol is Sevigny’s love interest.

Another character, Sally, collects objects on the beach and becomes an unwitting witness.

“She’s not based on a specific person, but my wife and I go to the beach a ton, and I’ve seen people who walk around and collect things,” said Pahigian, who plans on writing more fiction now.

“I’m working on another novel, also set predominantly in Old Orchard. It’s not a sequel or a prequel – different characters but the same setting that inspired me,” he said.

The next novel is also a murder mystery, part of it set in 1927 when a plane is lost at sea. The pilot is assumed lost with it, but the plane, in fact, has landed at Old Orchard Beach, and the tourist town becomes a perfect backdrop once again.

Josh Pahigian will be reading from “Strangers on the Beach,” and talking fiction, in general, at the following places: On Wednesday, January 30, at 6:30 p.m. at McArthur Public Library in Biddeford; on Thursday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at North Gorham Public Library; and on Saturday, February 9, at 2 p.m. at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth.

Peaks Island Writer Tells South African Tale


By Timothy Gillis

Peaks Island and South Africa might seem like they are worlds apart, but a new book, “White Dog Fell from the Sky,” by Eleanor Morse, brings the far-away culture close to home.

Morse lives on Peaks Island and teaches a course in sudden fiction there. She has traveled extensively in Africa, living in Botswana for almost four years. But it was on Peaks Island that she created her new novel’s main character, Isaac Muthethe, a medical student who flees South Africa after one of his friends is murdered.

“There are 10 or 12 people sitting around a living room,” Morse said of her sudden fiction class. “I wasn’t sure where the first chapter came from. I found it leafing through a notebook, so Isaac was born on Peak’s Island. I felt responsible to tell his story.”

This is Morse’s third book, after “Chopin’s Garden” and “An Unexpected Forest,” but the first “big press book.”

“I was really lucky. I have a wonderful agent in New York, Jane Gelfman. Her first pick for editor was Kathryn Court, president of Penguin,” Morse said.

“The main thing she was interested in was tightening the narrative line in the middle of the book. It was a real ‘listening-to-each-other’ process.”

Gelfman and Court read drafts of the work eventually, but Morse said that, for more than two decades, her first reader has been Kate Kennedy, director of the Southern Maine Writing Project.

“She’s a close friend, and we’ve been each other’s first readers for years,” Morse said.

The novel is a heart-wrenching tale of a struggle too-often forgotten – apartheid South Africa and the brutality of its racist laws.

“White Dog Fell from the Sky” tells the story of Isaac, the medical student come gardener, Alice Mendelssohn, whose gardens he tends, and Ian Henry, the specialist in San rock paintings with whom Alice falls in love. But the strongest ties of love and mutual respect are bound between Alice and Isaac, in a melodic telling of unlikely harmony.

“Setswana is a beautiful language,” Morse said. “I wasn’t able to capture the music of the language, but I wanted the language there. It’s so much a part of the sights and sounds there.”

Morse used words and phrases from the foreign tongue, and then translated them for readers through smooth appositives. The result makes for a reading that is both exotic and immediate. And the story is one that, while set in another country, gives the reader a sense of immediacy and correlation.

“I left this country in 1972,” Morse said of her journey to Africa. “What happened was that a man who was to become my husband grew up in Botswana. His parents were congregational missionaries in the 1940’s. We met when he was in grad school and I was in college. He went back to Botswana. I finally decided to see if this man was in or out my life.”


Eleanor Morse, author

Morse and Andrew Seager had two children – a son named Alan who was born in Gaborone, Botswana in 1973, and a daughter named Catherine, who was born in Blue Hill, Maine, in 1980.

“We were engaged by transatlantic cable, and then returned there (Botswana) for almost four years,” Morse said.

At the time, Gaborone, the new capital of Botswana, had been carved out of the bush, she said. Right after the country gained independence from England, Seager went back to run the first national elections. Shortly after that, in Botswana, there was a discovery of diamonds and copper nickel that put the country on a strong economic base. “There was no army to siphon off funds,” Morse said. “So money went into education and healthcare.”

Her experience there stayed with her, and now she has turned that into a compelling novel of love, loss, and redemption.

Regarding the creation of her characters, Morse said “Alice came to me when I was beginning another book, kind of a book that had to do with the Vietnam war, and people who returned from the war. Like some books, it didn’t really take off, so I had the seed of Alice in my head.”

She said she couldn’t really tell where they third character came from. “I don’t plan on a book the way some people do,” she said. “Ian came about in a slightly less visceral way. I was very interested in Bushmen painting, while in Botswana. There was a lot of antagonism between ranchers and the people who live traditional lifestyles. I started doing research in Bushmen painting, and that’s really where Ian came from. From the very start, he was the kind of guy who was a rapscallion. I wanted him to be a part of the wilderness that he loved. That made him not always fit for human society.”

Morse admitted that Ian’s character is less sympathetic that the other two, and she also concedes that a white American woman telling a black South African’s story might yield come criticism.

“I was very sensitive in telling the story,” she said. “Alice’s first voice was first-person. But I felt the book would suffer disunity if her voice was first person and Isaac’s was third. But it felt arrogant being a white woman telling a black man’s story in first person, so they both became third-person characters.”

Morse said she wanted to tell the story of that time and place, and most importantly, didn’t want the black people in the book to come across as victims.

“Isaac, in my mind, has a lot of courage and intelligence and dignity,” she said.

Morse uses a combination of actual African sayings and some of her own beliefs. She says she plans to return to Botswana with the son who was born there someday.

Her book contains powerful images – a sunken garden that Isaac tries to build for Alice, and the White Dog of the title.

“I lived in India for six months,” Morse said, where she met a dog like White Dog named Blondie. “It was one of the most cheerful animals I met in my life, and belonged to a Tibetan man who was learning to be a Thankga painter. He pretty much ignored her, but she was loyal to him, and I loved her loyalty and hopefulness. I didn’t set out to make White Dog a symbol, and was worried a little bit that White Dog was white and might be taken for something else, but White Dog is herself. If a symbol for anything, it’s a symbol of loyalty and persistence.”

White Dog has been brought to life, in a way, by MECA student Gaella Materne. She worked with Morse to create a papier mache version of the book’s title character, on display in the window at Longfellow Books.

imag1504 1

Gaella Materne, artist

Materne, who is in the last year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, said it was the first time she has been involved in something like this.

“I thought it was a fantastic opportunity,” she said. “When you’re a senior, you want to get your name out there as much as possible.”

Her plans for next year? “I’ll probably just go ahead and do what I love, and see where it brings me. I’m crossing my fingers a little bit. That’s the trick: like Eleanor, do what you love. She loves writing and she’s good at it.”