Book Launch for HIS OTHER LIFE: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams!

Whatever happened to Hazel Kramer, Tennessee Williams’ high school sweetheart?

She married my father, Terrence McCabe– breaking young Tom Williams’ heart– and then she seems to have disappeared from history.

Please come out on October 5th, 7 pm, to Arlington Central Library, to discover answers to the mystery!

http://arlingtonva.libcal.com/event/3549903?_ga=2.134189193.689243483.1506185132-183726162.1499445467

 

 

Winner of the University of New Orleans Press 2016 Prize

It took me 40 years after my father’s death to begin to learn the secrets of his first marriage to a woman who had been Tennessee Williams’ high school sweetheart.

But once I began to uncover the truth, a book was born, and that book has now won the University of New Orleans Press’ 2016 Lab Prize, and will be published in June of 2017.

I will also be a panelist at this spring’s annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans!

2017 Speakers (More to be confirmed!)

Stay tuned for more announcements to come.

 

Remembering Summer

As  I write this, the first real snow of 2015 is falling outside my window.  Summer seems very long ago to me now– perhaps even more so this year because so much has changed in my life since those lazy and simpler days.  Back in the hazy heat of August, my sister was still well, still in remission, and was on her way to a new career and a brighter future.

Everything came undone in September when she got the news that her cancer had returned.  She fought very hard– far more bravely than anyone I have ever known– but despite her determination and hope, she passed away on January 3rd, having made it only a few days into this new year.  Losing her has been more heartbreaking than anything I have ever experienced.

She was my closest friend– and more than that, my most faithful supporter and fan.  She was so proud of every success that came my way, and especially of the latest book, WHAT THE NEIGHBORS KNOW, because of the many poems in it that sprang from our shared childhood.  Amazon would have you believe that it is a book about a failed marriage– and it is, in part.  But it is about much more than that.  My sister recognized herself and our story in many of the pages, and loved it for that reason.

All of Part 2 of the book deals with those memories of childhood days.  It opens with a poem called “Going Home” and the lines “At twilight I tug you down my childhood streets./ This is how it would feel if I could take you/inside of my dreams.”  My sister had a very strong bond with our past.  Her life was not an easy one, and she recalled those days as the sweetest and the safest times she ever knew.

One of the poems, “The Air Then,” is directly about that simpler time, when the air “was more amber and there was hickory in it,” when “pianos played from the open windows and insect wings beat/in our hair.”  Nothing that came after those days was ever quite the same.  Something unnameable, ineffable, was gone forever.

In celebration of the one-year anniversary of this book– (it was released in February of 2014)– I am re-posting this interview that I did with the poet J.P. Dancing Bear on his San Francisco-based radio program, “Out Of Our Minds.”  In the interview, I talk about the poems in the book and read from them.

My sister was so thrilled when the podcast went live and she could listen in to all I had to say on that hot August night– back before our lives changed forever.

This is for Terri– and for you, too, if you missed it.

http://jp-dancingbear.squarespace.com/outofourminds/2014/8/1/out-of-our-minds-wguest-melanie-mccabe

 

New Nonfiction! My Father, His First Wife and Tennessee Williams

When I first launched this website, I thought that titling it “Melanie McCabe- Poet” was ideal.  All of my work at that time had been confined to poetry, and I had no plans to write anything else.

But everything changed in May of 2013.

I have known ever since my father died when I was 16 that he had been married to another woman before he married my mother.  And I knew that this woman had been Tennessee Williams’ girlfriend when the two of them were growing up together in St. Louis.

It was a tantalizing bit of information that I savored and would share with my students when we would begin reading A Streetcar Named Desire in class.  But I knew very little else– about this woman, about Williams, or about the nearly fifteen years my father had spent in this first marriage.

But that day in May, a friend asked casually if I also knew that Williams had written a play late in his life in which there was a character named after my father — Terrence McCabe.   I had not known– and I was intrigued.  So intrigued that I set out on a quest to learn more– and what I have learned since that day has gone far beyond that one play to include a far-reaching investigation into my father’s “other life” and what actually occurred between him, his first wife, and Tom Williams.

I am now more than two-thirds of the way into a book on this topic– a book I never anticipated writing.  And I am very pleased to announce here that the first chapter of this book has now been published as an essay in the current issue of SHENANDOAH.

Please click below to read the essay!

http://shenandoahliterary.org/641/2014/08/15/his-other-life-searching-for-my-father-his-first-wife-and-tennessee-williams/

Now you can look inside!

Holden Caulfield did it.   So did Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Rear Window.”   I do it.  I’ll bet you’ve done it, too.

            When my sophomores read Catcher in the Rye, they sometimes express disapproval when Holden Caulfield stares a long while out of his hotel window at all the strange goings-on in the windows across from him.  “Weird,” they say.  “Creepy.”

            “Really?” I ask.  “So if you glanced out of your hotel room as Holden did and spied a man trying on women’s clothing and a couple spitting water at each other, you’d be able to turn away and continue unpacking your suitcase?  You’re finer folks than I am.  I’d be riveted.”

            In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Jimmy Stewart plays a character stuck in a wheelchair because of a broken leg.  Bored out of his mind, he takes to spying on his neighbors in the apartment building across the courtyard.  And he gets really serious about it, too—employing binoculars and later, a telescopic camera lens.

           What motivates them both?  Holden is feeling alone and blue, once again kicked out of another prep school, afraid to go home to face his parents’ disappointment and anger.  He feels cut off from others, and yet incapable of reaching out to anyone.  Why would the bizarre eccentricities of strangers hold his interest?   Is there a kind of comfort for him in discovering others with secrets to hide, who also do not fit neatly into acceptable society?

            Stewart’s character is bored and lonely.  He is used to a fast-paced life as a photographer, always on the go.  Unable to go out into the world as he normally does, to socialize and be entertained, he looks for something to fill the emptiness.  He has no TV to watch; it is many decades before the internet.  He looks out that window for the same reason we now scroll through Facebook—to divert himself from his solitude, to remind himself that he is not entirely alone.

            I haven’t actively spied on anyone since I was a child.  And I am generally way too busy to be bored.  But I do love to take long walks at night through my suburban neighborhood, and I confess that when a house is lit up and the curtains open, it is hard not to look inside, to wonder about the lives that are being lived inside those walls.

            I think we all have a fascination with other people.  Not only with celebrities living their big-splash lives, played out for us on the web and in the headlines, but also with the quiet, ordinary folks we work beside and live next-door to.  Are they like us?  Do they love what we love?  Do they also have secrets, sorrows and fears they try to keep hidden?

            This curiosity was one of the impulses behind my new book of poems, What The Neighbors Know.  The book is now available on Amazon, and the feature “Look Inside the Book” has just been enabled, making readable the two opening poems!

          “Opened Houses” deals with many of the ideas I have described above.  And “This House” explores the speaker’s mixed feelings about a home that must soon be sold.  In the first poem, the speaker is on the outside, looking in at the lives of others.  And in the second, it is the reader who looks in on the secret world the speaker inhabits.

           Hope you will take a minute to check the poems out!  Click on What The Neighbors Know above to find the book on Amazon.

 

 

The Next Big Thing

I was intrigued when poet Cynthia Atkins approached me about being one of her tagged writers for “The Next Big Thing,” a self-interview series.  I liked the idea of being able to say something more about my book than was being conveyed on Amazon or on my publisher’s website.  I also liked the idea of writers helping each other to promote their work.

It entailed me having to quickly put together a blog so I could make this post, and that resulted in a fair amount of hand-wringing, as I am generally clueless about all things technological.  My thanks to Keith Reeves for his help in making this blog a fast, functional and attractive reality.

And my thanks to Cynthia, for tagging me.  You can read her post about her book, In The Event of Full Disclosure, at http://editorlady1.wordpress.com/

1. What is the working title of your book?

History of the Body.  And this is the actual title.  The book came out in September.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A good friend pointed out to me one day that many of the poems I was writing focused in some way on the idea of the body—as it is inhabited by us in childhood, as an adolescent, as we grow older, and as we experience desire, love, children of our own, illness, aging.  I was looking for a way to take poems I already had and to add to them to make a cohesive manuscript.  So I began writing new work with this larger idea in mind.

At that time, I was also struggling with the loss of a relationship with someone who meant a great deal to me, and with whom I had been close for decades.  The book also traces the experience of that loss.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The speaker of the poems appears at different ages—as a child, a teenager, a young woman, in middle age.  It wouldn’t be a role any one actress could play.

The idea of a film made from a book of poetry is both hilarious and captivating to me.  In my wildest dreams, I’d like to have Uma Thurman, with her Pulp Fiction hairstyle.  Unfortunately, though, I think Shelley Duvall might be a more apt choice.  Maybe Anjelica Huston, when she was a bit younger.

But there is also a child in these poems.  There is a young woman, as well.  There are mothers and daughters.  And the story is not a chronological one.  There are jumps back and forth in time.  Whoever was tasked with developing it for the screen would have to make some creative choices for it to work.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

(Hmm—this will have to be one long sentence, I think…)

We live inside of our bodies, and though they are only vessels, and not who we truly are, they are the only means available to us to allow us to experience the physical world, to be seen by others, to be loved—and so, the body serves us, but we are also at the mercy of the body’s needs, desires, and ultimately, its decline.

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

About half the poems in the book were once part of a different manuscript—one that I sent out about five years ago.  Once I began thinking of the book as centered around this idea of the body as the vehicle through which we experience our lives and come to know the world, I began adding poems.  The shaping and reshaping of the final book took a couple of years, before I was really satisfied with what I had.

7. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have always loved writing.  Going through George Mason University’s MFA program helped me to discipline that love, and after I put together my thesis, I kept reworking it, and tinkering and changing, until finally I had the book that is now available.

I was also greatly inspired by both my father, who was a writer, and by the poets I came to know at Mason.

Although not purely autobiographical, many of the poems in the book welled up in me from powerful and life-altering events– the loss of love; my relationship with my daughters; a struggle with illness; the impending death of my mother.  These were poems that I couldn’t not write.  Whether or not a book ever came from them, I was compelled to convey these ideas into words.

8. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, I hope the poems themselves will do that.  They cover quite a range.

There are poems about the awakening of desire in a young girl—two that come to mind are “In Bed With Rhett Butler” and “Paperboy,” a poem that appeared in Best New Poets 2010.   There are poems about being both a mother and a daughter, about growing older…

There are poems that deal with loss, even heartbreak, and yet, the poems often have an element of humor to them.  At a recent reading, someone in the audience raised her hand and told me she really admired my sense of humor, and this pleased me a lot.  Given that the subject matter of these poems has the potential to be very heavy, even sad, I was glad to hear that this was balanced by a kind of wry observation of the world.  I reference all kinds of popular culture from my years growing up—Gladys Knight & the Pips, Gilligan’s Island, film noir, Alfred Hitchcock.  People respond to these references.  They recognize the allusions, smile and remember; it establishes a connection.

The cover art is gorgeous, too!  My daughter, Taryn Riley, painted it, specifically for my book.  This makes the book all the more precious to me.  I enjoyed the collaborating that we did on what the cover image should be– and why.   We also did a preliminary photo shoot at Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in D.C., to get the exact composition I wanted.  Gardens, trees, the natural world, are significant in many of these poems.  The American Beech that appears in the cover art is a favorite of mine, and some of the poems in the book were actually composed beneath it,

9. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

History of the Body was published by David Robert Books in September of 2012.

10. My tagged writers for next Wednesday (2/13) THE NEXT BIG THING:

Lorene Delany-Ullman:  Camouflage for the Neighborhood, Firewheel Editions, 2013

http://firewheel-editions.org/books/ind/camouflage-for-the-neighborhood/lorene-delany–ullman

Susan Laughter Meyers: My Dear, Dear Stagger Grass, Cider Press Review, Fall, 2013

http://ciderpressreview.com/cider-press-review/susan-laughter-meyers-wins-the-2012-editors-prize/

Melissa Tuckey, Tenuous Chapel,  ABZ Press, May, 2013

http://www.amazon.com/Tenuous-Chapel-Melissa-Tuckey/dp/098015605X