Monday, September 3, 2012

Writing Spaces: Back to School

There are some books that will be forever linked in my mind to school starting, the end of summer, the coming fall, and one of those books is my wonderful favorite, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I mean, check out the opening lines!:

“Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber as a word was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound but you couldn't fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer.”

My love for this book is well documented throughout this blog, and so it seemed fitting that the first Writing Spaces back from summer break should go to its author, Betty Smith.

Most of what I know of Betty Smith, I learned from the Author's Note that she wrote in 1947, four years after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published. In it, she describes her life before she was published and the curiosities of fame since the book came out.

One of the things I love most about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the sensitivity Francie shows towards people, feelings, and ideas. Like Francie, Smith learned to take the good along with the bad, and her Author's Note, which doubled as a dedication, expresses thanks both to the strangers whose kindness gave her strength as well as someone who hurt her, because "the grief made me grown up emotionally and gave me a little more understanding."

I also love a story she tells about how she gained a reputation for oddity after her neighbors routinely saw her walk through the streets at night with a huge black dog. But, she explains, in truth she was so lonely that she would walk nightly to the post office to see if she had any mail, while the dog was just "a gentle Labrador retriever" who "enjoyed a companionable walk to town."

After A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, of course, Smith no longer had to worry about mail, as fans around the world sent her thousands of letters about how much her writing--and Francie's life--moved them.

And that, to me, is what makes Smith's writing so special, that amazing ability to distill the whole range of human emotion into something that anyone, anywhere can recognize and relate to.

To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time:
Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.

Do you have a writing space that you love? A favorite couch, a custom-made desk, a breezy porch? Or do you have an author whose writing space you'd like to see? Send me an email!

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