Primary Sources:

  1. Childhood bedroom in primary colors,

        including a lipstick-red carpet.

  1. story records by Danny Kaye

  1. Kon Tiki

  1. The Pig-Tailed Pioneer

  1. Gone With the Wind

  1. Peyton Place

  1. The Baltimore Catechism

8.    Theodore Dreiser: An American Tragedy/ Sister Carrie                           

  1. “Don’t Be Cruel” Elvis Presley

  1. Richard Wright: Black Boy

  1. “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manly Hopkins

  1. e e Cummings

  1. TIME magazine, The New Yorker

  1. The Courage To Be: Paul Tillich

  1. The Prophet: Kahlil Gilbran

  1. Toni Morrison: Beloved

  1. Mary Oliver: American Primitive & Twelve Moons

  1. Virginia Woolf: To The Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own  

  1. The Survival of the Birchbark Canoe, Orange, Basin and Range, John McPhee

  1. “Wonder” essay by Kathryn Bynam Walker

21. Upton Sinclair: The Jungle

  1. My mother, Elizabeth Devine Staley graduated from Moore Institute of Design (Philadelphia) with a degree in Fashion Design. She sewed and wore beautiful clothes. People came to church to see what Betsy Staley was wearing. A peony on a black hat, that wool coat, goldenrod yellow! Rather than a pink room for her daughter, she used primary colors: red, blue and yellow. I remember only the rug. Blood red like the color of my dad’s white work shirt as he carried my injured older brother up to the house, me following along behind.

  2. We had a “childrens’ record player” in our home and story records sung by Danny Kaye and later, the Chipmunks.

  3. My second grade teacher, Winifred Kitchen, who had traveled the world with her physician husband, read this New York Times bestseller to her 8 year olds. She taught “up” to us! Sent me to the library alone, and when I asked to “go to the Principal’s office without being sent there,” arranged for me to visit. The book I chose at the library was titled The Pig-Tailed Pioneer. A friend recently found me a copy on eBay.

  4. This was the first “grown up” book I read. Something like 1300 pages. I devoured the “history” the love stories, the war in the background, the slaves, Tara, the plantation. I read this book when I was thirteen, and truly, it was probably written for someone with the emotional maturity of an adolescent.

  5. This was a soft-cover book provided by the Sisters of Mercy. It was filled with questions and answers: Who is God? Why does God love me? What are my obligations to this God. When I was experiencing a crisis of faith during my freshman year of college, I asked the Catholic Priest for a meeting. In preparation for this he handed me this same book. I never went to the appointment or to Mass again. I am now, officially, an ex-Catholic.

  6. Peyton Place was among the books banned by the Catholic Church. A neighbor friend of mine and I discovered a copy among her parents stash of books. We devoured the near-sex scenes, especially page 121 which described French Kissing.

  7. The Daily Missal is the prayer book for Catholics who don’t much study the Bible. Inside are the texts for the common mass, a funeral mass, a wedding mass, and 365 Saints’ Days of the year. I still possess my missal given to me by my Aunt Anne Devine for my Confirmation and signed in her lovely ‘hand.’

  8. In my junior year of high school, a favorite English teacher, Ron Zeigler, offered an Honors Literature class. We met on Tuesday evening at the high school and, among other books, read: An American Tragedy and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There were ten or twelve of us in the class. We didn’t pay money or get credits, but we felt very grown up.

  9. Elvis Presley, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” I remember seeing Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, the crazy screaming, the hip movements. I liked the music but was not the kind of girl who’d become a “fan.”

  10. Black Boy by Richard Wright was a book I read in a college class on Black Literature. It’s very powerful. Later, as a teacher, I used this novel for a its portrait of the Jim Crow south. My students were deeply moved by this true accounting of a writer who became an ex-pat in Paris.

  11. I discovered Gerard Manly Hopkins poetry in a Victorian Poetry class in college. He’s actually a very late Victorian, a Jesuit priest, who is often compared with Dylan Thomas for his lyrical use of language, for his word play. My favorite poem, “Pied Beauty,” begins: Glory be to God for dappled things.

  12. All students of English and all English majors have an affair with the poet e. e. cummings. How very cool to be a writer who doesn’t capitalize his last name and who never reveals what e. e. stands for: Elston Edward. “Buffalo Bill” is one of my early favorites.

  13. TIME magazine was something I subscribed to and read in college. When it arrive on Wednesdays I take the afternoon to read cover to cover. I felt very “grown up” in what I knew about world politics, the symphony, abstract expressionism. It’s still a good news magazine though it seems the stories are shorter and shorter and more about entertainment than the real stuff.

  14. Paul Tillich: The Courage to Be. I was introduced to this book by a philosophy professor at Penn State University. It was a book that wasn’t about semantics or ontology, but a book about why and how it is important and possible to live a life of courage in the face of small and large things obstacles. I understood this philosopher and his philosophy as opposed to Plato which felt as though it had not been translated from the Greek.

  15. That same year, my freshman one, I discovered a “now famous 60’s cult book” written by a Persian. The Prophet by Kahlil Gilbran was a sensational best seller. The language was poetry and the small sections were titled “On Friendship” “Parenting” “Loyalty” and so forth. This is another example of pragmatic philosophical writing, on the verge of both spirituality and sentimentality, but much better than The Baltimore Catechism for someone age twenty.

  16. In the mid 1980’s a powerful African American writer, Toni Morrison appeared in print. A professor at Yale her novel, Beloved was on the best seller lists for months. This had been proceeded by a memoir, The Bluest Eye and was followed by In Search of Our Mothers Gardens. She won a Pulitzer for her novel about the daughter of a slave woman and then a Nobel Prize. She is alive today and has a new book Home that I look forward to reading this fall.

  17. About twenty years ago a Portland friend introduced me to the poems of Mary Oliver. I’ve listed the first two books I bought. She now has an entire shelf of books of essays, poems, recorded readings, The Poetry Handbook in my book case. Perhaps her most famous poem, “Wild Geese” is my National Anthem: “You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles repenting./ Tell me about your despair/and I will tell you mine.” It’s a beauty.

  18. Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own. This incredible speech (monologue) is a must read for every woman artist and writer. There’s also a DVD with Eileen Atkinson, the British Actress, as Woolf. She’s very convincing. The speech was originally delivered after lunch at womens’ college Cambridge, Newton-Girton College in the early 1940’s.

Virginia Woolf: To The Lighthouse. This amazing novel takes place over a 24 hour period. The setting is a rambling beach home with a view of the harbor and begins with an evening dinner. The plot is fragmented, repetitive, entirely cubist in its construction. Akin to James Joyce in its lyrical stream-of-conscious style, this novel made literary history. I’ve also read Woolfe’s letters and everything else she’s written. I worry that younger readers won’t get to know her work.

  1. John McPhee came into my life through my reading of The New Yorker magazine. He’s the kind of non-fiction writer who can make a Persian rug or a headmaster at a private school feel worthy of a sonnet. He’s a deep researcher and a beautiful prose stylist He teaches as Princeton and is in his 80’s.

  1. Kathryn Bynum Walker was the President of the American Association of Historians when she wrote and delivered this speech at her inaugural. The speech traces the history of “wonder” from the Middle Ages to the present. It’s about 12 pages long and has 27 pages of footnotes, a wonder of its own kind. The Institute for Language and Thinking at Bard College used this essay as the lead-off text for its annual freshman colloquia. Freshman arrive on campus three weeks early. Are assigned to small groups of ten, and proceed to take their one and only “writing course.” I was honored to be an instructor at the Summer Institutes for nine years.