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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Howard Frank Mosher's Imagination of Vermont: A Tribute

Posted By on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 at 1:50 PM

Howard Frank Mosher - COURTESY OF JAY CRAVEN
  • Courtesy of Jay Craven
  • Howard Frank Mosher
Vermont writer Howard Mosher died on Sunday, January 29. Filmmaker Jay Craven worked closely with Mosher since 1985 when he optioned the story rights to his book Where the Rivers Flow North. Craven has made five films based on Mosher’s stories. He and actor Rusty DeWees, who appeared in all of Craven’s Mosher films, will appear this Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4, 7:30 p.m., at the Stowe Town Hall to talk about their collaboration with Mosher. They'll also screen Where the Rivers Flow North (Friday) and A Stranger in the Kingdom (Saturday).

Like thousands of Vermonters who have been touched by Howard Mosher and his writing, I feel a deep sense of loss at the realization of life without him. No one has produced a larger body of work exploring the distinctive character and culture of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. No one has been more generous to fellow writers, taking time to chat, read their work and help them. No one was more tirelessly committed to his readers, through his cross-country sojourns in his 20-year-old Chevy Celebrity (dubbed the “loser cruiser") and his frequent signings at independent bookstores throughout New England.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Reporter's Fond Remembrance of Howard Frank Mosher, 1942-2017

Posted By on Sun, Jan 29, 2017 at 9:03 PM

Howard Frank Mosher - JAKE MOSHER
  • Jake Mosher
  • Howard Frank Mosher
I expected Howard Frank Mosher to live in a more memorable home.

I figured “the bard of the Northeast Kingdom,” as a Vermont arts organization rightly described him last week, a man who made a life writing honestly but lovingly about the region and its people, would live off a long dirt road in a house screened from passersby by a grove of trees, with views of the nearby mountains. Mosher must do his writing, I assumed, in a sun-drenched office, or maybe a small cabin on his property.

But Mosher lived in a perfectly nondescript home, alongside several others, just off the green in Irasburg. I initially drove past it when I went to interview him in the spring of 2015 because, well, how could that possibly be the home of a writer of 11 novels, four of which were adapted for films?

After he ushered me inside, I asked Mosher where he did his writing. He walked me to a dining room table that was cluttered with domestic detritus and offered a view of his back yard and his neighbors.

We sat at that table for an hour or two and, though I doubt I asked him anything that journalists hadn’t asked him dozens of times before, he eagerly answered everything I threw at him about his writing and his newest novel, God’s Kingdom. The book was set, as many of his stories were, in Kingdom Common, a thinly veiled version of the region that was Mosher’s adopted home. It was the muse that sustained him through a five-decade literary career.

But most of the stuff I remember discussing with Mosher never found its way into the subsequent story I wrote for Seven Days.

We spent a lot of time talking about two mutual passions: baseball and novels. Mosher was a die-hard Red Sox fan, and I have stayed true to my Baltimore Orioles through a dozen years of living in New England. But we managed to find common ground. I droned on for too long about my love of Thomas Wolfe’s novels. (Who the hell was I to give book recommendations to Howard Frank Mosher?) Mosher was more of a Faulkner guy, if memory serves. Then he suggested I check out a few books from the modern southern writers Ron Rash and Tom Franklin. Which, later, I dutifully did.

Once, Mosher leaned over and pulled a few papers from a briefcase that looked older than I am. I stole a glance and saw, tucked inside it, a can of Budweiser.

I drove away wishing the guy was my grandfather.

I wish I could say that Mosher was my friend, but, in truth, I only talked with him a few times after that day. I called him a couple times to pick his brain about news stories in the Northeast Kingdom. Once, he gave me a story tip.

But though they were few, those interactions had an outsize influence on me. I suspect this will be a common refrain among many people who provide testimonials in the days to come about Mosher, who died today, January 29, from cancer at the age of 74.

I’m sure they will remember, as I do, his warmth, his utter lack of pretense, his undimmed curiosity, his enthusiasm for a good yarn, his endearing cackle and, most of all, his fundamental decency.

I last spoke with Mosher in mid-November, just a few weeks before he received his terminal diagnosis.

It was the week after Donald Trump’s victory, and I had been sent to the NEK —  the one region in Vermont where many towns went red on Election Day — to talk to the Republican candidate's local supporters.

I didn't find many people to talk to, and those who did talk didn’t seem, to my ears, to have anything meaningful to say. In short, I had nothing. Desperate, I pulled into the parking lot of a long-shuttered gas station in Burke and called Mosher.

I suspect that he heard a bit of despondency in my voice. I suspect, too, that in those dizzying days, he wanted to talk through the news with someone. (Mosher was no fan of Trump.)

That phone call salvaged the entire reporting trip. Mosher’s thoughts — particularly a piercing anecdote about an instance of racism he witnessed in Irasburg only a few years ago — were pretty much the only worthwhile part of the story I filed.

It was one of those conversations that I knew would stick with me, even without the benefit of hindsight.

Mosher’s good friend and fly-fishing buddy, the Barton poet Leland Kinsey, had recently died, and Mosher had written a lovely little tribute to him. It was centered on a day he and Kinsey had spent fishing for brook trout in the Kingdom.

I told him how much I enjoyed the story.

Then I told him that I had recently taken up fly fishing and fallen in love with it. Mosher listened patiently for a few minutes as I unloaded a stream of half-baked thoughts.

I told him that, when I somehow managed to catch a trout, it seemed like a miracle I didn’t deserve. I told him that fishing had made me look at rivers differently and, therefore, made me drive more slowly on my reporting excursions across Vermont. I told him that it quieted my mind in a way nothing else ever has.

Mosher chuckled knowingly throughout. When I was done, he shared with me what he loved best about the pastime. I wish I could remember everything he said.

But one thing I will never forget: Mosher invited me to come to the Northeast Kingdom and fish some of his favorite holes with him this spring.

It didn’t seem like a throwaway offer — the man was allergic to insincerity. But, even if it was, I was determined to take him up on it.

In my head, I began rehearsing the awkward phone call I would force myself to make: “Hey, Mr. Mosher, remember in November when you said we could go fishing? Umm … can we still do that?”

I learned that he planned to release a novel in the spring and would probably have to do some publicity. Maybe I could use that as an excuse to call.

I had it all figured out. I’d wait until late April or early May. That way, I’d have a few early spring weeks to practice my casting. Baseball season would be well underway, so we’d have something to talk about besides my ineptitude at coercing trout from the water. I would bring a couple cans of Budweiser.

That he finished the novel he was working on, Points North, before he died is a gift to us all. But I’m always going to regret missing out on the chance to spend a spring day on the water with Howard Frank Mosher in his Kingdom.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Author Howard Frank Mosher in Hospice With 'Untreatable' Cancer

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2017 at 1:55 PM

Howard Frank Mosher - COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
  • Courtesy of the Author
  • Howard Frank Mosher
Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher announced over the weekend that he has terminal cancer and is in hospice care.

The Irasburg resident said he was diagnosed in early December with cancer in his lungs that has spread throughout his body. Mosher, 74, said that he initially thought he was suffering from an "upper-respiratory bug that has been going around.

"In less than two months, though, I have gone from feeling pretty good to being in hospice care," he wrote on his public Facebook page on Sunday. "Our kids and grandkids have been with us, and I'm comfortable."

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Friday, January 6, 2017

UVM Prof's Photography Book 'Ground' Named One of Year's Best

Posted By on Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 2:26 PM

"Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, 1937," detail - COURTESY OF BILL MCDOWELL
  • Courtesy of Bill McDowell
  • "Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota, 1937," detail
In April 2016, photographer and University of Vermont professor Bill McDowell released the artist book Ground: A Reprise of Photographs From the Farm Security Administration. As the year came to a close, the book was one of 11 included among the Mother Jones round-up of the best photography books.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

What Happened? A 2016 Timeline in Vermont Arts

Posted By , , and on Thu, Dec 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Anthill Collective's mural behind ArtsRiot in Burlington - COURTESY OF ANTHILL COLLECTIVE
  • Courtesy of Anthill Collective
  • Anthill Collective's mural behind ArtsRiot in Burlington
Before we take a deep breath and dive into 2017, it seems a good time to look back on the year from which we are about to graduate: 2016. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a sampling of events, exhibits and happenings in local arts and culture. It gives us one more chance to wax nostalgic  on where we've been and what we wrote about over the past 12 months.

OK, this didn't happen in Vermont, but it's relevant. Remember when Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president? As a reflection of his popularity, a Sanders-themed art show titled “The Art of a Political Revolution” — which included Vermont artists — launched in Los Angeles.

Vermont Shakespeare Company greeted the year by announcing a name change — to Vermont Shakespeare Festival.  The new moniker symbolized another step toward the nonprofit's dream of presenting a full-blown, well, Shakespeare festival. Meantime, the company went on to present several events throughout the year, including its timely production of Julius Caesar in the summer.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Vermont Reads Selects 'Brown Girl Dreaming'

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 2:24 PM

Jacqueline Woodson - COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR
  • Courtesy of the author
  • Jacqueline Woodson
The Vermont Humanities Council has made its selection for the 2017 iteration of Vermont Reads: Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming will be the centerpiece for programming in towns and municipalities across the state.

Woodson's memoir, written in verse, has been awarded the Coretta Scott King Book Award and the National Book Award, among other honors, since its publication in 2014. And, it's the first book by an African American woman to become the Vermont Reads choice.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Flying Pig Bookstore Celebrates Its 20th Birthday

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 5:56 PM

Elizabeth Bluemle, Darrilyn Peters and Josie Leavitt at Flying Pig Bookstore - SANDY FIRST
  • Sandy First
  • Elizabeth Bluemle, Darrilyn Peters and Josie Leavitt at Flying Pig Bookstore
When customers flock to local shops for Small Business Saturday this weekend, one independent bookstore will be marking a milestone.

Shelburne's Flying Pig Bookstore turns 20 years old today and, on Saturday, owners Elizabeth Bluemle and Josie Leavitt will celebrate with "cupcakes, cider and customer memories," according to a press release.

Bluemle and Leavitt opened the store shortly after moving north from New York City "without jobs planned," Bluemle told me in a 2007 interview. When he saw a "For Rent" sign on Charlotte's former post office, "I just immediately wanted that building," she recalled.

The duo opened the store about 10 weeks later with a name that slyly referenced its origin as a "pipe dream," says their press release — i.e., something that will "happen when pigs fly."

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Vermont Poet David Budbill Dies

Posted By on Mon, Sep 26, 2016 at 12:23 PM

David Budbill - PETER MILLER
  • Peter Miller
  • David Budbill
It's a sad month for Vermont poetry. Northeast Kingdom poet Leland Kinsey died less than two weeks ago, at age 66. And early this Sunday morning, September 25, beloved poet and playwright David Budbill passed away, at 76. He had been diagnosed about a year ago with a form of Parkinson's disease called progressive supranuclear palsy,  or PSP.

Budbill was a prolific writer of brilliantly lucid, Asian-influenced poems, as well as plays — his best known is Judevine , which also inspired the libretto for A Fleeting Animal, with Vermont composer Erik Nielsen. He also wrote essays, young adult fiction, a cyberzine and more. He was a musician who played the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute), and occasionally performed with his longtime collaborator, New York bassist William Parker.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Memoirist Howard Axelrod on His NEK Point of Vanishing

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 4:40 AM

  • Courtesy of Howard Axelrod
  • Howard Axelrod
This weekend at the Bookstock Literary Festival in Woodstock, Howard Axelrod will read from his highly acclaimed memoir, The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude.  Published by Beacon Press in 2015, it was named one of the year's best books by Slate, the Chicago Tribune and others.

His story began in the backwoods of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

In the fall of 1999 Axelrod, then 25, posted his handwritten wish on bulletin boards outside general stores and laundromats in Peacham, Johnson, Jay, Barton, Newport, Morrisville and Eden: “Wanted: a cabin or house set in the woods, with good light, very solitary. Proximity to a stream or brook. Running water and electricity preferred.”

Only one man replied: Lev, the owner of a remote house resembling “a battered pirate ship run aground,” as Axelrod later described it. Thus began his transformative two years alone at the end of a dirt road in Barton. 

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Shivers of a Summer Night: Four Horror Authors at Bear Pond Books

Posted By on Mon, Jul 11, 2016 at 12:34 AM

“Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.” So begins the creepy cover copy for Hex, a novel of the modern fantastic from Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt. A best-seller in its native Netherlands, the book recently appeared in English translation.

The “here” in question is a hamlet in New York’s Hudson Valley, haunted and isolated for centuries by the ghost of a witch who has a disturbing habit of standing at children’s bedsides, her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

That’s just one of the "Mid-Summer Nightmares” that Bear Pond Books in Montpelier will present on Tuesday, July 12, at 7 p.m. (More info here.) Olde Heuvelt will read from his work — his only Vermont stop on a national tour — along with three other authors of dark fiction, two of them local.

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