• The Cape in Words – The Luxx Book Club

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    Mary Oliver
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    By Lauren Wolk

    Just as the Cape’s visual art is often strongly linked to the natural world, so are some of the region’s literary traditions rooted in its sandy soil.

    Originally published as a series of articles, Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod captures the natural beauty of the Cape, from the early to mid-1800s, in words and portraits of native animals and plants.

    Likewise, naturalist writer Henry Beston’s iconic book The Outermost House is filled with observations about the Cape. Published in 1928, the book chronicles a season spent living in a 20’x16’ beach cottage which he named “the Fo’castle” because it perched on a dune overlooking the Atlantic, its many windows making him feel that he was aboard a ship. The cottage, built in 1925, became known as The Outermost House, a favorite subject of photographers and painters until it was claimed by the sea in 1978, ten years after Beston’s death.

    Poet Mary Oliver of Provincetown has captured the natural world in her own way, making readers worldwide feel that they have been here, too. In the Women’s Review of Books, Maxine Kumin called Oliver an “indefatigable guide to the natural world, particularly to its lesser-known aspects… standing “quite comfortably on the margins of things, on the line between earth and sky, the thin membrane that separates human from what we loosely call animal.” Oliver’s poetry has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and a Lannan Literary Award.

    The Cape is also the home or subject of many fine works of historical fiction and creative non-fiction, some of the best penned by Sally Cabot Gunning of Brewster and Nathaniel Philbrick of Nantucket.

    Their depictions of life on land and at sea, rendered in gorgeous prose, provide a true understanding of what the Cape was like long ago. Books like Gunning’s The Widow’s War and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, coupled with Philbrick’s 2000 National Book Award winning In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, make for a riveting education about this place and its people.

    For those who write as well as read, the Cape offers many opportunities to practice and share the literary arts.

    The Cape Cod Writer’s Center in Osterville is a venerable organization that has hosted an annual writer’s conference in August for the past fifty-two years and offers additional events and opportunities for writers year-round. Other organizations also offer excellent classes, workshops, and retreats for writers.

    The Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill lead the way with outstanding opportunities down Cape, while Calliope—A Community of Poets—offers monthly readings, open mics, and workshops in Falmouth from September through June.

    Other readings and open microphones are common across the Cape, at organizations like The Cotuit Center for the Arts, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, Wellfleet Preservation Hall, and many of the Cape’s wonderful village libraries.

    The internet helps resident and traveling readers and writers make connections and sort out the many opportunities for engagement in the literary arts here on the Cape.

    A Shelf Life, for instance, connects “readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, and lovers of the written word on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket” through a blog, events calendar, listings of libraries and booksellers across the region and a resources page that provides information about local “centers, retreats, and festivals dedicated to the written word.”

    From its many indy bookstores, to the Cape Cod Poetry Review founded in 2011 by poet John Bonanni, to its network of open mics and readings, the Cape is a place rich in literary opportunities, all of them rooted in a strong tradition of historical record, story-telling, and poetry.

    Like visual and performing artists, writers find that this place ignites creativity and provides an especially receptive audience. A place to make and experience work that matters.

     

    June 11, 2014