I was nineteen, the kind of student who gets As in English classes if not in anything else. It was the first writing class I’d ever taken. It was a risk. I loved to write but no one had ever encouraged me. The professor looked ill. In those prehistoric times, smoke from an ever-present cigarette curled around him as he lectured in a ruined voice with a thick Carolina accent. On his way down and out, I thought, to have taken a job at a small women’s college. But he was the first teacher who saw me and recognized there a kindred spirit. Would I be writing today if I’d never met him? It’s been almost sixty years since he ended a critique of a story fragment by telling me I was a writer. I never forgot his words, though after college I didn’t write again for more than thirty years. Marriage, my beautiful first and second graders, my life, filled the days and years between. But when the burgeoning whole language movement began encouraging teachers to practice what they preached, I took it as a sign. I began writing stories again.
Then in 2001, I retired and went back to school, earning an MA in English Lit and Creative Writing. My focus shifted to poetry which rewarded me with a scholarship, publication, literary awards, and my first book, a collection of poems. But I never stopped writing stories. One of those stories refused to quit. I finally figured out it was telling me that it wanted to be something more, a novel. The subject was dear to my heart. The main character, like me, was elderly, a poet. She had a very large dog named Vera and a complicated family history. But Garnet was not me. She and her family and friends were born of my desire for fiction with which I could identify, for a story with an aging woman as protagonist who did not have dementia, was not a joke or harridan or a saint, but a complex human being, someone, like many, many my age, who was smart, courageous in the face of significant challenges, funny, full of human failings and, most important, capable of surprising a reader (and sometimes the author). It was also important to me to craft characters who, despite very real flaws, were not repellent. I wanted no reader left sorely regretting the time invested in reading my story. And, because I love them, I wanted dogs. Real dogs that did not talk but, in my book at least, would not die. I named the novel that resulted An Invitation to the Party.
MJ Werthman White’s poems have appeared in The Dayton Daily News and The Yellow Springs News, as well as in numerous journals. They have also been read on public radio station WYSO. In 2006, she was awarded the Paul Laurence Dunbar Poetry Prize. One of her poems, “On Hawkins Road,” was chosen by Billy Collins as the adult winner of (a sadly now-defunct) Borders’ 2009 national on-line poetry contest. In 2012, she was the recipient of Antioch Writers’ Workshop’s Judson Jerome Poetry Prize and Scholarship. MJ’s first collection of poetry, How the Universe Says Yes to Me, was published in 2017. Her short stories have been published in local journals, in The Vincent Brothers Review, and in the anthology, To Unsnare Time’s Warp: Stories and Poems about Dogs. She lives in Xenia, Ohio with her husband, Jim, and the good dog, Zaza. When not writing, she paints watercolors (the cover of her poetry book features one). Her favorite subjects are dogs, especially mutts.
Regal House Publishing is proud to publish MJ Werthman White’s novel An Invitation to the Party in 2023.