The 2020 winning recipient of the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award
My work was shaped by the salt air and sand and the sounds of the waves on the North Carolina coast, where I was born and lived until I was twelve years old. It grew from my mother’s devotion to reading – my earliest memories include nudging her awake to finish bedtime stories. She talked of walking me on the beach at first light and of propping my infant self on her lap so she could read the newspaper aloud to me after work.
My love of language and its infinite variety rose, I suspect, from those early days and from visits to my mother’s home in rural Pennsylvania, where I heard the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, the different rhythms of English translated from another tongue, its contrast with the Eastern North Carolina accent of my father’s family in St. Pauls. Language woke for me in the rhythms of nursery rhymes and the King James Bible I heard in our Methodist church, the Psalms memorized as an assignment from my third-grade teacher, who didn’t give a fig for separation of church and state, in my fascination with Greek and Norse myth and my dream of studying languages, which I did as a classics major at Salem College.
My writing grew from a love of stories and especially the ones that could only be told slantwise – my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s unvoiced anger and disappointments, my parents’ divorce, my mother’s dreadful second marriage, which took us from the beach and left my younger sisters and me to struggle with our stepfather’s abuse throughout our teens. Imagination was my refuge – in books and writing, in games of make-believe, in acting and science fiction fandom and the Society for Creative Anachronism. Writings from the feminist and peace and social justice movements informed my teens as well and gave my life and my work additional focus throughout my twenties and thirties.
My life and work were shaped and influenced by my mother’s respect for education and my parents’ certainty that their three daughters could succeed in whatever we wanted, by my younger sisters, Pam and Debbie, and our lives together, by the loving presence of Bessie McQuillan Bryant, who helped to raise us all, by my husband, Elmer Clark, whom I met and married at a ridiculously young age and with whom I have been fortunate to live for over 40 years, by my daughters, Morgan and Emma, and their struggles and successes. By my memories of reading to my daughters as my mother read to me, ways in which I succeeded and failed them, the overwhelming gratitude I feel for their presence in this world, the strong and loving women they have become. The joy of a grandson, Christopher, one month old as I write this, for whom I hope to be a foundation of love and a memory that sustains him all his life.
Although I remain enormously attached to my North Carolina roots and my Pennsylvania family, I have lived most of my adult life in Athens, GA, where I worked for many years as an academic advisor for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. Throughout those years, I had the gift of colleagues and students who shared my delight in languages and the arts, in literature and history and the many cultures that comprise our world, in the intrinsic value of an education in the liberal arts. In earlier years, I combined political activism with writing and mothering, volunteered on the board of the local food co-op, with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, on the vestry of my Episcopal Church. My view of the world was expanded by environmental activists, social justice workers, artists, farmers, and priests. I think of them all with great gratitude in these unsettling times.
I began to shape words on a page when I could first hold a pencil and still have a notebook with “juvenilia” painstakingly printed on those sheets of grayish, fat-lined paper that graced elementary classrooms in the sixties. Happily, none of my earliest efforts found their way to print, although I have published poems (often) and essays and stories (on occasion) for most of my adult life, in numerous journals and anthologies, as well as four chapbooks, two of which (God Puts on the Body of a Deer, from Main Street Rag, and Thalassa, from Finishing Line Press) remain in print. I have been a Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and at the Cathedral College of the National Cathedral and have also enjoyed numerous writing retreats in the peace and solitude of the hermitages at the Valle Crucis Conference Center, where many of these poems had their genesis.
I write this in April 2020, in a time that is anything but peaceful for most of us — in the midst of a pandemic, many “sheltering in place,” others at risk every day, all of us, in one way or another, concerned for the future. What a bizarre time to sign a contract for my first full-length manuscript. What a perfect time, as writers, musicians, actors, and artists see their work shared online in an effort to ease the isolation and fear of our communities. I am delighted that this book will be “birthed” by a press that values connection among its writers and staff and engagement with the wider community. I hope it will bring light to someone I will never meet, as other writers have so often given words to my own struggles, offered me light and hope and a path out of darkness.
Regal House Publishing is delighted, and proud, to publish The Woman Who Lives Without Money in the fall of 2021.