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Monday, March 14, 2011

First-Ever "Books in Northport" Book Giveaway!

I've never done this before on my blog. It's the first time. Two people will receive free copies of the new novel Caleb's Crossing, by noted author Geraldine Brooks, and you can be one of those people by reading the Q&A below, leaving a comment demonstrating your interest in the book and sending an e-mail to dogears at netonecom dot net to alert me to your comment. Fun! Of course, I welcome comments from more than two people, also--the more, the merrier. Who knows? If it's lively enough, there may be a "next time" in future.

Q&A with Geraldine Brooks, author of CALEB’S CROSSING:

Caleb Cheeshahteamauk is an extraordinary figure in Native American history. How did you first discover him? What was involved in learning more about his life?

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah are proud custodians of their history, and it was in materials prepared by the Tribe that I first learned of its illustrious young scholar. To find out more about him I talked with tribal members, read translations of early documents in the Wopanaak language, then delved into the archives of Harvard and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially the correspondence between colonial leaders and benefactors in England who donated substantial funds for the education and conversion to Christianity of Indians in the 17th century. There are also writings by members of the Mayhew family, who were prominent missionaries and magistrates on the island, and John Cotton, Jr., who came here as a missionary and kept a detailed journal.

There is little documentation on Caleb’s actual life. What parts of his life did you imagine? Do you feel you know him better after writing this book, or is he still a mystery?

The facts about Caleb are sadly scant. We know he was the son of a minor sachem from the part of the Vineyard now known as West Chop, and that he left the island to attend prep school, successfully completed the rigorous course of study at Harvard and was living with Thomas Danforth, a noted jurist and colonial leader, when disease claimed his life. Everything else about him in my novel is imagined. The real young man—what he thought and felt—remains an enigma.

Bethia Mayfield is truly a woman ahead of her time. If she were alive today, what would she be doing? What would her life be like with no restrictions?

There were more than a few 17th century women like Bethia, who thirsted for education and for a voice in a society that demanded their silence. You can find some of them being dragged to the meeting house to confess their “sins” or defending their unconventional views in court. If Bethia was alive today she would probably be president of Harvard or Brown, Princeton or UPenn.

The novel is told through Bethia’s point of view. What is the advantage to telling this story through her eyes? How would the book be different if Caleb were the narrator?

I wanted the novel to be about crossings between cultures. So as Caleb is drawn into the English world, I wanted to create an English character who would be equally drawn to and compelled by his world. I prefer to write with a female narrator when I can, and I wanted to explore issues of marginalization in gender as well as race.

Much of the book is set on Martha’s Vineyard, which is also your home. Did you already know about the island’s early history, or did you do additional research?

I was always intrigued by what brought English settlers to the island so early in the colonial period...they settled here in the 1640s. Living on an island is inconvenient enough even today; what prompted the Mayhews and their followers to put seven miles of treacherous ocean currents between them and the other English—to choose to live in a tiny settlement surrounded by some three thousand Wampanoags? The answer was unexpected and led me into a deeper exploration of island history.

You bring Harvard College to life in vivid, often unpleasant detail. What surprised you most about this prestigious university’s beginnings?

For one thing, I hadn't been aware Harvard was founded so early. The English had barely landed before they started building a college. And the Indian College—a substantial building—went up not long after, signifying an attitude of mind that alas did not prevail for very long. It was fun to learn how very different early Harvard was from the well endowed institution of today. Life was hand to mouth, all conversation was in Latin, the boys (only boys) were often quite young when they matriculated. But the course of study was surprisingly broad and rigorous—a true exploration of liberal arts, languages, and literature that went far beyond my stereotype of what Puritans might have considered fit subjects for scholarship.

As with your previous books, you’ve managed to capture the voice of the period. You get the idiom, dialect, and cadence of the language of the day on paper. How did you do your research?

I find the best way to get a feel for language and period is to read first person accounts—journals, letters, court transcripts. Eventually you start to hear voices in your head: patterns of speech, a different manner of thinking. My son once said, Mom talks to ghosts. And in a way I do.

May 2011, Tiffany Smalley will follow in Caleb’s footsteps and become only the second Vineyard Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard. Do you know if this will be celebrated?

In May Tiffany Smalley will become the first Vineyard Wampanoag since Caleb to receive an undergrad degree from Harvard College. (Others have received advanced degrees from the university’s Kennedy school etc.) I’m not sure what Harvard has decided to do at this year's commencement, but I am hoping they will use the occasion to honor Caleb’s fellow Wampanoag classmate, Joel Iacoomis, who completed the work for his degree but was murdered before he could attended the 1665 commencement ceremony.

9 comments:

Karen Casebeer said...

I'm excited to read this book, Pamela! I was first exposed to Brooks' work through People of the Book at our library book group, and have been hooked on her work ever since. I love how she brings alive people in a certain period of time. I also enjoy books that deal with some kind of diversity issues, so I can use them in my online classroom. There is such a dearth of good books on Native American historical figures that this book will certainly add to that collection. I've been in a dry spell, longing for a meaty read, ever since I finished Cutting for Stone, so this book may just satisfy my hunger.

Susan said...

Thank you, Pamela, for such a fascinating interview with Brooks. I long to lose myself in centuries past, and unknown (to me) cultures. And imagine: College that is rough and challenging, where the point is to grow and learn, and not to get drunk every other night.

P. J. Grath said...

Congratulations, Karen and Susan! You will each receive, directly from the publisher, your free copy of CALEB’S CROSSING. It’s a rare present-day novelist of whom I can say, “I’ve read all her books,” but I think I can say that of Geraldine Brooks, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK being the most recent. Congratulations again, and thanks for participating.

Gerry said...

Miss Sadie says, See? See? I told you to get up, but noooo, you had to sleep in.

That's OK. I have an in with the library. :) You know I'm going to be reading this book.

P. J. Grath said...

I expected comments and e-mails earlier than I got them, but David said everyone is focused on Japan. What a nightmare continues to unfold there! We must NOT complain about ANYTHING--for a while, at least.

Susan Cordes said...

Pamela,
I know the book wil be a winner even though I am not. Geraldine Brooks has a talent for getting the reader to enter the historical era she writes about. I will want this book!

Susan

P. J. Grath said...

Susan, you are a good sport, a good customer and, above all, a greatly valued friend! It's always good to have a visit from you, in person or online.

Dawn said...

:) what fun! Glad you had a good "comment turnout!"

P. J. Grath said...

And we'll all look forward to comments on the book after our winners have read it, won't we?