Wednesday, May 02, 2012

There and Back Again

Not since 1992 have I lived in Hartford or Connecticut. That’s twenty years elsewhere from the city where I was born, where my grandparents and great grandparents are buried, where my Mom and Dad met while she waitressed at a Friendly’s and he took lunch breaks from his job pumping gas, where I scribbled notes as high school athletes dunked or wrestled or leapt.

But every day, I’ve written my way back home.

It’s peculiar, making literature about a place while far from it. With mailing addresses in Arkansas, Montana, or Baltimore, I’ve nevertheless lived in Hartford every day.

 • At Hartford Public High School and in the city’s North End and at my grandparents’ kitchen table via House of Good Hope

• At the Civic Center and Elizabeth Park and Weaver H.S. via The Greatest Show

Now I’m almost done with a novel set in 1840s Hartford, dreaming familiar place names–Asylum Avenue, Dutch Point–into a long-ago reality.

That’s not the same as my body being in Hartford, of course, except that sometimes it is. Now and then, the Hartford I imagine becomes so real, and I see so precisely its detail, that a glance to the window reveals a Montana or a Baltimore that looks no more true than a landscape on a movie screen.

William Kennedy, a favorite author and inspiration, writes exclusively about Albany, New York. He also lives there. Sees it every day. Still, I can picture him looking away from his desk and feeling a moment of disorientation that he’s not in his imagined city. He notes in an essay that the Albany portrayed in his books isn’t the same as the Albany where people live. “It’s my Albany,” he says, and that distinction makes sense to me.

Bank Square Books in Mystic
My Hartford isn’t Hartford. But maybe it’s close enough to fool people that it’s their Hartford the same way it sometimes fools me.

It’s also true that writing my way home doesn’t only happen in my head. This Saturday, for example, May 5 from 1-3 p.m., I’ll be signing copies at a fantastic indie bookstore, Bank Square Books in Mystic. Later in the summer, on July 6, the anniversary of the circus fire, I’ll read at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

Thanks to Annie Philbrick at Bank Square Books and Steve Courtney at the Mark Twain House for the homecomings.
Where M. Twain lived, Hartford

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