We’re delighted to welcome Susan Stinson to the LAIP this week for the first in a series on the Writer-in-Residence program at Forbes Library!  Susan’s latest novel was just released from Small Beer Press this month, aided in no small part by the folks at Forbes and her work as Writer in Residence. Read on to learn more about this wonderful program that both supports local authors and deepens library service.  It’s a fantastic model! ~Erinn

The organ at First Churches, backdrop for Susan Stinson's " Spider in a Tree" book launch. Photo by Jeep Wheat.

The organ at First Churches, backdrop for Susan Stinson’s “
Spider in a Tree” book launch. Photo by Jeep Wheat.

by Susan Stinson

Five days ago, I sent the following tweet out into the world:

@susanstinson: Try to live among librarians.  They are a resourceful lot, willing to assist and have seen much of life.  Plus, books.

Susan Stinson reading at the book launch for "Spider in a Tree."  Photo by Jeep Wheat.

Susan Stinson reading at the book launch for “Spider in a Tree.” Photo by Jeep Wheat.

I wrote that last week on the publication day for my first novel in nearly ten years, the day before the same magnificent librarians helped orchestrate a book launch attended by 150 people.  (I know that number because, during the reading while I was otherwise engaged,  a quick-thinking librarian counted heads.)  The launch was the first event in the fourth season of the Local Historian/Local Novelists series that I run at the library (with lots of help from librarians).  I am novelist and poet who is grateful every day that I threw in with the librarians at Forbes Library.

Forbes is the public library in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I live.  It’s a college town, home to Smith College and not far from Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke colleges, as well as the University of Massachusetts, so there are many local writers and a rich literary history here.  The Forbes Library Writer in Residence Program was started in 2003 by Library Director Janet Moulding and Diana Martin Gordon, who writes as D.M. Gordon.  Diane gave her time and expertise for more than four years.  Programs Diana started included a writing room, a weekly forum on contemporary poetry (which continues to thrive), writing workshops, and a very popular poetry reading series.  In addition to developing the role, she advised on collection development and helped connect the library with the writing community (local and beyond).   Diana also mentored a second WIR, Sue Case.

Susan Stinson Bridge Street Cemetery tour  photo by Jeep Wheat 300dpi

Susan leads a Bridge Street cemetery tour, sponsored by Forbes Library.

 Libraries have been places of joy and refuge all my life. ~Susan Stinson

I had used the writing room a time or two when it was being facilitated by Sue Case, but it had become inactive, and, in January 2010, I saw on the library website that Diana had stepped back from some of her commitments as WIR.  In the meantime, I had been using the resources in Special Collections at Forbes to research Spider in a Tree, my fourth novel, which is about eighteenth century theologian (and slave-owner) Jonathan Edwards, who preached in Northampton for more than twenty years.  I got to know Special Collections librarian Elise Bernier-Feeley, who mentioned my work to Julie Bartlett Nelson,  another Special Collections librarian, who is also the archivist at the Calvin Coolidge Museum, which is the only presidential library at a public library in the country.  When she heard that I was planning to give a cemetery tour in October 2009, Julie offered to sponsor it.  That was a lovely experience for all concerned.

Forbes Library bike racks with Writer in Residence trike.

Forbes Library bike racks with Writer in Residence trike.

So, when I heard that Diana Gordon was becoming less active as Writer in Residence than she had been in the past, I wrote to Forbes to offer to step in.  I listed specific ideas, which included reviving the writing room, offering facilitated discussions about the writing life, and running a program series on the Connecticut River Valley’s literary history, featuring figures such as Jonathan Edwards, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin and Emily Dickinson.  Lisa Downing, Associate Director at Forbes, wrote back to me the next day, and Diana was more than happy to give me support and advice.   I work closely with Lisa, who is charge of programming at the library, and, together, we have developed programs and relationships that are wonderful for us and exciting and useful to our community.  We are confident of the latter because people show up to the programs in large numbers on a regular basis.

I ride my trike to Forbes many times a week.  It is enormously satisfying to me as a writer to know that my work is of value to my community.  I love being a resource.  And, of course, libraries have been places of joy and refuge all my life.  It is such a pleasure to work with the creative and imaginative librarians of Forbes. I stand by my tweet.

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Susan Stinson photo  by Jeep Wheat highresolution (2)

Photo by Jeep Wheat

Susan Stinson is the author of four novels and a collection of poetry and lyric essays.   Her work has appeared in anthologies from Ballantine Books, NYU Press and Scholastic Books, and in many periodicals, including The Common, Early American Studies, and Kenyon Review. She has received numerous awards and honors, including Lambda Literary Foundation’s Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize. Currently Writer in Residence at Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, she is also a freelance editor, a writing coach, and regularly gives cemetery tours. Her most recent novel, Spider in a Tree (Small Beer, October 2013), is about eighteenth century Northampton in the time of theologian, preacher and slave-owner Jonathan Edwards. Alison Bechdel has called it “a revelation.”  Spider is also a Publishers Weekly pick as one of the  “Big Indie Books of Fall 2013.”  Susan can be found at home online at susanstinson.net.

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