Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Abercrombie’

I was very fortunate to read with three of the contributors to the new anthology, Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost (New World Library, 2011) at the famed independent book store, Book Passage, in Corte Madera, California this past Wednesday, May 4.

It was great to meet essayist Melissa Cistaro, whose essay “Calico” is one of my all-time favorites. It reads like a fantastic short story, full of suspense and unusual characters, about a young girl whose cat is a more reliable emotional companion than her own mother.

Melissa Cistaro

Best-selling novelist Jacqueline Winspear (creator of the Maisie Dobbs psychologist/private investigator series) talked about her essay “My Sal,” about her beloved black Lab.

Jacqueline Winspear

Editor Barbara Abercrombie not only conceived of the book, put together the essays, but also wrote the very moving essay “Winesburg” about her scrappy, globe-trotting kitten.

Barbara Abercrombie

And I wrote the essay “Red the Pig” about my pet pig that I raised when I was growing up on a farm in South Dakota. Here’s a copy of my high-school yearbook photo: Yep, it’s me and my pig!

Me and my pig

I was pleased so many pet lovers came to the reading at Book Passage! Many people shared their stories of pets they loved and lost. But rather than being depressing, we all agreed that the evening felt like a time to honor our special pets and to recognize it’s okay to say we miss them.

And one woman even brought her adorable little dog, a Jack Russell terrier-chihuahua-boxer mix.

I like what Melissa said tonight about contributing an essay to this collection. She says it gave her permission to acknowledge her grief for her pet. (I’m paraphrasing.) I understood immediately what she meant. Until Barbara asked me if I’d like to contribute to Cherished, I’d never written about my pig before. It seemed ridiculous and frivolous of me to mourn his loss. As I write in my essay, “Growing up on a farm, I wasn’t a fool. I knew our animals were destined to become food.” And yet, I did mourn the loss of my pig. I don’t think it’s foolish to admit that we love the animals that have graced our lives.

Signed copies of Cherished can be purchased from Book Passage. (Phone: 1-800-999-7909)

Full list of writers: Carolyn See, Michael Chitwood, Robin Romm, Jane Smiley, Joe Morgenstern, Judith Lewis Mernit, Melissa Cistaro, May-lee Chai, Anne Lamott, Samantha Dunn, Billy Mernit, Barbara Abercrombie, Monica Holloway, Linzi Glass, Jacqueline Winspear, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Victoria Zackheim, Jenny Rough, Sonia Levitin, Thomas McGuane, and Mark Doty, (plus a poem by Ted Kooser).

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The editor of a new anthology CHERISHED: 21 Writers on the Animals They Have Loved and Lost just sent me the first online review. This is certainly a surprise as the book won’t hit stores until April!  My essay “Red the Pig” is mentioned in the review from Tribute Books. FYI, the photo used in the review  is *not* of my pig but just an illustration. My pig looked like this:

Monday, February 7, 2011


Barbara Abercrombie – Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost – Giveaway & Review

The loss of a beloved animal is often best commiserated among fellow pet owners. Those who do not have a four-legged family member in their lives often cannot comprehend the inconsolable void that accompanies the death of a pet. When the earthly bond of unconditional love is shattered, only the memory of it remains. That is the empathetic feeling that is captured in the short story collection, Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost edited by Barbara Abercrombie. It is a heartfelt look at bereavement and grief throughout the animal spectrum. There is no defined limitation as to what constitutes a pet, and each of the contributors reflects on the specific losses they have endured. For many, it is the first time they have turned to writing in order to express the emotions that accompanied their final good-byes. 

The standout piece of the anthology is “True Love” by Samantha Dunn concerning her horse, Gabe. In a fitting description, she writes, “I see him again each time I go to a movie theater and the logo for TriStar Pictures appears on the screen – the strong white chest, the thundering legs.” What makes this relationship even more remarkable is that at the time, Samantha was living in a trailer park – not the typical residence of a horse owner. Throughout her teenage years, Samantha enjoyed riding and caring for Gabe. It is not until she returned home during a college break that she learned that her grandmother had sold the elderly equine to a children’s summer camp. Samantha never found out if this story was true, or just something her grandmother told her in order to comfort her about Gabe’s final resting place. Choosing not to uncover the truth, this unresolved ending still affects Samantha to this day.

Another atypical pet revolves around May-lee Chai’s “Red the Pig.” Growing up in the farmlands of South Dakota with a white mother and an Asian father wasn’t easy for May-lee and her brother. In order to fit in, they decided to work together in raising pigs. Red was the biggest of the piglets. May-lee named them by color in order to not get emotionally involved, but it wasn’t long before she was posing with Red for her senior picture. As Red continued to grow, the day arrived when he was destined for the slaughterhouse – something that May-lee could never really accept. After the loss of her pig, she knew she “never wanted to live on a farm again.”

In “Party Girl,” Monica Holloway explores the animal-autism connection between her son, Wills and their shepherd-collie mix, Hallie. Monica shares, “there was a deep love between them, but it was as if Hallie were a protective aunt, standoffish but fiercely protective.” When Wills was 12-years-old, he returned the favor. After Hallie fell into the pool and her arthritic body sank like a stone, it was Wills who jumped in and saved her. Pretty impressive for an autistic boy who didn’t like getting his clothes wet. As the selection comes to an end, Hallie is rapidly approaching her final days. Monica ends with a poignant thought, “Hallie … has been the one constant through the years, completely devoted but asking nothing in return.” It is a fitting summation of love between pets and owners everywhere.

The subject matter of the book may be one that many readers will be afraid to approach. The loss of one’s pet is hard enough without having to endure the blow-by-blow accounts of other owners for over 200 pages. The repeated scenes of physical deterioration and subsequent euthanization do not make for happy reading. The ending of each story is known before diving in. While it can lead to an experience of continual heartbreak, the collection’s intention is to help a pet owner through the grieving process by being able to gain insight from the coping strategies of others. Whether this is a helpful strategy or not is up to the needs of the individual reader.

Overall, these writers share their personal experiences in order to empathize with other grieving pet owners.

Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved and Lost by Barbara Abercrombie is available for $14.95 at Amazon.com and at BarbaraAbercrombie.com.

Review copy was provided by New York Journal of Books.

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Wow, am I going to be in some amazing company! I just received the final list of contributors for the anthology CHERISHED: WRITERS ON ANIMALS THEY’VE LOVED & LOST. Anne Lamott! Jane Smiley! Thomas McGuane! Carolyn See! But wait, there’s more…Just reeling off these names, I feel as though I’ve stumbled onto the set of  a celebrity writers’ Ginzu knife commercial. This is very exciting!

The anthology is the brainchild of writer/editor Barbara Abercrombie and is coming out next year from New World Library.

All the essays (and one poem) are about the special relationship we’ve had with an animal in our lives and what we learned from that special animal’s death. Barbara’s essay is about her cat, Winesburg, whom she took to Vietnam and who lived to be 19. I wrote about the pig I raised in high school when I lived on a farm. (You can look up my post \”Red the Pig\” if you want to know more about that situation.)

Here’s the full list of contributors (in alphabetical order):

Barbara Abercrombie, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, May-lee Chai, Michael Chitwood, Melissa Cistaros, Mark Doty, Samantha Dun, Linzi Glass, veterinarian Dr. Robert Goldman, Monica Holloway, Judith Lewis, Ted Kooser, Sonia Levitin, Anne Lamott, Thomas McGuane, Billy Mernit, Joe Morgenstern, Robin Romm, Jenny Rough, Carolyn See, Jane Smiley, Jacqueline Winspear, Victoria Zackheim.

My Pig and I

And if Ellen DeGeneres is looking for a book to read that she’d love, CHERISHED is definitely the one!

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My essay “Red the Pig” will be appearing in the new anthology CHERISHED: WRITERS CELEBRATE ANIMALS THEY’VE LOVED AND LOST coming out next year (spring or summer 2011) from New World Library.

I’m very excited my essay was chosen for inclusion in CHERISHED. So many writers whose work I greatly admire have essays in this collection, including Anne Lamott, Thomas McGuane, Carolyn See (Lisa See’s mother), Barbara Abercrombie, and poet Ted Kooser.

In case you didn’t know, my senior year of high school we started raising pigs on our farm and I even had my mother take my high school yearbook picture with one of the piglets.

To give you a sense of what happens with me and the pig, here’s my opening paragraph:

“Growing up on a farm, I wasn’t a fool. I knew our animals were destined to become food. But the year I raised my pig, I hadn’t expected to be the instrument of his death. Red wasn’t even supposed to be mine to begin with.”

Yes, it’s a sad story. But my pig was special, and I’m glad I can honor him in this way.

I’ll be sure to update when I hear more info about CHERISHED, such as the exact publication date and who all the other writers are.

(FYI, Seven Oaks was the name of my mother’s photography studio when I was in high school.)

Red the Pig and Me

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This Wednesday, December 2, I had the great honor of attending PEN  USA’s Literary Festival in Los Angeles. The LitFest Awards Banquet at the Beverly Hills Hotel (swanky!) celebrated this year’s winners of Pen USA’s literary awards in 10 categories as well as a lifetime achievement award. I served as a judge in the creative nonfiction category along with writers Barbara Abercrombie and Laura Pritchett.

Here I am at the Festival banquet with writers Edward Farmer and Barbara Abercrombie.

In order to judge the Creative Nonfiction category, Barbara, Laura and I read the 60 nominated books over the summer. All the nominees were strong this year and it was very difficult to winnow the group down to one overall winner and four Honorable Mentions.

Ultimately we decided Steve Lopez  deserved the top prize for his book THE SOLOIST. No, it’s NOT like the movie. The book is sooooo much better. I felt that if we had to choose one book out of the 60 to put in a time capsule this would be it as Lopez’s book manages to chronicle all that is good and wrong with our society. If we survive as a nation hundreds of years from now, it is because we have learned to overcome the problems he describes in his book–homelessness, poverty in one of the richest cities in the world, inadequate health care (especially mental health care), the near-demise of our newspapers, and severe financial woes. But Lopez’s book is not grim; it is beautiful and hopeful. He shows that our society IS beautiful, there are many kind people, we have created great institutions of learning and of the arts. We appreciate beauty, kindness, music, friendship. If we don’t survive as a society, we will be missed. Lopez tells this story by writing about his friendship with Julliard-trained cellist, Nathaniel Ayers, whom he finds living on the streets of L.A., without a cello, but still playing music on a violin with two strings.

Here’s a picture of Steve Lopez accepting his award. (I don’t know him personally, but he seems like a genuinely humble and kind man. He’s one crackerjack writer, I do know!)

The Honorable Mentions went to: Rick Bass, WHY I MOVED WEST ( a plea for environmental protection); Mahvish Rukhsana Khan’s MY GUANTANAMO DIARY (amazing, witty, powerful, searing account written by a lawyer who as a law student volunteered to help make sure Gitmo detainees received legal representation—and in some cases, helped to win their freedom when they were found to be completely innocent); John Rechy’s ABOUT MY LIFE AND THE KEPT WOMAN (a beautifully written memoir of the acclaimed writer’s early life as a Mexican American in El Paso…living in an era when it was perfectly legal to discriminate openly against Mexican Americans…and his years spent as a gay hustler in NYC and LA when it was perfectly legal to discriminate against gay men…even arresting them for simply being in a bar together!); and finally Kao Kalia Yang’s moving memoir, THE LATEHOMECOMER, about her family’s journey as Hmong caught up in the aftermath of America’s secret war in Laos, their perilous journey to refugee camps in Thailand and their heartrending separation in America (truly beautiful story!).  I highly recommend all five books!!!!

PEN  USA is the western branch of PEN International, the nonprofit writers’ group that “works to defend the freedom of writers around the world who’ve been imprisoned or otherwise threatened by their governments.” In the U.S. PEN promotes literacy programs, creative writing programs in public schools, prisons, and other institutions that reach populations that otherwise may not have a voice in the mainstream media. (It’s a really cool group!)

PEN USA specifically is made up of writers who live West of the Mississippi River.

To find out more about PEN USA, please click this link: PEN USA mission statement

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