For reasons I won’t go into, 2010 has not been my favorite year. But, inspired by the year-end list posted by fellow Tennessee writer Susan Cushman on her Pen and Palette blog, I’ve realized there have been plenty of things I’ve enjoyed, especially in the area of books and music. So here are my personal favorites of 2010, which I share in hopes that you might find something here that will inspire you. Happy reading, happy listening, happy following your muse.


Bobby Rogers, another writer from Tennessee, won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize with this book.

Favorite new poetry book: We start out with a tie:  The Candle I Hold Up to See You by Cathy Smith Bowers and Paper Anniversary by Bobby Rogers.

Favorite new-to-me poetry book: The Door by Margaret Atwood (I especially love one poem in this book, “Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later.”)

Other must-mentions : Cecilia Woloch (who was just awarded an NEA fellowship); Irene Latham (whose new poetry book The Color of Lost Rooms is out December 21st); The News Inside by Bill BrownGary Soto; James Applewhite.


Favorite new fiction: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Runner up: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is the winter 2010-2011 “One Book” selection for Rutherford County, Tennessee, where I live (and was on this year’s selection committee. We picked it before Oprah did, I must say.)

Favorite new-to-me fiction: Plainsong by Kent Haruf (Yes, I’m embarrassed I have only just now read this.)

Other must-mentions: The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (related NPR story); Noah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne; Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Jennie Fields; The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

Zeitoun is an essential American story. Fellow writers: It's a masterpiece of "show-don't-tell."


Favorite new nonfiction: Devotion by Dani Shapiro, which I blogged about earlier this year

Favorite new-to-me nonfiction: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. An amazing story about a hero in post-Katrina New Orleans…who is arrested as a suspected terrorist.  Related story

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Bryn Davies on the set of Jammin' at Hippie Jack's.


Most of my favorites fall more or less into the category of Americana music, but there are a couple of very enjoyable outliers in the mix, too:

Favorite artist I saw live in 2010: Abigail Washburn, who absolutely captured my heart with her energy, eclecticism and unsurpassed originality. Her new CD, City of Refuge, is out in January 2011.

Runner-up: Straight No Chaser

Other must-mentions: Carpenter & May and Rockin’ Acoustic Circus (love that name!)

Favorite new CD: Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops. I love this video of them performing “Hit ‘Em Up Style” on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville.

Favorite new-to-me CD: Learning to Bend by Ben Sollee

Other must-mentions: Darrell Scott, Nora Jane Struthers, Kathy Mattea (who I love for her music and for her work as a spokesperson for LEAF, which is working to stop mountaintop removal in Tennesee), Sam & Ruby, Sarah Jarosz.

PERFORMANCE POETRY VENUE (where we performed, or hope to)

Kelsey and I were blessed to share my words and her music at a lot of venues throughout middle Tennessee in 2010.

Favorite outdoor venue: SpringFest/Diversity Day at Webb School in our second hometown of Bell Buckle, where we had a marvelous sound system.

Favorite audience: Southern Festival of Books

Of course, we also attended a lot of music events where Kelsey jammed or competed, but as she’s the expert in that arena, I’m going to let her mention her favorites on our Facebook page.

Other must-mentions: Author River Jordan‘s radio show on Radio Free Nashville, where I got to talk about and read poetry (mine and other authors’) almost as long as I wanted, and the Franklin Main Street Festival, where we were a guest of Landmark Booksellers and learned that performing poetry on the street generates about as much interest as preaching on a street corner while wearing a sandwich board that says “THE END IS NEAR.”

Favorite venue where we haven’t performed (yet): Poet’s Corner at Scarritt-Bennett in Nashville, where there’s a reading the 4th Thursday of every month.

Well, those are a few of my favorite things for the year. And now – with Julie Andrews’ voice in my head – I realize maybe 2010 wasn’t so bad after all.


So, in my inaugural post on August 6th, I said I’d like to promote Tennessee writers on my blog, and on August 10th, this arrives in my inbox:

This fall, Humanities Tennessee will launch a new website, to be called Chapter 16: A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers and Passersby. We hope and expect that this site will become a regular stop for readers, a place where you will learn about upcoming Tennessee books and events and discuss those and other topics with one another. We’ll cover novels set here; histories involving Tennessee events or locations; authors who live here, were born or educated here; and out-of-state writers when they give readings or participate in book signings anywhere in the state. Additionally, there will be opportunities for anyone statewide to submit their original essays for possible publication on the site. We will be asking diverse Tennesseans to comment on what they are reading, and we will be providing opportunities for writers and readers to interact online.

Read the full announcement here.

I dont mean to offer a grass is greener platitude...

Now, I already love Humanities Tennessee because they put on one of my favorite events of the year, the Southern Festival of Books. But I am just a wee bit chagrined that this fine organization would steal my thunder practically before its first rumble. I’ll get over it, though, because here’s the bigger picture:  I have state-based literary jealousy. In North Carolina and Kentucky, for example, its seems that readings and famous authors and book events are as common as summer showers. When I visited the Northwest last year, I was stunned by the number and variety of quality regional journals that I found in bookstores from Portland to Port Angeles.

I don’t mean to sound like a “grass is greener” platitude;  I truly believe that Tennessee can and should look to these other states for inspiration. It’s not that we don’t have our own rich literary heritage, many fine writers, and some great events for writers and readers; it’s that we’ve never seemed to be as unified and proactive as we could be in promoting all those things. So kudos and all best wishes to Humanities Tennessee with Chapter 16.

I first started writing creatively nine years ago this month.  I am sure of this because my youngest child started kindergarten that year. Theoretically, I thought, I should have a little more free time now that he was in school everyday, so I seized the opportunity to take a creative writing class in the continuing education at MTSU (similar classes now offered through The Writer’s Loft at MTSU).

Now, as that youngest child is a 5′ 11″, deep-voiced man-child starting high school and our oldest is going off to college, I have two new children: my first collection of poetry is coming out this fall, and my husband and I have purchased a little “fixer-upper” house to be a writing retreat and, perhaps in a few years, our full-time retirement home.  Between those projects, family obligations and my “real” job, I have no business starting a blog. None whatsoever. If I had any spare time, I should be using it to clean off my desk. Improve my aerobic fitness. Scrapbook eighteen years’ worth of family photos. Call my mother.

But no. Here I am, drawn to the page in yet another of its incarnations. I don’t expect that I’m going to produce my best writing for this blog, but I do hope I’m going to produce some thoughts and information that will be useful or interesting to others. For example,

  • Since I’m a geek, other writers often ask me about web sites, blogs, and other techy stuff. As I wrote up a long explanation addressing some questions about web sites and social media for a couple of writer friends a few weeks ago, it occured to me that others might like to see this information.
  • I follow the blogs of recent NC poet laureate Kay Byer (here and here). She often promotes other poets, particularly those in NC, and I’d like to do the same for writers, particularly those in Tennessee or who have Tennessee connections.  (So if you have something to share, let me know!)
  • I’m very interested in encouraging others to their own unique creativity as a source of divine joy and self-fulfillment. I’m not sure what that encouragement is going to look like, but I want to explore it.

Our Lady of the Spiral Notebook by Anne Carothers

Mentioning creativity reminds me of the art that inspired this blog title. My dear friend and neighbor Anne Carothers painted this iconographic version of me after I read her some of my poems (“Leap” and “Tired of the Same Old Answers”) from the forthcoming Heaven Was the Moon. I’ve had the pleasure of naming a number of Anne’s paintings, and she left this one for me to title, too. After kicking around a few ideas – including “Mama Was a Saint” –  “Our Lady of the Spiral Notebook” felt right to both of us. I admit it’s still a little disconcerting to see my image depicted this way, but it’s a very cool representation of how writing and faith have intersected for me.

More about that in coming entries.  In the meantime, I welcome you on this journey with me and thank you for your readership, ideas and comments.