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May 12, 2010

Meet Meredith Blackwell, Mother of Author Elise Blackwell

Posted by Anonymous

Did you read to your daughter as a child? What did you read?

AN UNFINISHED SCORE.JPGI read to Elise every night at bedtime from the time she was six months old until she would rather read on her own at bedtime --- it was the only way to get her to bed. At the beginning there were lots of picture books.Some of her early favorites were A BROWN PUPPY AND A FALLING STAR and MY FATHER CAN FIX ANYTHING --- she wanted those read over and over. When she was somewhat older I read things my own father had read to my brother and me ---the Penrod books by Tarkington, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, and THE SECRET GARDEN.

How old was your daughter when she started reading?

Elise did not learn to read at a particularly early age, because “reading readiness” was not emphasized at the time, but she started reading late in kindergarten and was really good at it by the end of first grade.

Did your child have a favorite series/author growing up?

She read really widely as I remember, and if there were favorites I don’t remember them.

Did you have any book or reading rituals in your house? (Examples would be: Going to the library or bookstore together, talking about the books you have read, sharing books, storytime)

Books and reading were important to all of her family. I’ve already mentioned the bedtime reading ritual, but Elise spent lots of time in libraries beginning long before she started school. When she was in first and second grade she lived with her grandparents while I finished graduate school. My mother was a prize-winning elementary school librarian, and, especially in first grade, Elise spent lots of time before and after school in her grandmother’s library.  

When did you know your daughter was going to be a writer?

Elise has written since she was a child. I did not, however, know when she sold HUNGER. I am convinced that I had not known she had completed a novel at the time because she was working full time in a job with only a two-week vacation. 

Can you remember your daughter writing as a child?

Elise wrote a lot as a child. She was certainly influenced by her family. Her father, a boyhood friend of Barry Hannah, wrote poems. Her paternal grandmother taught English and French at Mississippi College, and was a character in Hannah’s first novel. Later, she taught English at Millsaps College, where she was acquainted with Eudora Welty. Her paternal grandfather once drove up to William Faulkner’s house where he happened to find him on the front porch. This lead to a piece about how Faulkner distinguished Dalmatians from other spotted dogs. My father wrote an extensive memoir, but more important he actually made a deal to buy stories written by her and his other two grandchildren. I have one of these stories (“Last Meal”) hidden away where she can’t find it.

Do you read advance copies of your daughter’s work?

I read two manuscripts and have received ARCs as extra gifts. I’d love to read them all early on (hint, hint).

Do you have a favorite of your daughter’s books?

What can I say --- I love them for their writing but also for different, mostly personal reasons. HUNGER, the first, is special for its botanical topic. Vavilov (the “great director” of the novel) is a special hero of mine. His work in genetics prevails over the beliefs of Lysenko, who rejected the evidence of Mendelian inheritance. THE UNNATURAL HISTORY OF CYPRESS PARISH is special because Elise got background information from my father’s carefully referenced memoir. There are a number of references to my family’s history --- also names. It is dedicated to all four of her grandparents and my father would have loved it. GRUB is a favorite because it is so different from the others --- and so funny. AN UNFINISHED SCORE is special, not only because it was generously dedicated to me, but because it is a fascinating story with several twists and lots of classical music. 

What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?

I seldom read nonfiction for pleasure since I do enough of that as a biologist. I love fiction --- mostly novels but sometimes short stories.

Of course I love several Southerners because they have comfortable the settings and characters, Faulkner and Walker Percy ---also Robert Penn Warren for his fictional character based on Huey Long. As a child I knew several Hueys who were named for the former governor and senator of my home state. I also love the plays of Tennessee Williams. When Elise was born I read J.D. Salinger’s FRANNY AND ZOOEY in the hospital --- I don’t think she knew about that when she named her own daughter for a Salinger character. I have become interested in the novels from Elise’s publisher, Unbridled Books. Lately, I’ve enjoyed Jason Quinn Mallot’s EVOLUTION OF SHADOWS and Emily St. John Mandel’s LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL.

When I travel and in between more literary works, I also read mystery novels. My favorite characters include some older detectives (Father Brown, Albert Campion, Lord Peter Wimsey, Roderick Alleyn, Alan Grant, Brother Cadfael, Richard Jury and his friend Melrose Plant,) and newer ones such as the poet Adam Dalgliesh, Dalziel and Pascoe and their colleagues, J. P. Beaumont, and Guido Brunetti. I want to read more about Gianrico Carofiglio’s attorney Guido Guerrieri. I am so sorry that Rebus retired and Morse died.

What authors, besides your daughter’s books, do you read?

In addition to Elise’s books I have really enjoyed the work of the other novelist in the family, David Bajo (THE 351 BOOKS OF IRMA ACURI). A number of the authors he mentions include several that I had already read ---Jorge LuisBorges (I love the story of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"), Milan Kundera, W.G. Sebald, and I have a reading list for the future from Irma’s collection ---for example I’ve never read DON QUIXOTE (by Miguel Cervantes) and probably should start there. I have a number of favorite novels, including Graham Greene’s HEART OF THE MATTER and V. S. Naipaul’s A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS. I love Michael Ondaatje, and have read all his fiction and some of his poetry. In fact “In the Skin of a Lion” was recommended to me by a Toronto biologist, at a time when we were collaborating on fungal field studies in Ontario. That novel led to a Sunday afternoon tour of the “palace of water” described in the novel. I’ve read the rest of his fiction after that first taste. As a grateful mother, I have to mention one more author. Just after J. M. Coetzee wrote a blurb for HUNGER and a little before he won the Nobel Prize, I began to read his fiction and became addicted --- I await a next novel.

Elise Blackwell's latest novel, AN UNFINISHED SCORE, is available now wherever books are sold.