Poet Rebecca Gayle Howell is a reader first and foremost. When she started to read in a serious way at the age of 11, Ms. Howell would sneak away with her older sister’s high school English textbook. That’s how she discovered T.S. Eliot.
“I read the Four Quartets, and for the first time I knew something had changed in me,” Ms. Howell said in a phone interview with the Gazette earlier this week. “I just kept reading from there.”
She also started writing her own poetry, and for the past five months has been a poetry fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown where she has been working on a collection focusing on eating sustainably.
Over the course of the next month on successive Wednesdays, she and other writing fellows will travel across the Vineyard Sound and present their work at the West Tisbury library. Ms. Howell will read on March 9 at 5:30 p.m. along with Jackie Thomas Kennedy.
If she’s not reading, working on her poetry collection or book of translations, Ms. Howell walks her dog in the woods around Provincetown where she is reminded of her childhood in Kentucky.
“I’ll be reading from a collection called Almanac. The poems are thinking a lot about food and what it meant for our parents or grandparents to sustainably farm. My grandparents were farmers and I’m thinking a lot about their life and our generation, and what it means to eat sustainably.”
Just like many Vineyarders, Ms. Howell is having trouble finding locally grown food on the Cape during the winter months but finds comfort in cooking together with the other fellows. The cooking culture they’ve created at the Fine Arts Work Center helped them to get to know one another, share ideas and critique each other’s work.
“What’s so great about the Fine Arts Work Center is nothing is expected of us, there’s no teaching, no requirements except just an extraordinary gift of time and space,” she said. “It’s just a blessing. And the other fellows are extraordinary poets and writers. It’s a privilege to even hang out with them.”
Ms. Howell’s colleagues are a distinguished group. Boris Fishman was part of the editorial staff at the New Yorker and co-authored the U.S. Senate’s report on Hurricane Katrina, to name a few of his accomplishments.
Mr. Fishman is working on two projects while in Provincetown, a novel and a memoir. The novel is nearly finished Mr. Fishman said this week. It tells the story of a failed journalist who begins foraging through restitution claims from the Holocaust for old Soviet Jews living in New York city.
While he admits part of the novel is based on his own history of being an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who arrived in New York at age nine, Mr. Fishman said if he took 100 random sentences, each one would be half true and half false.
When he needed a break from his novel, Mr. Fishman immersed himself in his memoir and his life as an adolescent living on the Lower East Side of New York city.
“When I came to this country, I was the typical confused immigrant,” he explained. “The men in my family are very different from each other. My maternal grandfather is the old alpha, schemer, wheeler and dealer, palm greaser, Soviet Union smuggler who narrowly avoided execution...my father is the opposite, a real introvert. They both represent different models of malehood to me.”
Mr. Fishman will read from his memoir on March 16. Marcus Wicker will also read.
Poet Malachi Black isn’t focusing on making connections concerning his work. “For a long time over the last couple of years I’ve been preoccupied with the sonnet,” he said this week. “But since I’ve been here, I’ve been very decisive in my efforts to exclude that in the work I’m doing. I’m trying to force myself into other forms of lyricism. I’m working on a poem now that’s a letter of address to a child inutero, instructions for living.”
Mr. Black has found that the more boring his surroundings, the better the quality of his work. Winter in Provincetown has provided just that. He’ll present some old and new poetry on March 23. Christopher Shortsleeve will also read.
While enjoying the winter rhythm and the rural experience of the seasons changing compared to life at home in New York city or Austin, Tex., Mr. Black also welcomes the first sighting of spring.
“The birds are back and it’s been an extraordinary couple of months. The luminous austerity of the place is incredibly infectious,” he said. “Once spring came, it was like the hormones and atoms in me woke up again.”
For a complete list of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown writing fellows readings visit westtisburyfree publiclibrary.org