Author Reading Article 1: Dawn Tripp and Alice Hoffman

"Bookbreeze" Blows In!  

Bookbreeze, the summer literary festival sponsored by the bookshop and the Library, kicked off last Wednesday with a presentation by Dawn Tripp, followed the next evening with a reading by renowned author Alice Hoffman. 

The library was nearly at full capacity for Dawn Tripp's discussion of her new book Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe. Tripp's first work of biographical fiction, Georgia depicts O'Keeffe's artistic development and her marriage with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Tripp was inspired to write about O'Keeffe by a 2009 Whitney Museum exhibit of O'Keeffe's abstract paintings.  "I was overturned when I saw these works.  I wanted to know who was the woman at 27 who made these shapes," she said.

As part of her research, she read biographies, art catalogues from O'Keeffe's exhibits, and the published O'Keeffe/Stieglitz correspondence; traveled to New Mexico; and took photographs to understand the breakdown of colors and lines in art. "I wanted to get right into her head," she said. "I feel that I was really close to her. I spent a lot of time with her." 

Tripp prioritized historical and chronological accuracy in O'Keeffe's life, while still writing "into the space of what did happen and what could have happened." Tripp feels that fiction can sometimes get to the truth of a life better than biography.

Georgia is Tripp's fourth novel.  She won the Massachusetts Book Award in 2006 for her second novel The Season of Open Water. 

Like Georgia, The Marriage of Opposites is a work of biographical fiction. It portrays the family of Impressionistic painter Camille Pissarro in the 19th century West Indies, focusing on his mother, Rachel. Unlike Tripp, Hoffman found it difficult to research her subject.  “Rachel’s life was not there,” she said. “In hundreds of letters, she wasn’t mentioned once. I had to imagine who she might be.”

Rachel, a Jewish woman who scandalized 19th-century St. Thomas society with her affair with her nephew-by-marriage and who supported her artist son into her nineties, impressed Hoffman with her courage. “What kind of a woman was she, to break all these rules?  And how does someone who was supposed to be a clerk become an incredible painter?  His mother. …Rachel is a person I wish I could be. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to do the things she had done,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman explained that the Caribbean islands had large Jewish populations in the past; Jews fled to the islands to escape the Inquisition. At one point, she said, forty percent of Jamaica’s population was Jewish. In her travels to St. Thomas to research The Marriage of Opposites, she found that the island still has an active and popular synagogue.

The book’s title is an alchemical term, referring to the mixture of two very different elements such as water and fire.

Hoffman has an affinity for writing about family secrets and the relationships between mothers and daughters. Her next book, Faithful, is a tragedy about a young girl’s accident and her relationship with her mother. She is also working on a prequel to her popular book Practical Magic.

The prolific author has written 31 novels for adults, teens and children, several of which have been turned into movies. When several readers expressed their disappointment with the changes made to her plot in the recent movie made of her novel The Dovekeepers, Hoffman explained that she has little control over a filmmaker’s choices.

When asked what she would say at the podium were she awarded the Nobel Prize, Hoffman said, “I’d rather have a fourteen-year-old girl write me that I changed her life than win the Nobel Prize.”