Stories, as much as anything, root us to place. We’re narrative creatures, after all. So when The Brattleboro Words Project came to my attention more than a year ago, I was all in. Since then, historians have given fascinating talks about literary luminaries in the Brattleboro area.
Clarina Howard Nichols was a Townshend-born abolitionist, feminist and newspaper editor who moved to Kansas in 1854 to help establish it as a free state.
TP James, a local scallywag, claimed in 1873 to be channeling Charles Dickens’ spirit to finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Of course Rudyard Kipling built his boat-shaped house, Naulakha, in Dummerston, just outside Brattleboro, where he hosted Arthur Conan Doyle for spirited games of snow golf.
And in the 1950s and ‘60s, fully ten percent of Brattleboro’s population was employed in the book trades: paper manufacture, printing, binding, publishing and selling - the highest percentage in the country.
My family ran a bookstore and a nonfiction publishing house, The Stephen Greene Press in Brattleboro, so my folks were constantly finding gifted local writers and book designers.
One of their projects was A Book of Country Things, recollections of Guilford resident, Walter Needham, recorded by Barrows Mussey.
I was surprised to learn that place-based educator, Jen Kramer, has built lessons for her sixth graders using the book.
She says teaching with examples of local geography and history can ground kids better, and inspire them to become better stewards of nature and history as they grow up.
Though she usually creates lessons using area elders and their stories, she recently discovered that the writer HP Lovecraft spent time in Guilford and wrote there.
So her students are now reading his short story, “Witch’s Hollow”, seeing their area in a whole new creepy way -and loving it.
This Thursday, Kramer will speak about her experiences teaching HP Lovecraft’s connection to Brattleboro as part of The Brattleboro Words Project’s Round Table Discussion series at 118 Elliot Street at 6 PM.
But perhaps the Project’s most ambitious goal is creating a "Brattleboro Words Trail," that will be audio linked to sites of literary interest – for which public participation in the research and writing is welcome.