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Good Books: Ann Staley on Past & Present

Ann Staley is a poet and teacher, serving her craft and students for 40 years. She holds three masters degrees — humanities, teaching, and public policy — and has worked in high schools, community colleges, universities, prisons, creative retreats, and more.

A prolific poet, Ann's first collection, Primary Sources, debuted in 2011 and was quickly followed by a second book, Instructions for the Wishing Light, in 2014.

"I used to consider myself a teacher who writes, now I'm a writer who teaches," says Ann, who lives in Corvallis, Oregon.

"Though I consider myself a generally happy person, there is a theme of melancholy that seems to follow me. The people I have "lost" have been important in my life — my grandparents, my friends — and though I am old enough to understand that folks come in and out of our lives at different times, it is always a struggle to "let go" with grace. The other central thread is my attentiveness to the Now." 

Looking back and living now, Ann Staley offers three good books on Past & Present:

Teaching A Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
by Annie Dillard

How could any reader resist essay titles like these: On a Hill Far Away, A Field of Silence, God in the Doorway? I couldn't. I'd read Ms. Dillard's story of a year spent alone in a cabin, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek. She'd done something I'd done— living in the woods for nine months — but she'd also written a best seller about her experience. I had to read it. Her voice was pragmatic, true and mystical. I had some of each of these qualities myself. Her essays mesmerized me. And they were always "present tense," here in the Now where we all live.

Letters of Emily Dickinson - Vol. 2
by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson's collection of letters is a special gift from a dear friend. It was owned by an editor named Robert Duncan in 1942 with his note on the first page, "These behaviors of the year hurt almost like music, shifting when they ease us most." To find the origin of that quote you have to read all the letters she wrote! I especially liked Emily's letters to Mr. T. W. Higginson who was reading Emily's poems and in correspondence with her about her writing life. Fascinating. Haunting. Like the woman herself.

Selected Stories
by Alice Munro

The writer Cynthia Ozick says of Alice Munro, "She is our Chekhov." A Canadian who writes about small towns and ordinary people with "secrets." What reader could resist a first line like, "In the dining room of the Commercial Hotel, Louisa opened the letter that had arrived that day from overseas," or "On the runway, in Honolulu, the plane loses speed, loses heart, falters and veers onto the grass, bumps to a stop." I have a shelf of Munroe's books and am always awaiting the next one.

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