4:08 p.m., Sept. 18, 2008----As Delaware is sometimes referred to as the Diamond State, it should be no surprise that the stories and poems included in On The Mason-Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers might be compared to jewels that sparkle with their own special brand of literary luminosity.
Published by the University of Delaware Press, the book is co-edited by Billie Travalini, founding director of the New Castle Writers' Conference and a fiction editor for the Journal of Caribbean Literatures, and Fleda Brown, UD professor emerita of English and former poet laureate of Delaware.
On Tuesday, Sept. 16, more than 200 guests, including many contributors to the anthology, gathered in the Reserve Room of the Morris Library to celebrate the book's publication.
With more than 50 poems, short stories, essays and excerpts from novels and memoirs by writers who live in the First State or who have lived in Delaware long enough to have been influenced by its cities, beaches, rivers and farms, On the Mason-Dixon Line helps define what it means to be a Delawarean.
In his welcoming remarks, UD Provost Dan Rich congratulated the book's coeditors and contributors and the UD Press for publishing the anthology.
“We need to congratulate the University Press for having the wisdom to publish this volume, and for the intellectual leadership of the editors Billie Travalini and Fleda Brown,” Rich said. “Also, the work would not have come to life without the authors who wrote the 52 stories and poems in this rather extraordinary volume.”
Susan Brynteson, vice provost and May Morris Director of Libraries, complimented the efforts of the book's coeditors and said that the “University of Delaware Library is very proud of its support of writers and writing.”
“On the Mason Dixon Line is a special achievement, and I'm so pleased that all of you are here to share in that achievement,” Brynteson said. “I wish to pay special tribute to Fleda Brown and Billie Travalini, whose leadership made the book possible.”
Don Mell Jr., UD professor of English and chairperson of the board of editors of the UD Press, said that he hoped that “all those involved are as proud of the book as the University of Delaware Press is to publish it.”
Travalini said that the book came about because “I got it into my head that putting as many Delaware writers--internationally known storytellers, as well as emerging professionals--in one book, would be a good thing.”
With the permission to publish the dozens of manuscripts that were eventually submitted, Travalini went looking for a publisher and called Mell, who told her that the idea sounded interesting and invited her to bring the bring the manuscripts over.
“This is how Delawareans tend to work--we believe in each other enough to 'have a look,'” Travalini said. “Fleda and I worked together like two birds building a nest--effortlessly. Suddenly, I saw the manuscript with newly-opened eyes.”
Travalini thanked Mell for his efforts in getting a commitment from the Associated University Presses, of which the University of Delaware Press is a member, and also thanked Brown for her many contributions, including coming up the idea for the anthology's title and cover.
“The north-south connection was inspired, and to me it was critical,” Travalini said. “I grew up near Elsmere, where the voices I heard were rooted in Virginia and West Virginia and South Carolina--the voices of men and women who came north after World War II to find work and a better life for their family. For them and all Delawareans, I see On the Mason-Dixon Line as a celebration, a celebration of what it means to be a Delawarean: to have a big voice in a small state.”
In noting that the real task in editing an anthology is deciding who gets in, Brown said that the criteria for making such a decision included defining who is a Delaware writer, the scope and merit of the writers included and how many pieces by each writer would make the final copy.
“I want to read the best work available, and I think most people do,” Brown said. “Billie and I were pretty clear about this as we began eliminating some work and soliciting other work. The best one can hope is that an editor's taste has been honed on wide and diverse reading throughout the range of past and contemporary work."
Brown also thanked Travalini for the conceiving the project, and the UD Press and Brynteson and the UD Library for having faith in the project, as well as the Office of the Provost, the English department, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events for their contributions to the project.
“Few attributes of the human soul are more in need of nurturing in this present culture than the imagination,” Brown said. “As writers always do, they need to be encouraged and nurtured by the major institutions of higher learning. The state of Delaware and its people depend a great deal on what this University is able to bring them by way of a supportive environment for imaginative writers. What I'm trying to say is that the Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers is a really good investment.”
Contributors to the anthology include Brown; Travalini; Gibbons Ruark, UD professor emeritus of English; Jeanne Murray Walker, UD professor of English; Marisa de los Santos; Cruce Stark, a supplemental faculty member in the UD Department of of English; and Pulitzer Prize-winner W.D. Snodgrass, UD Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English.
Contributors reading from their work in On the Mason-Dixon Line included:
- Marisa de los Santos, who holds a Ph.D. in Literature in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and lives in Wilmington, read from her first novel, When Love Walked In;
- Cruce Stark, the author of a novel, Chasing Uncle Charley, a longtime resident of Wilmington and before retiring, a longtime member of UD's creative writing faculty, read from his short story, Getting Out More;
- Maribeth Fischer, author of The Language of Good-bye, which won the 2002 Virginia Commonwealth University Award for Best First Novel, read from her essay, “Stillborn;” and
- JoAnn Balingit, a Newark resident appointed as Delaware's 14th poet laureate by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in 2008, read from her poem, “Comfort, Cape Henlopen.”
A reception followed the presentations. The event was sponsored by the University of Delaware Press, the Office of the Provost, the Department of English, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural Activities and Public Events and the University of Delaware Library.
For more information, visit [http://www2.lib.udel.edu/udpress/masondixon.htm]. On the Mason-Dixon Line can be purchased at the UD Bookstore.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Kathy Atkinson