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Askwith and Dunning host book readings next week

True stories of laughter and tears
Thunderstruck Fiddle_NEW_300dpi_wbleed
Supplied photo of Thunderstruck Fiddle book cover

SAULT STE MARIE, MICH - On Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m., two Great Lakes area authors, Leslie Askwith and Paula Dunning, will be talking about and reading from their books, Thunderstruck Fiddle and Shifting Currents at Bayliss Public Library.

Thunderstruck Fiddle is the triumphant true story of a boy named Charles Morris Cobb, who rose from a failing hill farm in the mountains of Vermont to become a well-known musician in the second half of 19th century New England. Her book is based on Charles Cobb’s sensitively written personal journals, nearly 500,000 words that she discovered at the Woodstock History Center.

“I was amazed and fascinated by how funny, insightful and totally honest his stories were, and how true they still are today,” said Leslie. “For example he wrote, ‘I am not quite so bashful as I was a year ago. Others may think I am a fool, but I've found out it don't do any good to make a bad matter worse by concluding I am a fool, too.’ Even though he was very shy, he was so determined to become a musician that he fought one obstacle after another to succeed.”

Charles’ recounting of day-to-day life in the lively community he called Rum Street, describes how real ordinary people dealt with temperance, women’s suffrage and environmental decline in the pre-Civil War period when people were leaving New England to seek their fortunes in the western gold diggings, farms in the mid-west and industrial centres in cities.

Her book has garnered praise from author and environmental activist Bill McKibben, who called Thunderstruck Fiddle “a remarkable document – it gives a richer sense of life in Vermont, and indeed in rural America in this period than anything I’ve read before. Evocative and fascinating.”

Leslie (Piastro Eger) Askwith has lived in the U.P. since 1976, working at the Marquette Mining Journal and Sault Tribe newspaper Win Awenen Nisitotung, and as a sanitarian for the Chippewa County Health Department. She’s also written for Traverse Magazine, Lake Superior Magazine, her own publication called Homegrown and other U.P. newspapers. She was the first writer-in-residence at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and has won awards for her writing.

Paula Dunning’s recently published memoir, Shifting Currents, is a story about going back to the land in the 1970s, but Paula hopes readers will see it as more than a story of farm adventures.

“Of course, there’s some of that,” she said. “Broken fences, a sex-crazed ram, ruined crops. But it’s also about the cultural milieu of the 1970s and my own personal conflicts.”

As she and her husband adjusted to their new lives near Echo Bay, Ont., their fantasies of pastoral serenity clashed with reality when visions of a goat in the pasture morphed into a dead cow in the barn.

The arrogance of book-knowledge butted heads with old-fashioned, hands-on competence when their first hay crop nearly burned down the barn. And traditional middle-class measures of success battled counter-culture and feminist alternatives as Paula struggled with her emerging self-image as “just” a farm wife.

“People say the book makes them laugh and cry. That’s just perfect,” said Paula. “That’s life.”

After her stint as a farm wife, Paula was a freelance writer and editor until her recent retirement. From 2000 to 2012, she was the editor of Education Canada, the flagship publication of the Canadian Education Association.

Since retirement, she has turned her hand to memoir, essays, and short fiction. Her essays have been aired on CBC radio’s The Sunday Edition, and her short fiction has appeared in the literary journals Agnes and True and La Presa. She lives in Echo Bay, Ont.

Author Bill Roorbach had this to say about Shifting Currents: “Beautifully written, by turns wry and poignant, Shifting Currents turns a landscape into a heartscape you will never forget.” Poet Lilly Barnes called it “a memoir that reads like a novel with prose so clean it sparkles.”

Both of the authors’ books will be available for purchase and signing at the library talk. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.

Bayliss Public Library, a Superior District Library, is located at 541 Library Dr. in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. For more information, contact 906-632-9331 or view or Facebook.