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Open House

Open House

by Mark Doty

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Twenty Writers Define Home In All of Its Complexity and Variety

"Where do I live? I don't have a ready answer, not really, but I've realized there's something I like about not having an answer. And indeed something of that spirit—a curious, open engagement with the now, in its slippery and uncertain character—animates this book."


Twenty Writers Define Home In All of Its Complexity and Variety

"Where do I live? I don't have a ready answer, not really, but I've realized there's something I like about not having an answer. And indeed something of that spirit—a curious, open engagement with the now, in its slippery and uncertain character—animates this book." —Mark Doty, from his Introduction

In a shifting world, concepts of place and home take many forms. In Open House, Mark Doty gathers an impressive group of writers to describe their contemporary sense of home. Victoria Redel lives her teenage years from inside a fifteen-pound body cast—loving and hating the loss of her body; Barbara Hurd finds that within a cave, the absence of all light allows for clarity of vision; and Andrea Barrett wipes filth from a sill in her Brooklyn apartment only to realize that the dirt is actually "ash of buildings, ash of planes. Ash of people." Surroundings—walls, trees, or states of mind—are defined by our reactions to them. These essays are about how the mind can create a home—for a moment, or for a lifetime.

Contributors include Bernard Cooper, Carol Muske-Dukes, Deborah Lott, Elizabeth McCracken, Mary Morris, and Terry Tempest Williams.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Describing the chaotic, polyglot world we live in now, one that disconnects us from the past and from one another, Doty asks, "So where do I live? I don't have an answer, but I've realized there's something I like about not having an answer... Sometimes home is found in unexpected places." National Book Critics Circle award-winner Doty has gathered 17 writers to consider those unexpected places, among them Andrea Barrett, Carol Muske-Dukes, Mary Morris and Paul Lisicky. For Morris, a sometime travel writer, the answer is the subways beneath New York City's streets. Barbara Hurd writes of caves, of finding herself "squeezed into a cleft in 350-million-year-old limestone...sixty feet under the earth," where she experiences a moment of sudden, unexpected intimacy with another caver. Other equally surprising "homes" are gracefully described in this fine collection. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What is home? Ancestral land? A secure place? A state of mind? In this collection of eclectic essays, contemporary writers explore the concept of home and the meaning of location amid a new world of blurred boundaries. Essays range from Andrea Barrett's reaction to cleaning the ash from her Brooklyn windowsill after September 11 to Victoria Redel's thoughts about spending her teen years confined to a strangely comforting 15-pound body brace. Feeling at home in unusual places, Mary Morris finds that riding subways eases her tensions and stimulates her writing, while Derick Burleson and his wife, Anita, recount their experiences as Peace Corps volunteers living in Rwanda just prior to the 1993 war. After a stay of nearly two years, they are evacuated and return to Kansas City. While glad to be safe, they feel strangely displaced upon returning to the United States. Often fleeting and difficult to explain, the sense of home for these writers dwells in the spirit. A thought-provoking collection, these essays will pique the interest of anyone who has wondered about the meaning of home. Recommended for large public libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A variety of writers present different definitions of "home" in this uneven assortment of essays, some previously published. As editor of the fifth installment in Graywolf’s Forum series, poet Doty gives himself the first and nearly the last word. (One short essay follows his at the end.) He begins by observing that we’re all trying to find "home," whatever that may mean to each of us, and ends with a piece about how a 19th-century painted panorama in the Netherlands serves as a metaphor for Life. Elizabeth McCracken lovingly describes the Des Moines homes of her grandparents. Honor Moore writes about leaving an old house in Connecticut where she lived for 30 years and finding a new home in New York City. She is one of several writers who allude to 9/11, with Mary Morris providing the most effective image: from a subway crossing the Manhattan bridge on September 12, "people stare at the space where the Twin Towers stood and they begin to cry. Inexplicably, silently, the entire car is filled with weeping people." Morris’s "home," by the way, is the subway; it’s where she reads, writes, thinks. For a number of the writers, Doty included, sexuality and home are inextricably entwined. Michael Joseph Gross finds he’s more at home having sex with strangers than he is being in the home of his parents, who had difficulty accepting his homosexuality. Reginald Shepherd—in an overlong, overwrought rumination—discovers that his home is Robert, his lover. Spunky spelunker Barbara Hurd considers caves and the comfort conferred by hidden spaces. Bernard Cooper defines home as the passions you pursue and eventually inhabit—in his case, pop art. Sensibly, the editor ends with a poignant,provocative piece by Victoria Redel, whose severe scoliosis forced her to inhabit a Milwaukee body brace 23 hours a day throughout her teenage years. Unremarkable variations on an unremarkable theme: Home is where you feel at home.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Graywolf Annual Series , #5
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Open House

Writers on Home
By Mark Doty

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2003 Mark Doty
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-382-5

Chapter One

From the Introduction by Mark Doty:

So where do I live? I don't have a ready answer, but I've realized there's something I like about not having an answer. Something of that spirit - a curious, open engagement with the now, in its slippery and uncertain character - animates this book. Some version of my question lies behind each of these essays; they are complex responses to a strange place and time in which to find oneself. Sometimes home is found in unexpected places: Honor Moore abandons a beloved country house for a city apartment with a view of a brick wall of inexplicable beauty, while Carol Muske-Dukes portrays an antiliterary, make-it-up-as-you-go L.A. that also somehow provides her with the necessary imaginative space to be a practicing poet. For Reginald Shepherd, displacement is itself a location. Paul Lisicky investigates his love for the hopeful promise of the suburbs of the early sixties and the inevitable betrayal of those prospects. Home is betrayed, too, for Andrea Barrett and Carmen Boullosa, who chronicle the deeply revised experience of life in New York after September 11, the apparent solidity of the city compromised, a new space opened where something familiar once stood. Barbara Hurd also confronts a hole in the world, the deep silence and darkness of the cave, a place that invites the deepest confrontation with fear and somehow also comprises a sacred space. There are other portrayals of refuge here: Terry Tempest Williams's desert defending itself against a ruinous drought, Mary Morris's welcoming subways, Bernard Cooper's imagined and longed-for Manhattan, capital of Art. Rafael Campo conjures a Cuba built solely from family stories and dreams. These refuges may be lost places, like Elizabeth McCracken's Jewish Des Moines or Victoria Redel's memory of a strangely comforting body cast. And lost places may be recapitulated: the safe havens of Kathleen Cambor's cemeteries and libraries recaptured in her work as a historical novelist, or Michael Joseph Gross's deep identification with his mother's powerlessness reconfigured in adult life. This is a diverse, rangy book; these writers walk around the questions at its core, deepening and enlivening them in the process. We're all trying to make a home, as we always have, trying to fit ourselves to the world, and the world to us. The heart of the matter is subtle, hard to name - perhaps simply because of the difficulty of standing back and looking at one's own times. But we can gesture in its direction: our sense of home, our understanding of what location means, has shifted, in the last few decades, in ways that trouble and invigorate at once.


Excerpted from Open House by Mark Doty Copyright © 2003 by Mark Doty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Mark Doty has received many awards and honors for his poetry, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He divides his time between New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

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