In 1980, when I was living in New York and writing my book Somewhere Child for Viking Press, my editor, Amanda Vaill, sometimes gave me newly published Viking books to inspire me and keep me going on my lonely writer’s journey.
These books, I thought then and still think now, were like logs for the fire inside of me, to keep the flames burning bright. Book writers need to read good books as much as, if not more than, they need to eat good food, Amanda felt then. And I still do.
One of the books she gave me, I recall clearly now, was the autobiography of American lyric poet and literary critic Louise Bogan, Journey Around My Room (Viking Press, 1980). My first thought, on receiving this book and reading its title – not knowing who Louise Bogan was — was that the journey around my own room at the time would take only a minute. I was living in a one-room studio apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and that’s where I spent every day but Sunday for the next year agonizingly writing my first book, thanks to a generous advance from Viking.
Journey Around My Room is a mosaic of Bogan’s life (she lived from 1897 to 1970) made of bits and pieces of her notebook and journal entries, parts of letters, stories, criticism, poems, and the text of a lecture, all put together posthumously by her editor Ruth Limmer. The book’s title is drawn from a 1933 piece Bogan wrote for the New Yorker in which she describes her room – the setting and the articles that fill it – and then associates ideas, places, and people she knows with them.
I’ve been thinking about this Bogan book a lot lately because, apart from daily walks into town, my longest journeys lately have been within my new apartment’s four sunny and airy rooms. All this nesting in the past month has turned me into an überhomebody, and I’m loving it. To think — after all these years of international travel and personal upheaval I’ve finally landed in one sweet and secure (I feel) place, with all of my most cherished things under one sturdy roof, along with me! Out of storage and back into my life. I could get down on my knees and kiss the terra cotta tile floors here in gratitude.
A journey around this apartment’s rooms should only take a few minutes, if you’d care to join me…
Here in the living room area, on one of its high walls, I’ve hung a long, narrow wall quilt I made in the classic Chinese-coin design from scraps of African fabric I brought back with me from Mali, West Africa, where I taught patchwork quilting as an economic development project. This quilt is a daily reminder to me of that deeply enriching (for me) project and the marvelous Malian women I worked with.
Also in the living room area, there’s a small bookcase — in an effort to travel light, I had to give away most of the hundreds of books in my personal library before leaving Taos, New Mexico, for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, eight years ago — with my two beautiful grandchildren’s wedding photos on it and copies of my books on part of the top shelf:
Oddly enough, one of my most prized – and sentimental – possessions in my lovely new kitchen (apart from the French tart pans in all sizes, saved from my catering days in New York) is the made-in-Spain Magefesa pressure cooker I bought in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in 1998 for the equivalent of $80 USD, an exorbitant sum for me then. Fresh meat in Mali, I found in the three years I lived there, required long pressure cooking to reach any degree of tenderness; otherwise, I found it inedible. So this extravagance became a life saver, which I still rely on for making stocks and stews to this day:
My new bedroom has an African theme, with a goat skin rug on the floor, a live potted palm in one sunny corner, and Malian mud cloth textile art on the walls. This mud cloth piece (below), which I recently had framed, is especially dear to me because it was a farewell gift from the Malian artist, named Dembele, who gave it to me. It signifies for me the joie de vivre I observed and experienced in Mali, despite the year-round punishing heat and pervasive Saharan dust.
Every morning now on my coffee tray, which I take back to bed with me, I use a mug that one of my sisters once gave me, with a photo of our young mother, Lee, on it. So I feel I’m having coffee with Lee in my new apartment. I imagine that she loves watching the view of dawn from my bedroom windows as much as I do. I imagine she’s pleased for me that I am here now and happy.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For more information about my first book, the memoir Somewhere Child, and my Patchwork Project in Mali, please scroll through the Home page of my website, www.bonnieleeblack.com.
For more about giving away my beloved books before moving to Mexico in 2015, please read www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/bye-bye-books/ .