Introducing Ann Chandonnet, our September Featured Author

Three years ago, after 33 years in Alaska, my husband Fernand and I moved to the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Why? Everyone asks why.

Well, there are several reasons. Fern’s older sister lives here and likes it. Our sons live in Miami and St. Louis respectively—720 miles away (a short distance in Alaskan terms; only 2 hours by air). And one of our retirement goals was to grow corn and tomatoes.

We have eight acres, more than 6 of them wooded, with a river at the back. Deer, turkeys, raccoons, rabbits, gold finches, cardinals, house finches, squirrels, skinks, snakes and other local denizens visit our property. Last year a doe fed her twin fauns while I stood motionless not 70 feet away in my flower bed. Across the gravel street is a 10-acre hay field which is baled twice a year.

Friends who have lived 35 years on a tree-lined city street in Davis, California, visited last year and exclaimed, “There’s nothing here!”

That’s exactly why we like it. When the leaves are on the trees, we can’t see the lights of a single neighbor.

True, we enjoyed our last 7 years in Alaska, when we lived in Juneau and I could walk to the post office, the state library, the archives, the grocery store, two museums and the trail up Mount Roberts. But we also like being out in the boonies on a dead-end street surrounded by woods and farm land.

We turned part of the front lawn into a vegetable garden where corn and tomatoes grow. And this is a great place for writing.

Of course, I’ve always said, give me a linen closet with good lighting and I’ll be content. After spend years in The Anchorage Times newsroom with dozens of phones ringing, two televisions broadcasting and sports reporters using spittoons, I can put up with almost anything. But I like quiet if I can get it.

The odd thing about being in the South is that I’m writing a book in which the South figures. I started this book four years ago quite by accident. The book deals with the Civil War, about which I knew very little when I began, and I did not expect to be able to visit Andersonville, the Tredegar Iron Works (where Confederate cannon were manufactured), Gettysburg, Antietam, Fort Sumter and other spots.

The book’s working title is “Write Quick:” War and a Woman’s Life in Letters, 1835-1867. I have written other books in which the rights of women or the importance of women was central, but the story of this particular nonfiction begins 24 years ago. At that time, I heard from a distant relative, Bobbi Pevear, who was working on family genealogy. I myself wanted to know more about a person who was a relative, but I didn’t know quite how: Gustavus Vasa Fox. Bobbi knew nothing about Gustavus, but she found pictures of my great grandmother as a girl and other things valuable to me.

Four years ago, Bobbi called and said something like, “I’ve finished the genealogy. Do you want a copy?” By then I’d forgotten completely who she was, but I said, “Of course.”

I received a binder weighing about five pounds, full of wonderful things like maps, pictures of tombstones, receipts for wood, copies of birth certificates, family trees, and photos.

I called Bobbi to thank her. “There are letters,” she said. “Do you want copies?”

When I began reading the 150+ letters, I said to myself, “This is a book.” So I asked Bobbi permission to work on a manuscript, keyboarding and annotating the letters. If this project were ever published, we would split any profits down the middle.

So I’ve been working on and off. The manuscript centers on Eliza Bean Foster and the letters written to her by her husband Henry Foster and brother Andrew Jackson Bean. Bobbi had made typescripts of these letters and others from an extended kinship circle. Most were written to Eliza when she lived in Lowell, Mass. (my hometown and a historically important textile mill “utopia”), and both husband and brother were serving in the Union infantry.

About two years ago, I went to Bethel, Maine (Eliza’s hometown), and to Lowell, Mass. to do research. And, with the help of the Internet, I’ve searched collections in Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana, and elsewhere for related documents and photos.

A year ago, the manuscript was close to finished, so I began querying publishers. After being turned down by 16 (including obvious choices such as the U of Mass Press and the U of Maine Press), the manuscript was accepted. I got the good word on August 5, 2009.

Ann Chandonnet is the author of Gold Rush Grub: From Turpentine Stew to Hoochinoo, a food history published in paper and hard cover by the University of Alaska Press. She also writes children’s books, poetry, cookbooks, travel guides and nonfiction. She was a feature writer for The Anchorage Times (1982-1992) and for the Juneau Empire (1999-2002).

1 thought on “Introducing Ann Chandonnet, our September Featured Author”

  1. Welcome, Ann. Great to hear about your new project and to be reminded that books sometimes find their homes in unlikely places.

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