Essay Contest

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Special Event: 2014 BFWW Essay Contest Reading and Prize Ceremony ~ Saturday March 29, 2014

Hosted by Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan with Jennifer Sahn, Barbara Zheutlin, Alice Maggio and Amy Dryansky.
Centennial Hall, Miss Hall’s School, 492 Holmes Road, Pittsfield, 2 p.m.

This year’s contest invited women writers to submit nonfiction, fiction and poetry on the subject of “weather”: weather of the heart, weathering the storm, how weather extremes are affecting us personally, politically, culturally, environmentally, keeping in mind the special of the 2014 Festival, “Writing the Self, Righting the World: New Visions of Personal and Planetary Health.”

The prize ceremony will feature a reading by each winner, followed by a panel discussion moderated by contest judge and Orion Magazine editor, Jennifer Sahn. Other panelists are Barbara Zheutlin, Executive Director of Berkshire Grown, Alice Maggio of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, and poet Amy Dryansky, who works for a regional land trust and is the author of How I Got So Close to Home, and Grass Whistle. With the four winning pieces as a starting point, the discussion will focus on ways to examine, explore, and spark new perspectives on the links between personal and planetary wellness, particularly within our own lives and communities. How can writing inspire change? What stories are being told in our culture and communities on this subject? What stories are not being told?

Amy Dryansky. Photo by Trish Crapo.

Amy Dryansky. Photo by Trish Crapo.

Amy Dryansky is the author of Grass Whistle (Salmon Poetry) and How I Got Lost So Close To Home (Alice James). Individual poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Orion, The New England Review and Harvard Review. Dryansky has received awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She is a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she studied the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets.

Alice Maggio

Alice Maggio

Alice Maggio grew up in the Berkshires and is a proud graduate of Mount Everett Regional High School in Sheffield. In 2010 Alice graduated with a B.A. in Sociology and French Studies from Wesleyan University. After college she went on to bake pies in Brooklyn, teach English in the Alps, and cook Basque food in Manhattan before coming home to work at the Schumacher Cener for a New Economics. Her interest in education and a sustainable and just food system make her right at home at the Schumacher Center.  Alice is excited to be using her local knowledge to promote the use and expand the scope of BerkShares.  She hopes to help people in the Berkshires take more control of their own economy.

Michelle Gillett

Michelle Gillett

Michelle Gillett has been a regular op-ed columnist for The Berkshire Eagle for more than twenty years. An award-winning poet and writing instructor, her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Orion, Sanctuary, Art of the Times, among others. Her most recent book is The Green Cottage, winner of The Ledge 2011 Poetry Chapbook Competition. Her other published works include A Kitchen Gardener’s Cookbook, In Celebration of Motherhood, a collection of essays, and two collections of poetry, Rock & Spindle, a letterpress chapbook published by Mad River Press, and Blinding the Goldfinches, chosen by Hayden Carruth as winner of the Backwaters Poetry Prize and published in 2005. She received her MFA from Warren Wilson College and a BS from Skidmore College. She has inspired and helped numerous writers make progress toward the completion of their work. gillettandryan.com

Nina Ryan

Nina Ryan

Nina Ryan is an independent literary agent and editor who has worked in book publishing for twenty years. From her work with the Cowles-Ryan Agency, The Palmer & Dodge Agency in Boston (now Kneerim & Williams), and as an editor at Random House she brings substantial experience to the process of evaluating, editing, developing, and marketing books and book proposals for mainstream publication. She has worked closely with a number of writers to develop book proposals and manuscripts for books published by Alfred A. Knopf, Henry Holt & Co., Doubleday, Macmillan, Walker Books and other major publishers. She received an MA from the Columbia School of Journalism, and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. gillettandryan.com

Jennifer Sahn

Jennifer Sahn

Jennifer Sahn has been on Orion magazine’s editorial staff for twenty years. Articles she has edited have won the John Burroughs Essay Award, the Pushcart Prize, and have been reprinted in the Best American Science and Nature Writing, Best American Non-required Reading, Best Spiritual Writing, and Best Creative Nonfiction. Her writing has been published in a variety of print venues and she has served as the editor for several book projects. Jennifer is a board member of BerkShares Inc., a local currency project, and sits on the advisory board of the University Press of Kentucky’s Culture of the Land series. She lives in South Egremont, Massachussetts, with her husband, Nick Thielker, and their son Henry.

Barbara Zheutlin

Barbara Zheutlin

Barbara Zheutlin is Executive Director of Berkshire Grown, which supports and promotes local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshire community, economy and landscape.
berkshiregrown.org

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2013 Essay Contest Winners and their Prize-winning Essays!

A large crowd gathered in Edith Wharton’s elegant living room at The Mount on March 23 to hear the four winners of the 2013 BFWW Essay Contest read their essays on “Masculinity.”

Second prize winner Deborah Swiatek waits her turn to read

The winners are pictured below:

L-R, Hilda Banks Shapiro, Ellen Bliss, Joan Embree, Deborah Swiatek

They were introduced by Essay Contest organizers Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan, as well as this year’s Essay Contest Judge, Katherine Bouton.

Michelle Gillett

Nina Ryan reads from Edith Wharton's autobiography

 

Katherine Bouton

The winners have graciously agreed to share their essays with our Festival website audience.  Read on!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Winners of the 2013 Essay Contest to be Announced Soon!

Check back often–we’ll be announcing the winners of the 2013 Essay Contest very soon!

The three winners will be reading their essays at a special gala celebration at The Mount from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, March 23.

Please join us!

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Festival Essay Contest Deadline Extended to Jan. 28


Essay contest hosts Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan are pleased to announce that this year’s BFWW Essay Contest, on the theme of “Masculinity,”  will be judged by Katherine Bouton, a New York Times senior editor for more than two decades and author of the new book Shouting Won’t Help: Why I–and 50 Million Other Americans–Can’t Hear You. 
We look forward to your thoughts, in the form of personal essays, on this provocative theme!

New!  Extended Deadline:  Monday, January 28, 2013 (essay must have Jan. 28th postmark)
Award ceremony: March 23 at The Mount.
Length & format:  750-1000 words; pages numbered; include cover page with name, email, phone, mailing address, and the title of the essay.

More details on the contest available here.

Submit your essay by mail to:
c/o Nina Ryan & Michelle Gillett
P.O. Box 1134
Stockbridge, MA  01262
For further information email mcgillett@verizon.net.

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Essay Contest Deadline Extended to January 28

Calling all Berkshire women writers: please get out your pens or fire up your laptops and enter the Second Annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers Essay Contest, sponsored by Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan and judged by Berkshire resident Katherine Bouton, retired senior editor of The New York Times.

Last year, the Festival Essay Contest received more than 50 essays, out of which three winners received prizes and were invited to read their work to an admiring audience at The Mount.  We look forward to receiving a wealth of essays on this year’s provocative topic: Masculinity. 

 

CALL FOR ENTRIES 

BERKSHIRE FESTIVAL OF WOMEN WRITERS

 ESSAY CONTEST

 

mas·cu·lin·i·ty n

1.                  the quality of looking and behaving in ways conventionally thought to be appropriate for a man or boy

2.                  men as a group (dated)

3.                  a manner or feature commonly attributed to men

4.                  the qualities, actions, or types of behavior in a woman or girl that are conventionally associated with men or boys

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Last year, you were asked for submissions on the subject of femininity. This year, we thought we would ask you to consider the other side of the coin.

What is masculinity?  What experiences of culture, body, biology, roles, behavior, language, work, spirit have defined or made you question ideas of masculinity?

We invite women and girls of all ages and experiences to take on the subject of masculinity in a personal essay.  Be playful, inventive, unconventional or straightforward, but whatever approach you take, base your essay on personal experience.

In his introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay, Philip Lopate writes:  “The hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy.   The writer seems to be speaking directly into your ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom.  Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue—a friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship.”

New! Extended Deadline:  Monday, January 28, 2013 (essay must have Jan. 28th postmark)

Judge: Katherine Bouton, retired senior editor at The New York Times and author of the recently published book Shouting Wont Help, a personal, psychological and physiological examination of widespread and misunderstood phenomenon of deafness.

Award ceremony: March 23, venue TBA.

Length & format750-1000 words; pages numbered; include cover page with name, email, phone, mailing address, and the title of the essay.

Submit your essay by mail to:

c/o Nina Ryan & Michelle Gillett

P.O. Box 1134

Stockbridge, MA  01262

For further information check www.gillettandryan.com or email  mcgillett@verizon.net.

  

Advertise with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers!  

Attracting an estimated 5,000 attendees for a month’s-worth of readings, lectures,  performances, films and discussions, writing workshops and networking events, the Festival is quickly becoming one of the region’s most-anticipated events.

In advance of the Festival, we will be producing both a printed Program and website. We invite you use these vehicles reach participants with your marketing message.

Produced in full-color, the Program is the go-to resource for the entire festival. Programs will be available at the 40+ venues, including The Mount, Kripalu, The Norman Rockwell Museum, etc. and other locations throughout the County beginning mid-February through March.

Companion web ads will appear on the Festival’s website beginning in January and will be maintained all the way through until September 15.

During the Festival month alone, the website receives more than 10,000 hits!

With just one buy you’ll get over nine months of exposure on two different platforms at a very affordable price.

Email us for information on costs, sizes, and specifications: bfww@simons-rock.edu.

We hope you will considering sponsoring the Festival and help to keep the art of the written word alive and strong in the Berkshires.

Support Your Festival!

Donations in any amount are always welcome and much appreciated!

It takes time, talent and dedication to make a big month-long Festival like this happen, and it also takes funds.

Please consider adding the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers to your donation list this year.

Checks can be made out to Bard College at Simon’s Rock/BFWW and sent to: Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, c/o Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, 84 Alford Road, Great Barrington MA 01230.

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Winning Essays from the 2012 Essay Contest

First prize winner was Hilda Banks Shapiro.  Her essay can be read here:

Hilda Banks Shapiro essay

First runner-up: “Mothering by Moonlight,” by Suzanne C. Fowle

Suzanne Fowle

An Excerpt:

….My friend, Carla, hiked the Appalachian Trail a few years ago. The whole trail, from Georgia to Maine, solo. She came through my town in western Massachusetts and stayed with me for a few days of recovery, good food, and laundry. She showed me her ring of tiny charms that her female friends had given her at send-off. It was to give her strength. It was to remind her, without adding more than a few ounces to her backpack, that those friends were with her along the journey. From the clinking, shiny, little handful emanated tremendous intention, a communal awareness of Carla’s specific needs at a specific time.

….This, I think, is femininity. It is a reflection of the physical form: the womb at the core whose function depends on connections to the rest of the body. It is not just the monthly shedding of blood, but the circle of women who understand and allow your ebbs and flows. It is not just the girl and the mother in the bathroom, but the friends who helped ready the mother for that moment. It is not just the cramping and the signals to stop “doing,” but the safety net, the tribe, that hugs you like moonlight and sees you through.

 

Second runner-up:

Sori Tru

by Sheela Clary

Sheela Clary

“Please don’t leave me alone with this guy,” I silently beseech David, my host Papa. It’s 2 am on day 8 of Peace Corps training, in the house of the village chief, in Nalepa, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I am sitting at the feet of David’s other guest; a sloppy drunk politician who’s had me roused from sleep so he can enumerate the things he knows about America. David is nodding intently, though he doesn’t understand English. He flashes a broad grin my way, which I interpret to mean, “What a proud moment! Two important people in my home!” Abruptly, the Governor cuts off his tutorial on skyscrapers, and announces he’s going to bed. As he shakes my hand, he carries on, “If something should happen in the night, don’t fight it. Try to enjoy it.”

“Uh….Okay”, I stammer, and retreat under the skirt that is my bedroom door. There are salutations outside, the door bangs shut. A bit later, snoring. I stare at the mosquito net and contemplate my predicament.

Seven days earlier, I’d written a letter home: Dear Mom and Dad, I’m lying in my new bed, room, house and village, with my new family next door. I live in a 3-room house made of bamboo bark, leaves and a tin roof. I have my OWN room, with a mattress and night table. Papa’s a little overprotective, but that’s it for hardship. 

Oh, dumb girl, coveting a place of her own, where one with any smarts would share it with armed children. Where are you, Papa? How could you abandon me for a sound sleep at your sister’s? Then again, in terms of terribleness of crime, rape here seems about equivalent to petty theft. I witnessed a village trial where three brothers brought a case against a cousin for violating their sister. The rapist’s family had to give the brothers two pigs for their loss.

Don’t panic, this girl’s not getting raped. Let’s take stock. No phone, no power, no nearby road. Flashlight batteries died, as did the watchdog. Efforts at self-defense would be unpersuasive. So much for applying a first world brain to third world problems. Tears emerge. What did I do to deserve this? I’m just a well-meaning volunteer, a good girl who’s quick to follow rules. No exposed skin above the knee? I packed long skirts. No walks by myself? I can adjust. The trainers bawled me out for wearing headphones in public; no more headphones. Yet here I am, at home with mama and papa, wearing amorphous pajamas, and one of this nation’s most powerful men thinks I’m asking for it. The alarm! I fumble for the Peace Corps issued ‘personal safety device’ and hold it to my thumping chest. I wait.

The letter home finished with: I sat with a girl named Lynette on the bus. She loved touching my hair. She told her mama she wanted me for her mama. We walked hand in hand along the road to Nalepa. She asked why I left my family; kids here don’t understand why a young woman would leave her parents. Obviously, she’s not met you guys. Ha, ha. Love, Sheela

Actually, New Guineans of all ages ask me why I left home, and I have no clear answer. “To find myself”, of course. “To make the world better”, naturally. Because I could. For me, gender discrimination has mostly come in handy; I was introduced to it in the form of a high school Calculus teacher who only called on boys, which prejudice fit nicely with my complete ignorance of Calculus.

When Peace Corps assigned me to Papua New Guinea, I had to find it on a globe. It’s north of Australia, about as physically and culturally far on Earth as you can get from Western Massachusetts. In PNG, ‘sexism’ would make as much sense as foie gras. The value of a woman in Nalepa is measured in livestock. I learned this from proud Papa David, who assessed me at 100. Pigs, that is. (Could’ve been 200 were it not for narrow hips and small breasts.) Women are commodities to protect, and men distribute power amongst themselves according to ferocity. David has a reputation in that area. On my first night, David had performed a reenactment of a tribal fight for a houseful of guests. As he mimed both victim and victor, I wondered if he was fond of Charlie Chaplin. After the audience’s laughter subsided, he turned to me, face stern, and said, in Pidgin English, “Mi wok dispela samting long wusat pulim yu, pikinini bilong mi.” (This is what I will do to whoever hurts you, daughter.) I laughed again, alone.

When my eyes open, light’s poking through the bamboo. Made it.

At the training center, the Peace Corps staff tell me I can stay with them. But I’ve not escaped the Governor; in fact, he’s holding a rally on the adjacent field. The content’s unclear, but his tone and the crowd’s response bring Hitler and Nazi hoards to mind. I have no choice but to listen, my head and stomach churning with bitterness. Lynette’s question was right on. What the hell AM I doing here, making sacrifices for people who treat their females like dogs. God has forsaken this place, and I can too. For the rest of the morning, I consider the option of returning home, less than two weeks into a two-year commitment.

Heading outside for lunch, I hear an insistent shout from the field. “Sheela! Sheela!” There’s a small, lone figure pressed up against the fence, waving wildly. Up close, Papa David’s face is shiny with tears. He reaches his arms to me through the fence, sobbing, “Sori tru, pikinini bilong mi!” It’s not the last time during my life in PNG that I will give up on comprehending, and give in to love.

My papa and his machete had been standing watch outside my bedroom until daybreak, ready to do battle for me.

 

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Gala Festival Finale at the Mount A Heartwarming Success!

It was a capacity crowd in Edith Wharton’s elegant drawing room at the Mount for the reading by the three winners of the BFWW Essay Contest on Femininity, sponsored by Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan, and judged by Alison Larkin.

Audience assembled at the Mount for the Gala Festival Finale

Nina Ryan and Michelle Gillett, who have shepherded many budding Berkshire writers to successful publication with their writing workshops, editing and agenting skills, opened the proceedings with many thanks to the 50 women who submitted their essays to the contest.

Nina Ryan

Michelle Gillett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Larkin warmed up the audience with a marvelous comedic performance based on her autobiographical novel The English American, which has just been published as an audio book, and is on its way to becoming a major motion picture.  Alison had the audience laughing and sharing along with the joys and challenges of her experience as a creative young woman in an adoptive family that didn’t quite know what to make of her talents.

Alison Larkin

Then it was the turn of the prizewinners.

First up was Suzi Fowle, whose moving essay told of how her daughter’s impending rendezvous with menarche brought up all kinds of memories of her own first period, as well as resolutions to do more to nurture her daughter through this important life transition.

Suzanne Fowle

Sheela Clary read a piece about her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Papua New Guinea, and how she spent a terrifying night convinced she was about to be raped…only to learn later that her host “Papa” had been standing guard by her door the whole night to protect her.

Sheela Clary

Both Suzi and Sheela choked up as they read, and there were many tears in the audience as well, as their honesty and willingness to reveal their own struggles was deeply appreciated by their listeners.

Hilda Banks Shapiro

Hilda Banks Shapiro, the first prize winner, read an essay that looked back over a lifetime of strength and courage; focusing on how, as a young mother of 12, she used her intuitive grit and courage as a woman to find her own voice, and to make it on her own as a single mom after her husband walked out on the family, leaving them with a dairy farm that only managed to lose money.  Again, not a dry eye in the house as Hilda finished her story!

The presentation ended with a few remarks by yours truly, Festival founding director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez. I was surprised and moved when members of the organizing committee, Alice Myers and Judy Nardacci, presented me with flowers and a spoken tribute, and I went on to express how much I have appreciated all the support and enthusiasm that the Festival has generated in all the hosts, organizers and participants, as well as the audiences that have turned out in such droves. It is truly inspiring and energizing to see how much talent is hiding away in these Berkshire hills, and I am already looking forward to more occasions to bring us together to share our gifts and voices, and in so doing, change the world.

Here are some great photos of the Gala Reception that followed the reading, taken by Suzi Banks Baum, Artist Mom extraordinaire, of Laundry Line Divine fame.

Sonia Pilcer, Hester Velmans and Jana Laiz

 

Essay Contest and Gala Finale hosts Nina Ryan and Michelle Gillett

 

Hester Velmans and Festival director Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

 

Essay contest judge and host Alison Larkin, holding a copy of the new audiobook edition of her bestselling novel The English American

Guests Mary and Lila Berle

 

We hope the Festival will brighten the front door of the Mount in March for many years to come

 

 

 

 

 

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Special Event: Gala Festival Finale
 “Femininity” Essay Contest Reading and Reception ~ March 31, 2012

Hosted by Michelle Gillett and Nina Ryan, with special guest Alison Larkin
The Mount, Lenox, 3-5 p.m

Join us for a reading by the three winners of the BFWW personal essay contest, which invited Berkshire women and girls to consider how their experiences of culture, body, biology, roles, behavior, language, work or spirit have defined or called into question their ideas of femininity.  The event will be introduced by contest judge Alison Larkin, author of the best-selling comic novel The English American, who will share her ideas about writing from personal experiences.

A gala reception will follow.

Alison Larkin was born in Washington DC, adopted at birth by British parents, and raised in England and Africa. After graduating from Royal Holloway College, London University, and The Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, she became a playwright and classical actress on the British stage. Then, at 28, she found her birth mother…in Bald Mountain, Tennessee. The experience turned her into a stand-up comic and author. Her autobiographical novel, The English American, was a Vogue “most powerful book of the season” and Redbook magazine’s Book Club Pick of the Month. It currently under development by Bright Pictures, UK, to be turned into a major motion picture, with Alison writing the screenplay. Her internationally acclaimed autobiographical one-woman show, from which her novel springs, previewed at the Manchester Royal Exchange, premiered at the Edinburgh Festival’s Assembly Rooms and headlined in at the Soho Theatre as a highlight of the London Comedy Festival. The show has been seen in concert performances around the world and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable organizations.

Nina Ryan is an independent literary agent and editor who has worked in book publishing for twenty years, from her work with the Cowles-Ryan Agency, the Palmer & Dodge Agency in Boston (now Kneerim & Williams), and as an editor at Random House. She has worked closely with a number of writers to develop book proposals and manuscripts for books published by Alfred A. Knopf, Henry Holt & Co., Doubleday, Macmillan, Walker Books, and other major publishers. She received an MA from the Columbia School of Journalism, and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

 

Michelle Gillett has won poetry fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and published work in numerous literary magazines. She is the author of Blinding the Goldfinches, winner of the Backwaters Press Poetry Prize and published in 2005; a chapbook, Rock & Spindle (Mad River Press); and The Green Cottage, winner of The Ledge 2010 Poetry Chapbook competition, out this fall. She received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She is a regular op-ed columnist for the Berkshire Eagle, and writing workshop teacher.

Michelle and Nina are partners in g + r editing writing and book development.
http://www.gillettandryan.com

 

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Winners of the Femininity Essay Contest Announced

Click here to read the winning essays

More than 50 women submitted essays

in response to the following questions:

fem·i·nin·i·ty(n)

  1. the quality of looking and behaving in ways conventionally thought to be appropriate for a woman or girl
  2. women as a group (dated)
  3. a manner or feature commonly attributed to women
  4. the qualities, actions, or types of behavior in a man or boy that are conventionally associated with women or girls

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

What is femininity? What experiences of culture, body, biology, roles, behavior, language, work, spirit have defined or made you question ideas of femininity? We invite women and girls of all ages and experiences to take on the subject of femininity in a personal essay; be playful, inventive, unconventional or straightforward, but whatever approach you take, base your essay on personal experience.

Alison Larkin, author of the best-selling novel The English American, selected three winning essays.

And the winners are…

Hilda Banks Shapiro, “Untitled”

Sheela Clary, “Sori Tru”

Suzanne Fowle, “Mothering by Moonlight”

Warm congratulations to the winners and everyone who submitted essays!

The winning essays will be read at the Festival Gala Finale on March 31, 3-5 p.m. at The Mount, the summer home of the Berkshires’ most famous woman writer, Edith Wharton.

All are welcome to attend this event, which will be hosted by Michelle Gillett, Nina Ryan and Alison Larkin.

This is a free, first-come first-served event, with a reception to follow.

Looking forward seeing you there!

 

The audio book of Alison Larkin’s bestselling novel, The English American, narrated by Alison, joins a Nobel Laureate, President Obama and E.B. White on Audible.com‘s list of best author narrations of all time! The audio book is available for immediate download by clicking http://bit.ly/englishamerican_audiobookor going to www.alisonlarkin.com.