In 1974, during a summer vacation from teaching biology, I told Sara Brooks I was designing a course in cultural anthropology. Brooks responded with recollections about her childhood life mule farming in Alabama. Moved by the substance and poetry of her stories, I asked Brooks to collaborate with me on a book. Intermittently for 10 years—with tears, laughter, and knee slapping—narrator and editor worked side by side in Brooks’ kitchen. You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks is the outcome.
That same summer, to experience agricultural life first hand, I lived in a village in Greece. Because interviewing Sara Brooks had satisfied the listener and awakened the storyteller in me, I returned frequently to Greece to record villagers’ stories and my own. I published these accounts—along with gossip about the “American girl” and photographs I made—in Dancing Girl: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting.
Somewhere between traveling red ribbon roads in Sara Brooks’ rural Alabama in search of potato banks to photograph and writing down the details of my first experience picking olives in Greece, I began to foresee writing personal essays that would link pivotal moments in my childhood to my life as an artist. About the time I began penning these essays, I retired my camera and picked up a brush. My third book, Dances in Two Worlds: A Writer-Artist’s Backstory, is both literary and visual.
—Thordis Niela Simonsen
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