Monday, May 23, 2011

My First Time: Laura Harrington

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today's guest is Laura Harrington whose debut novel, Alice Bliss (Pamela Dorman Books), arrives in bookstores next week.  The novel's titular character is a fifteen-year-old girl learning to cope with the absence of her father, a soldier in the U.S. Army Reserves who has just deployed to Iraq.  Harrington's plays, musicals and operas have been widely produced in the U.S., Canada, and abroad.  She is a two-time winner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and a two-time winner of the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England for Mercy and Hallowed Ground.  Much of her work is inspired by her fascination with history and her commitment to work that explores the human cost of war, from the Civil War (Hallowed Ground) to World War I (The Book of Hours) and World War II (Fifteen Minutes at Midway).  Alice Bliss grew out of Harrington’s one-woman musical Alice Unwrapped, which ran off-Broadway in New York and in the Minneapolis Fringe Festival in 2009.  Harrington teaches playwriting at MIT and lives in Gloucester, Mass.  Visit her website at

My First Book

The day I am invited to write this guest post, my first book lands on my doorstep.  A true artifact, an actual object; it even has a little heft.  It is sitting on my kitchen table.  I circle around it, not quite believing it’s real.  It is so strange to have something tangible in my hands after years of working in the theatre where our work is so beautifully, magically ephemeral.  Even if you hold a play in your hand, you know it is only a blueprint for the theatrical experience it inspires.  But a book....a book will exist as an object and in the mind of its readers and therefore holds the potential of being both tangible and ephemeral.

The day my book launches is the day of my daughter’s graduation from college, which certainly puts things into perspective: the joy of her accomplishments, the excitement of starting out, stepping into the first days of her adult life.  And like all graduations, perhaps all watershed events in one’s life, there is as much looking backwards as looking forwards.  Thus the poignant mix of emotions we all experience: fear, elation, anxiety, joy, and anticipation.

As I hold this book with gratitude and a degree of awe, I also hold something back.  Have I been a writer for too long to fully experience this “first” in my life?  Am I superstitious?  Not yet, I hear a little voice saying, don’t get excited yet--as if my excitement could somehow impact book sales or reviewers’ reactions in a negative or positive way.  I don’t want to overburden the slender shoulders of Alice Bliss as she makes her way into the world.  As much as I wish for this book going forward (and don’t we all have these dreams of finding our audience, our readers?)  I keep reminding myself of all that has happened to bring me to this moment; all who have helped me along the way.  So, like my daughter on her upcoming graduation day, I find myself looking forward and reaching back.

Reaching back to my first mentors:  How can I leave them out when I hold my first book in my hands?  Parents and teachers and, for me, my lucky, blessed relationships with several collaborators in my theatre life: the composers who celebrated my love of language and embraced my desire to create deeply emotional work, the producers and directors who championed my work and made it happen, the performers who made my characters come alive in words and in music.  They are all a part of this book and the journey that led me to this book.

Reaching back to my family:  My husband and daughter who have done the daily work of living in the trenches with a writer, my brothers who have cheered me on with such generosity, my parents, now gone, who would have loved to sit with my book in their hands.  A book.  So different from a play.  Something we all know and recognize and revere.  Something we can hold in our hands.  Full of promise; carrying our hopes and our dreams.

Author photo by Claire Barclay