Bill’s letter about Kathryn & Charlie, 3 Bombshells, and an Alabama Odyssey

Below is the most beautiful letter I have ever received about a book. I am especially grateful for this letter because it was written to us by Lucy’s beloved Milton professor from Sarah Lawrence College, Dr. William Shullenberger, just after her graduation in Bronxville in late May.


And today is our day off, but we are heading to Selma tomorrow for another storytelling workshop. We have art & storytelling workshops all week long at the following libraries.



June 18th 2:00 pm – Selma Dallas County Public Library

1103 Selma Ave Selma, AL 36703-4498

(334) 874-1725


June 19th 10:00 am – Gadsden Public Library

254 College St. Gadsden, AL 35901

(256) 549-4699


June 20th 10:00 am – Carl Elliot Regional Public Library

98 18th Street East Jasper, AL 35501



June 21st 11:00 am – Choctaw County Public Library

124 North Academy Avenue, Butler, Alabama 36904

(205) 459-2542


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I’m also including two pictures, one of Norah with “Bill” when he lectured on Milton in Tuscaloosa in the spring and another that he took of Lucy and her painting of Milton next to Marilyn Monroe. He called it “Three Blonde Bombshells.” I’m also including a link to my favorite Milton essay by Dr. Alison Chapman about teaching PARADISE LOST at Donaldson Prison near Bessemer, Alabama.


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* * *


 Dear Kerry and Lucy,

After the hustle and bustle had largely died down yesterday, and I spent some time putting the clutter of my office in a little bit more order, it was late middle afternoon and I knew I needed some refreshment, but that it was too late to get a lunch. So I went over the Starbucks in Bonkersville, and actually found a table to sit, and savor some coffee, and sample about half of one of their Panini’s.

I’d brought my bag with me and realized what I wanted to do to re-center and re-ground myself was to read your lovely book about Kathryn and Charlie.  Lucy, you’ll remember that I’d gotten to see the proofs of it, a little quickly, but it was so nice this time to just sit with the published version and let their story of friendship and affection and mutual respect unfold before my eyes and in my heart–it was just what I needed yesterday, and brought the events of the week–and of the years–into a deep and tender focus.  They are such a wonderful partnership in art and respect and innocence (Blake’s Innocence that is unassailable goodness) and love; and their mutual arts–Kathryn the storycatcher, Charlie the master of bricolage, assemblages of the tossed-away junk and bric-a-brac of our throwaway culture into eccentric and luminous discovery-forms–well, they are such noble and good people, the way that the ‘noble swineherd’ Eumaios in the Odyssey is so good.  That the story of their friendship unfolds in Selma is all the more wonderful; and that they got a gang of like=minded citizens together to blow their combs on the library lawn is a wonderful image of what Jesus meant by ‘the kingdom of heaven is in the midst of you’.

I love both the simple, pristine, generous, affection prose, and the beautiful, folksy, plainly and affectionately observed images, which tune to one another so beautifully.  Maybe my favorite moment, and page-spread, among the many, is near the center of the book:  ‘Kathryn told Charlie about catching stories . . . //  Then they were quiet, gazing at the plum sky of sparkling stars over France.’   What a beautiful pair of sentences–the attunement of the feeling of placid affection and trust to the deep providential beauty of the cosmos is just beautifully suggested.  And then, to gaze at the image of them gazing at the stars, their silhouettes haloed by the night sky, their ankles crossed, on that solid wood bench of earthmaterials as they lose themselves in the wonder of it all, it’s perfect.  It made me think, Lucy, of what I told you all of one of my favorite sentences in English prose, when Bloom and Stephen pass out of Bloom’s house in the predawn night, and behold:  ‘The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit’ (Ulysses 17.1039).  It is so hard to render the sublime in the ordinary moment, but there it is.

And then I came to the ‘About Kerry and Lucy’ page and there you were, the storycatcher and the collage-maker and image-capturer; and then I became conscious of what I think I knew was happening all along, that this is also not just a collaboration of two artists but as much a story of your friendship as it is a story of the friendship of Kathryn and Charlie.  And, as I know you know, such trusting and transforming friendships, between parent and child, mother and daughter, are so rare, and because so rare, inspiring.

So I hope you can see why I am so moved by, and grateful for, your gift–it is a perfect ‘graduation present’ for me!  I hope you’re barnstorming–and workshopping tour through the rural south will be a great odyssey, and I can’t think of anything better to be doing.  ‘We are our imaginations, and we die with them’, the critic Harold Bloom once wrote in explaining Blake’s fierce commitment to Imagination as the source of everything that matters in the world.  So, you are seeding and vivifying imaginations in the lives of the innocent who might otherwise be crushed.  Lucy, I don’t know that we’ll ever live next door to each other, but I will always keep your ‘Blond Milton’ on my wall and in my heart; and I am so glad that we have, in the last couple of years, formed a friendship too.

Thank you both, so much, and keep on keeping on!  I hope you had a lovely evening of it, and sorry I couldn’t have been there with you.










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Teach­ing Par­adise Lost in a Max­i­mum Secu­rity Prison by dr. Alison chapman



About Kerry Madden

Kerry writes books for kids and teaches creative writing. Her books include: Offsides, Writing Smarts, Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song, Jessie's Mountain, Up Close Harper Lee, and Nothing Fancy About Kathryn and Charlie. She writes essays for the LA Times among other places and divided her life between Birmingham and Los Angeles. Her newest book, Ernestine's Milky Way, will be published by Schwartz & Wade (Random House) in 2019. She is on the faculty at Antioch's Low Residency MFA Program and the Director of Creative Writing at UAB.
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3 Responses to Bill’s letter about Kathryn & Charlie, 3 Bombshells, and an Alabama Odyssey

  1. Janis Madden says:

    I am deeply touched by what I just read. I won’t try to tell you in my simple words because after reading this remarkable letter, it would never be enough. How do all of you wrtie so eloquently? I am humbled to say the least. Thank you.

  2. Nancy Rutland Glaub says:

    Wow. That is beautiful…as is the book.

  3. Logan says:

    GOOD STUFF (My niece and nephew will be getting the book for their birthday next month.)

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