Tag Archives: Haverhill

‘The City of a Day’ by John Greenleaf Whittier (1843)

In 1843, the poet, newspaper editor, and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) published a collection of essays titled The Stranger in Lowell. For a time, he published a newspaper called The Middlesex Standard in Lowell. He was born in Haverhill and lived in both Amesbury and Haverhill. Following is an excerpt from one of the essays in the book, “The City of a Day.” The description of the bricks and shingles “stretching far and wide” makes me think of the construction buzz all over UMass Lowell.—PM


“This, then, is Lowell,—a city springing up, like the enchanted palaces of the Arabian tales, as it were in a single night, stretching far and wide its chaos of brick masonry and painted shingles, filling the angle of the confluence of the Concord and Merrimac with the sights and sounds of trade and industry. Marvellously here have art and labor wrought their modern miracles. I can scarcely realize the fact that a few years ago these rivers, now tamed and subdued to the purposes of man and charmed into slavish subjection to the wizard of mechanism, rolled unchecked toward the ocean the waters of Winnepiseogee and the rock-rimmed springs of the White Mountains, and rippled down their falls in the wild freedom of Nature. A stranger, in view of all this wonderful change, feels himself, as it were, thrust forward into a new century; he seems treading on the outer circle of the millennium of steam engines and cotton mills. Work here is the patron saint. Everything bears his image and superscription. Here is no place for that respectable class of citizens called gentlemen, and their much vilified brethren, familiarly known as loafers. Over the gateways of this new-world Manchester glares the inscription, ‘Work, Or Die!’ Here ‘Every worm beneath the moon/Draws different threads, and late or soon/Spins, toiling out is own cocoon.’ ” . . . .

After Reading ‘Townie: A Memoir’ by Andre Dubus III

Tom Wolfe titled one of his books “A Man in Full,” and the word “full” came to me when I tried to think of a word to describe the story that Andre Dubus III tells us in his fiercely honest new memoir “Townie.” He grew up between two worlds, the campus life of his father’s Bradford College and his divorced-mom’s mean lanes of Newburyport and Haverhill, hoping not to be paralyzed by a bully’s punch. To survive, he decided he must become a fighter himself, and he became almost too proficient for his own good. I’ve known Andre for a few years and consider him a friend, but it would be presumptuous for me to say I really know him. What he has given me, given everyone, with this story is an astonishing account of about half of his life, if he lives to be 100. He has offered it out of that pure humane generosity that moves the best of artists to try to tell us what it is like to be alive in the world.

I choose the term ”story” because it is not a documentary film of every moment of his past, but that doesn’t mean it is any less true or exact. There is literal truth and there is poetic truth. Looking back, making a composition of memories, the writer of this kind of book does his or her best to convey to the reader what happened, what it felt like, and what it means. It is a huge challenge to reconstitute one’s own experience, and Andre is masterful in the telling with “Townie.”

Other than serving in the military as his father did, Andre’s journey in his first 30 years is about as full a one as a young American man might have. The memoir takes us through his tumultuous first 30 years and ten years beyond, to 1999, when he is deep into his own writer’s life, married, and raising children. Andre’s father was the esteemed writer and a Marine captain of the same name, author of “Separate Flights,” “Voices from the Moon,” and other books. The son’s autobiographical writing doubles as a family-angled biography of his dad or “Pop,” as he calls him.

For those of us who care deeply about this historic place along the river, Andre renders with a painterly realism the people and locations of the lower Merrimack Valley from the days President Kennedy’s administration onward. Like Jane Brox, Dave Daniel, Steve O’Connor, Jay Atkinson, and others writing today, Andre is creating a literature of this place in time. We’re better for this telling and listening. We’re not strangers as much. 

Family sufferings and joys have been the source of great drama forever, and Andre lets us inside his world as he tries to make sense of it on the page. Violence and abuse of every type overload the narrative until the reader wants relief, but imagine what it was for his family to endure what he describes?  We want him to turn the tables, and he does, to the point where he risks almost everthing. There is a crucial moment that sets him on another path, and he says to his father one day: “I think I should be doing something more creative.”

He begins to write stories. Putting words together, forming sentences, finding a way to take his interior life and make it a real thing outside of himself, as substantive as the boards he nailed to earn money—that action deeply affected him. He writes, “I felt more like me than I ever had, . . . and I knew then that if I wanted to stay awake and alive, if I wanted to stay me, I would have to keep writing.”

Lively Debate in Haverhill Sparked by Dubus’ Memoir

The Eagle Tribune’s Haverhill coverage today includes a lively debate about the potential impact of author Andre Dubus III’s memoir “Townie” on the image of the city. Mayor James Fiorentini took exception to initial media coverage of Andre’s book with references to the rough side of life in the Haverhill of the 1970s. The Mayor and the author are quoted in reporter Mike LaBella’s article, and the two of them have spoken about the book, agreeing that Haverhill today has much to recommend it. The Mayor now recommends it. Of interest are the readers’ comments accompanying the web version of the article. Lowell and its reaction to “The Fighter” pops up in the comments. Read all about it here.

I bought the book Friday and read it straight through. I’ll share my thoughts in another post.

Boston Globe Praises Andre’s ‘Townie’

Today’s Globe includes an excellent review by author Brett Lott of Andre Dubus III’s new memoir about growing up and prevailing in Haverhill, “Townie,” which should be in bookstores now. Read the review from boston.com here, and get the Globe if you want more. The photograph of Andre and his dad, acclaimed short-story writer Andre Dubus II, is by Michele McDonald (c) 1992, courtesy of boston.com.

Becoming a writer helped Andre Dubus III forge a relationship with his father, but making himself completely whole took more.

Speaking of “Townies’: Andre Dubus III’s New Book

The Eagle-Tribune today on Page 1, above the fold, previewed Andre Dubus III’s new memoir: “Townie.” The Merrimack Valley author and UMass Lowell professor is earning high praise in advance reviews for his searingly honest story about growing up in Haverhill and environs during the ’70s, when mill cities in the valley were all in various phases of recovery. He tells a tough tale about surviving as a kid in a fractured family and turning his life toward creative, productive, and compassionate ends. The book is set for release at the end of February.  Read about it here, and get the Eagle-Tribune if you appreciate the coverage.


Web photo by David Le courtesy of Eagle-Tribune