Tag Archives: Jane Brox

‘Merrimack’ by Jane Brox



We live thirty miles inland along the old road to the coast, a road laid down on an early wagon track, which followed the Indian trace—a long day on sure feet giving way to oxcarts that took half the week to return from the sea with their burdens of salt hay. Now the coast is a scant hour’s drive along Broadway, North Lowell Street, Main, and also River Road and Water Street since the way sometimes skirts the muscular currents of the Merrimack, which salts at Newburyport, and pours into the Atlantic.

By the end of its journey the river is almost two hundred miles from the cold rose of its source in the White Mountains. In many places it flows through a yielding channel older than the ice ages. Where it courses over stubborn ledge, where the rock wears away at an incremental pace, are the waterfalls that were once the gathering places and fishing grounds of the Algonquin tribes. Merrimack is their word. River of sturgeon, swift water, strong place.

To the south of our fields and woods the river flows broad and braided and eastward. It is the strong line of our landscape. The low-lying hills slope towards its channel, and every vein of water—the icy melt and the murk, the mineral rich source and the field-drained runoff, waters that taste like metal on the tongue, waters redolent of balsam, and some of smoky tea—every vein drains into the Merrimack. Even the cut of the road depends on the river, since it nearly ghosts the water’s course though we sleep beyond earshot of a steady current, lulled instead by the fine-tuned motors of the night freight trucks that approach and then pass.


From “Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family” by Jane Brox (Beacon Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Jane Brox. Reprinted with permission of the author and Beacon Press. 

See more writing from the region at The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture

Cultural Highlights 2012

Following is one writer’s highlights in cultural experiences in Lowell and the Merrimack Valley this past year. These are events I attended, so this list is not an attempt to rate the best in the arts and culture for 2012. That’s for another post. Send in your favorite and unforgettable moments, such as the 25th anniversary event for the Angkor Dance Troupe, which I missed because I was away.—PM


Ziggy Marley performed at Boarding House Park in the Lowell Summer Music Series

First annual Writers and Publishers Roundup at the Old Court pub (January)

Bread and Roses Centennial museum exhibition opening in Lawrence (January)

Lowell Folklife Series: Afro Caribbean Percussion Workshop with Jorge Arce at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center (February)

Mass. Memories event at the Tsongas Industrial History Center, Boott Cotton Mills Museum (March)

“Dickens in Lowell” museum exhibition opening at Boott Cotton Mills Museum (April)

Greeley Peace Scholar John Prendergast “Day without Violence” talk at UMass Lowell (April)

Jane Brox’s talk on writing about place in the Lunchtime Lectures series of the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and UMass Lowell at the UML Inn & Conference Center (April)

South Common Haiku Book Project event for Earth Day at the Rogers School (April)

Remembering Mary Sampas tribute event by the Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society (April)

City Stories by Image Theatre at the Old Court pub (May)

Ziggy Marley in the Lowell Summer Music Series at Boarding House Park (June)

“River Muse” literary anthology launch event with Sons of Liberty Publishing at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center (June)

Michael J. Fox in the Middlesex Community College Celebrity Series at Lowell Memorial Auditorium (June)

Kenny Loggins at Boarding House Park (July)

Lyle Lovett and His Acoustic Group at Boarding House Park (August)

KD Lang at Boarding House Park (August)

World Premiere of Kerouac’s “Beat Generation” play at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in partnership with UMass Lowell (October)

A Tribute to Peter Stamas produced by James Ostis in partnership with the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures, Hellenic Culture and Heritage Society, Lowell Heritage Partnership, and Greater Lowell Community Foundation at the Whistler House Museum of Art/Parker Gallery (November)

A Conversation with Stephen King at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell (December)

Jane Brox’s List for ‘Sense of Place’ Writing & Reading

At her Lunchtime Lecture at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center this past Monday, Jane Brox distributed a list of “Works Mentioned” in her talk about “Reading, Writing, and Sense of Place.” The books about Sicily are included because Jane is preparing for a trip there in the fall. By starting her reading now, she feels the trip has already begun. Following are the books:

G. B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (NY: NY Review of Books Classics, 2007)

Robert Frost, Complete Poems of Robert Frost (NY: Holt, Rhinehart Winston, 1969)

Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (NY: Penguin Classics, 1998)

Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems: 1927-1979 (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli, trans. Frances Frenaye (NY: The Noonday Press, 1989)

Carlo Levi, Words are Stones: Impressions of Sicily, trans. Antony Shugaar (London: Hesperus Press Limited, 2005)

Danilo Dolci, Sicilian Lives, trans. Justin Vitiello and Madeline Polidoro (NY: Pantheon Books, 1981)

Mary Taylor Simiti, On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal (NY: Vintage Books, 1995)

Jane Brox: Lunchtime Lecture @ UMass Lowell ICC, 4/23

“Writing About Place: Local to Global” — A Talk by Author Jane Brox

Monday, April 23, 12 noon, UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center

Free and open to the public

Award-winning author Jane Brox, a native of the Merrimack Valley, will discuss the way literature is both affected by a writer’s sense of place and the how the writing infuses meaning into particular landscapes and communities, from small towns to entire regions. Her recent book, “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light,” was named by TIME magazine as one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year and was praised by reviewers in the New York Times Book Review and other publications. She is the author of three books informed by her experiences on her family’s long-time farm in Dracut, Mass. About “Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm,” Booklist wrote: “In her third observant and meticulously researched rumination, she continues to chart the fortune of family and farm, albeit from within a fresh and incisive history of cultivation in America.”

This program is the last of three “Lunchtime Lectures at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.”  This lecture is co-sponsored and presented by The Parker Lectures Committee, UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas, Middlesex Community College, and Cultural Organization of Lowell. Speical thanks to the Lowell Cultural Council and Massachusetts Cultural Council for a grant to support this program. A complimentary buffet lunch is included, but reservations are required and seating is limited. The program begins promptly at 12 noon. To reserve a seat, contact artsandideas@uml.edu or call 978-934-3107

Author Jane Brox at Spalding House, March 10

Jane Brox will read from her new book “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light” on Thursday, March 10, at 7 pm, at the Spalding House on 383 Pawtucket Street. This is a Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust event. If you plan to attend, please respond by calling 978-934-0030. “Brilliant” was named by TIME as one of the best books of 2010. An added attraction of the program is the extraordinary collection of lamps and lighting systems in the Spalding House, which dates from the 18th century, a rare example of housing of that era in Lowell, formerly East Chelmsford. Admission is free, but space is limited. Jane will sign books also.

Merrimack Valley Literary Renaissance: Bos. Globe, 2001

It’s been ten years since writer Neil Miller in the Boston Globe Magazine shone a spotlight on the Merrimack Valley literary renaissance that was getting noticed at home and far away. The region of Bradstreet, Thoreau, Whittier, Frost, Kerouac, and others has emerged in our time as a literary hotspot. Read the archived article that features Jane Brox, Andre Dubus III, Mary McGarry Morris, Jay Atkinson, Dave Daniel, Chath pierSath, and others. Unfortunately, the archived piece doesn’t include the original photographs of the authors.

All these writers are very different, of course, and it’s hard to find one unifying theme, a single valley sensibility. Brox’s elegiac memoirs and her feeling for place have led her to be dubbed “a latter-day Thoreau.” Until recently, Dubus has been reluctant to write about the Merrimack Valley at all. Still, all are drawn to working-class, sometimes hardscrabble characters, those “practical” types who populate the region. “In the Merrimack Valley, we celebrate the ordinary moment,” says Atkinson. “That is what you write about. There is no uranium mine here.”

The intellectual history of the area reaches back almost to the beginnings of New England’s industrial revolution. In the 1840s, on a trip to America, Charles Dickens paid a visit to Lowell, where he made some unexpected discoveries: Many of the young New England farm women who came to the city to work in the textile mills subscribed to circulating libraries. And some of them were publishing a regular magazine called The Lowell Offering, which he wrote in his book American Notes “will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals.”

Jane Brox @ Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference

Award-winning author Jane Brox, who grew up and lived in Dracut until recently, will be among the featured faculty at the prestigious annual Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont, August 10 to 20, 2011. For details, visit www.middlebury.edu/blwc Her faculty colleagues will include Chang-rae Lee, Philip Levine, and Ellen Bryant Voight.

Jane Brox’s Book Is a Top TIME Pick

I have to brag on this one. My friend Jane Brox, native of Dracut and the Merrimack Valley and now living on the Maine coast, made the TIME magazine list of the top ten best non-fiction books of 2010 (#5) with her wonderful book “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light.” Writes the reviewer, “Brox turns this curious slice of history into a dazzling epic. In her hands the construction of the first offshore lighthouse, in 1698, plays like a battle….”

Jane Brox @ Andover Bookstore, Sept. 9

Author Jane Brox will be reading from her new book, “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light,” this Thursday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m., at the Andover Bookstore, 89 Main Street. She is a marvelous writer, and in this book she takes on a subject that so surrounds us that most of us don’t think about it. It wasn’t every day that a person could flip a switch and see more. It still isn’t every day for many people. She tells a good story and asks provocative questions about how we organize our lives now and what “light” might look like in the future. Click here for event details.