Killinger, Margaret O.

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Killinger, Margaret O.


Education: University of Virginia, B.A., 1988; Duke University, M.T.S., 1993; Emory University, M.A., 1997.


Office— University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469.


University of Maine, Orono, adjunct faculty member.


The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing(biography), University of Vermont Press (Burlington, VT), 2007.


Margaret O. Killinger is the author of The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing, a biography of a woman who was the greatest influence on the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s. Helen Knothe Nearing (1904-1995) married Scott Nearing (1883-1983), an economist and pacifist whose antigovernment beliefs cost him his job as a college professor. The couple began living their simple life in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression. They spent their days growing and preparing most of their food, helping and being helped by neighbors, and developing innovative methods to prolong the growing season and coax more productivity from their home near Jamaica, Vermont.

The Nearings experimented with cold frames and solar-heated greenhouses. At that time, almost nothing was known of these simple technologies. They tapped maple trees and relied on organic gardening methods, rejecting the new pesticides and fertilizers that were being introduced. They were recyclers and vegetarians; Scott made his famous mix of raw oats, peanut butter, raisins, and honey. Scott and Helen built many buildings of stone, both in Vermont and later on their Maine homestead, where they also built a rock-and-concrete dam to create a large pond.

The Nearings moved to Cape Rosier, Maine, in 1952, primarily because a ski resort was being developed nearby and because they were looking for a more communal-based lifestyle. They freely opened their home to others who wanted to learn from them, and they wrote many books, both together and individually, about their philosophy and life choices. Killinger borrows from the title of the first,Living the Good Life, in writing her biography of Nearing. While Scott wrote several books on radicalism, Helen continued writing of her "good life," covering topics such as maple sugaring and food preparation. Without their income from maple sugaring, the Nearings grew blueberries in Maine. That state is now number one in the production of this crop.

After having lived "off the grid" for many years, the Nearings built a conventional house next to the Cape Rosier house, and this building now houses The Good Life Center, a tribute to the Nearings and their lives.

Much has been written about the Nearings, and in her volume, Killinger writes of Helen's commitment to theosophy and of her devotion to the older Scott. Booklist reviewer Carol Haggas wrote that, in documenting the life of Nearing, Killinger "reinforces the iconic status she cultivated and deserved as an ardent and charismatic proponent of a purposeful life."



Booklist, March 15, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing, p. 11.