Morrow, Susan Brind
Morrow, Susan Brind
PERSONAL: Married Lance Morrow (a writer). Education: Attended Barnard College, interned at the Brooklyn Museum.
ADDRESSES: Home—Chatham, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Co., Trade Division, Adult Editorial, 8th Fl., 222 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116.
CAREER: Classicist, linguist, writer, translator.
The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of New York State, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Contributor of essay to Stone Roberts: Eight Paintings, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Susan Brind Morrow's debut book, The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, resembles a gallery of beautiful snapshots or an artist's canvas more than a traditional nonfiction narrative. Based on Morrow's travels through the wilds of the Sudan, the Egyptian desert, and other African locales, the book captures an intimate variety of sensations and stories from some of the most fascinating places in the world.
The title of the book refers to its author's exploration of the origin of words. In the distant past, Morrow writes, the ties were much closer between words and the literal things that they represent. Nowhere is this clearer than in Egypt, where hieroglyphics, a system of pictures used as a means of communication, set the benchmark for writing in the ancient world. While our modern writing systems use letters rather than images to convey ideas, the history of these symbols can be as fascinating and its study as rewarding as more traditional archeological pursuits. Quoting Emerson, Morrow writes of her studies that "language is fossil poetry."
Morrow's writing reveals precious glimpses of her own background. We learn of her training as a classicist, following in the footsteps of a grandfather who spoke seven ancient languages. We also learn of the death by car crash of her brother, a tragedy that mimicked the earlier death of her sister. The author's travels, then, become almost a healing process, a study of the ancient as a means of revitalizing the modern. As reviewer Pico Iyer wrote in Time: "The heart of [The Names of Things] is an inner quest as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life." However, the scattered nature of Morrow's account of her travels troubled some critics. Genevieve Stuttaford wrote in Publishers Weekly that Morrow's sketches are "evocative" and noted that they do not possess the "lucid organization of a coherent work." Furthermore, Stuttaford continued, Morrow is inexplicit regarding chronologies, acquaintances, or "other connections." Ultimately, however, critics have forgiven Morrow such indiscretions. Her "keen sensibilities and evocative prose are seductive," Stuttaford admitted, while Iyer paraphrased Morrow herself in comparing The Names of Things to "a treasure trove of odd objects from around the world."
Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of New York State is Morrow's tribute to the Finger Lakes region and to two now-departed men, a beekeeper and a trapper, who helped her understand its natural history. She retells the story of Johnny Appleseed and of other humans, past and present, as well as animals, who call this area home, and calls up images of Native cultures and religious influences. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "Morrow's language is sensuous, for she thinks like a poet." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote of Morrow's observations that "her hanging of impressionistic paintings offers evocative glimpses of place, supplemented by romantic portraits of people who guided her in the art of seeing those places."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The Names of Things: A Passage in the Egyptian Desert, p. 1649; July, 2004, Rebecca Maksel, review of Wolves and Honey: A Hidden History of New York State, p. 1805.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, review of The Names of Things; May 15, 2004, review of Wolves and Honey, p. 485.
Library Journal, July, 1997, Kay Meredith Dusheck, review of The Names of Things, p. 94; July, 2004, Michael D. Cramer, review of Wolves and Honey, p. 114.
New York Times Book Review, September 7, 1997, Annette Kobak, review of The Names of Things.
Publishers Weekly, May 19, 1997, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of The Names of Things, p. 60; May 24, 2004, review of Wolves and Honey, p. 54.
Time, July 21, 1997, Pico Iyer, review of The Names of Things, p. 78.
Whole Earth, summer, 1999, review of The Names of Things, p. 71.