Powning, Beth 1949–
Powning, Beth 1949–
PERSONAL: Born 1949, in Putnam, CT; married Peter Powning (an artist); children: Tate (deceased), Jake. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1972.
CAREER: Writer and photographer. Residencies at Leighton Artist Colony, Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff, Alberta, Canada, 1992, 2001, 2005.
AWARDS, HONORS: Canada Council short-term grant, 1982; solo exhibition grant, New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Heritage, 1991; grants from New Brunswick Department of Municipalities, Culture, and Housing, 1992, 1996; New England Booksellers Association's Discovery Award, 1996, for Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life; Canada Council grant for professional writers, 1999; creation grant, New Brunswick Arts Board, 2005.
(Photographer) Robert Osborne, Roses for Canadian Gardens, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991, revised edition published as Hardy Roses: A Practical Guide to Varieties and Techniques, 2001.
(Photographer) Robert Osborne, Hardy Trees and Shrubs: A Guide to Disease-Resistant Varieties for the North (nonfiction), Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
(And photographer) Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life (memoir), Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1996.
Seeds of Another Summer: Finding the Spirit of Home in Nature (memoir), Penguin Books Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss (memoir), Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1999.
The Hatbox Letters (novel), Knopf Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Edge Seasons (memoir), Knopf Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
Contributor of essays to anthologies, including Northern Wild: Best Contemporary Canadian Nature Writing, edited by David R. Boyd, 2001; When the Wild Comes Leaping Up: Personal Encounters with Nature, edited by David Suzuki, 2002; and The Sea's Voice, edited by Harry Thurston, Nimbus Publishing, 2005. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Atlantic Books Today, Atlantic Insight, Camera Canada, Canadian Fiction, Cinema Canada, Prism International, Quarry, and Waves.
SIDELIGHTS: Beth Powning has received praise from several critics for her ability to evoke a setting and demonstrate how places affect the people who live in them. She has written about her life on a farm in Canada, where she and her husband, Peter Powning, moved as young adults in the 1970s, and her first novel deals with a woman who, like herself, grew up in Connecticut but now lives in rural Canada. Her works often intermingle personal stories with observations of nature. Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life, for example, describes the Pownings' farm and the surrounding countryside, how they came to move there, and the effect it has had on their lives. Powning displays "an extraordinary understanding and sense of place," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who called the author's writing style "lyrical." Similarly, Booklist contributor Alice Joyce thought Powning's prose "poetic" and "compelling," and noted that it is complemented by her color photography.
Another memoir, Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss, portrays the grief she felt at the stillbirth of her first son, Tate, and her attempts to have another child (a second son, Jake, was born several years later). When she became pregnant with Tate, Powning was not entirely sure she wanted to have a child, as she believed motherhood would interfere with her career aspirations. She also was somewhat resentful of her husband's success as an artist, while her efforts to become a writer were less fruitful. Eventually, she entered therapy to work through her sadness at the loss of Tate and her guilty feelings over both her ambivalence about having children and a skiing accident during her pregnancy. In addition to exploring these issues, the book also discusses the evolution of her relationship with Peter and the role that the natural world has played in their lives. "Powning skillfully chronicles her personal metamorphosis" in a "superbly written book," reported Annette Haines in Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic commented that Shadow Child is no "ordinary therapeutic memoir," as Powning explores mourning and recovery in "finely wrought prose." Vanessa Bush, writing in Booklist, also praised the book's quality, saying Powning is "stirringly self-aware."
The Hatbox Letters, Powning's first novel, is also a story of a woman coming to terms with loss. Kate Harding has been widowed for a year; her children are grown and gone, and she feels isolated in her country home in Canada. A relationship with another man begins unpromisingly, but Kate finally finds some comfort and a sense of life's continuity by going through hatboxes of letters her sister found in their grandparents' house in Connecticut. To Kate, "nostalgia is good for cleansing the soul," Harriet Klausner observed in MBR Bookwatch. As in her other works, Powning offers distinct portraits of her settings, leading Booklist commentator Joanne Wilkinson to praise the author's "real affinity for crafting delicate descriptions of the natural world," although Wilkinson felt the tale has a "glacial pace," although it is "thoughtful." In much the same vein, a Kirkus Reviews contributor related that Powning "has a delicate and lyrical touch, but the story advances by the minutest increments." In Klausner's opinion, however, the novel "is a fabulous character study that showcases a delightful protagonist." The character of Kate, Klausner added, "makes the story line work."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Powning, Beth, Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY) 1996.
Powning, Beth, Seeds of Another Summer: Finding the Spirit of Home in Nature, Penguin Books Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Powning, Beth, Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY) 1999.
Powning, Beth, Edge Seasons, Knopf Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
Booklist, July, 1996, Alice Joyce, review of Home: Chronicle of a North Country Life, p. 1796; February 15, 2000, Vanessa Bush, review of Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss, p. 1055; February 15, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Hatbox Letters, p. 1062.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of The Hatbox Letters, p. 79.
Library Journal, December, 1999, Annette Haines, review of Shadow Child, p. 163.
MBR Bookwatch, March, 2005, Harriett Klausner, review of The Hatbox Letters.
National Post, April 10, 1999, Tasneem Jamal, review of Shadow Child, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, review of Home, p. 61; January 3, 2000, review of Shadow Child, p. 66.
Beth Powning Home Page, http://www.powning.com (June 14, 2005).