Whynott, Douglas 1950- (Douglas Vernon Whynott)
Whynott, Douglas 1950- (Douglas Vernon Whynott)
Born May 12, 1950, in Hyannis, MA; son of Vernon (a builder and investor) and Marilyn Whynott; divorced; married Kathy Olsen; children: Isha, Elizabeth. Education: Attended New England College, 1968-70, and University of Stockholm, 1970-71; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, B.A., 1977, M.F.A., 1985. Hobbies and other interests: Beekeeping.
Home—Langdon, NH. Office—180 Tremont St., 10th Fl., Emerson College, Boston, MA 02116. E-mail—[email protected].
Sealand of Cape Cod, Brewster, MA, dolphin trainer, 1972; freelance piano technician, 1973-89; freelance musician, beginning 1976; freelance writer, beginning 1978; affiliated with Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, Boston, MA, summers, 1979 and 1980; University of Massachusetts, Amherst campus, lecturer in writing and faculty resident, beginning 1985, lecturer and tutor in writing, fall semesters, 1986 and 1987; Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA, lecturer in English and journalism, 1989-97; Emerson College, Boston, graduate program director and associate professor, creative writing, 1997—; Columbia University, adjunct professor, creative writing program, 2000. Northampton High School, Northampton, MA, track coach, springs, 1979 and 1980; operated piano rebuilding workshop in Northampton; member of Whynott Boogie Trio (jazz band).
Hospitalized Veterans Writing Program scholarship, 1983; Fletcher Pratt Scholar in nonfiction, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, 1988.
Following the Bloom: Across America with the Migratory Beekeepers, Stackpole, 1991.
Giant Bluefin, Farrar Straus Giroux (New York, NY), 1995.
A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time: Joel White's Last Boat, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1999.
A Country Practice: Scenes from the Veterinary Life, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles to numerous periodicals, including the New York Times Book Review, Massachusetts Review, Orion, San Diego Reader, Smithsonian, Discover, Contact (now Massachusetts), New England Monthly, and Yankee.
In Following the Bloom: Across America with the Migratory Beekeepers Douglas Whynott interweaves anecdotes, scientific information, and personal observation to present a study of bees and the beekeeping industry. Admiring the variety of material in the book, Ellie Cook, writing in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, remarked: "There are political, poetic, romantic and scientific rewards in store for Whynott's readers." His work is the product of his own experiences with the bees and of a year of travel with migratory apiarists, the men and women who transport the insects and sell both honey and the services of the bees to farmers who need their crops pollinated. Several reviewers favorably compared Following the Bloom to the work of renowned nature writer John McPhee.
Whynott grew up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and developed a relationship with the outdoors by frequently visiting and observing the marshes, beaches, and woods that comprised the area. His love for nature contributed to a fascination with bees, but Whynott dreaded the possibility of being stung. In order to conquer his fear, he purchased eighteen hives and became a novice beekeeper. In an interview with Ronni Gordon in the Springfield Union-News, he said: "If you can stand in a cloud of bees with just a veil over your head and gloves on your hands, you are experiencing a new way of being…. When you overcome the fear, you experience the wonder of it."
After writing Following the Bloom Whynott had problems convincing publishers of the value of his work. Several editors thought that the book would appeal to few prospective buyers. Discouraged, the author stopped circulating his manuscript. Later he was called by an editor at Stackpole Books who needed to ask about an article that Whynott had written. While speaking with the editor, Whynott mentioned Following the Bloom; it was subsequently published by the small company. Earlier suspicions that the book would not appeal to a wide audience were disproved when, according to the author, larger publishers began to vie for the right to market a paperback version of the title.
In Following the Bloom Whynott describes the rapid mating of queen bees and drones, offers data about the pollinating capabilities of a hive, and details the dance that scout bees use to reveal the location of flowers. According to Jonathan Penner, writing in the New York Times Book Review, Whynott's descriptions of bee activity are presented "finely, often lyrically." The book also shows the pitfalls that the apiarists face in earning a living. Whynott describes typical problems: trouble with mechanics who refuse to repair vehicles for fear of being stung, lengthened trips due to beekeepers' efforts to avoid truck scales, and difficulties caused by the shifting weight of cargo as the bees produce honey. He also covers obstacles that made 1985 particularly challenging for the migratory apiarists. During that year an outbreak of parasitic tracheal mites threatened the beekeepers' livelihood by infesting swarms. Additionally Africanized bees, a particularly aggressive strain of the insect, caused trouble by mingling with the domesticated bees. Throughout the book readers gain a sense of the dedication and the commitment of the migratory beekeepers.
Upon the success of his first book, Whynott published three additional nonfiction books over the course of a decade. Much of the style and approach of Whynott's first book have held throughout the body of his work. Indeed, Whynott's second work of nonfiction, Giant Bluefin, examines the North Atlantic bluefin tuna and the New England fishermen who pursue it. These giant fish can grow up to ten feet long and weigh half a ton, fetching up to 10,000 dollars from Japanese buyers who prize it for its sushi. Calling the book "eloquent," Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Whynott "leaves the reader rooting hard for the survival of the giant bluefin, but unusually enough, he also leaves you rooting hard for people."
Moving from fishing boats to yachts, A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time: Joel White's Last Boat provides a profile of Joel White, the son of author E.B. White. Joel was a professional shipbuilder, and the book tells the story of the construction of the W-76, a wooden racing yacht that White designed. Whynott spent a year in Brooklin, Maine, observing the construction, and his research "adds to the immediacy of the experience, getting the reader right under the boat with a face full of sanding dust, behind the planer or inside the glue suit," according to Carol Standish in Maine Harbors. The book is also an "unintentional elegy" for White, as he was diagnosed with lung cancer a week before he met the author. The yacht became his final masterpiece, and the book alternates between reflections on Joel's treatment, his relationship to his famous father and the hands-on work of traditional shipbuilding. Brian McCombie, writing in Booklist, found it "a compassionate, many layered portrait of a family and a region," while a Publishers Weekly contributor observed that "E.B. White would have approved of this quietly profound book: it's a real beauty."
In A Country Practice: Scenes from the Veterinary Life, Whynott turns his attention inland and back to a subject more closely related to that of his first book, to a mixed-animal veterinary practice in rural New Hampshire. Whynott follows the partners Charles Shaw and Roger Osinchuk on their daily routine, tending to an array of domestic and farm animals such as cows, cats, chickens, sheep, donkeys, ferrets, and even guinea pigs. When the workload of the practice, which includes 3 a.m. house calls and long hours in rugged conditions, becomes too much for the two, they hire Erika Bruner, a recent veterinary school graduate. In the words of a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Erika becomes "a fine foil to Shaw," and a Booklist contributor noted that her story is an "engrossing thread." In the end, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the book "raises provocative questions about the future of the rural mixed-animal practice."
Discussing his writing, Whynott once told CA: "As a boy on Cape Cod I heard many stories from my grandfather, some of them about his grandfather, who became the captain of a sailing ship at the age of twenty-four, was gone for years at a time, and was known as a storyteller. I can say that my approach to—and love of—writing came from the adventurous and storytelling impulses inspired by my grandfather. I spent a lot of time walking along the shore and marshes and woods of rural Cape Cod in the 1950s and 1960s; Cape Cod—its nature and people—was my first subject as a writer. But the literary impulse has taken me into other areas, such as migratory beekeeping, with Following the Bloom.
"For me, writing is a vehicle for freedom and engagement. Writing gives me the freedom to follow my curiosity, and to make something of imagination and memory. Writing takes me into the lives of others, to explore their passions and knowledge. It lets me sink up to my chin in the intoxicating, mysterious process of linking words to make meaning. Writing has the inherent power to change things, to change minds. Though I make no claims to have done that, it's nice to be handling the tools."
Later, Whynott added: "As I think about this again, from the vantage point of 2007, 15 years after my first discussion with CA, I still believe that writing is a vehicle for freedom and engagement and that I'm happy to handle the tools. What I notice when I read my previous entry is that my perspective was that of an individual writer, seeking freedom of expression, whereas now I tend to think of writing as connecting me to a community. That would be a community of readers, certainly—and how wonderful it has been now and then to encounter them. I have also been teaching for a long time, and I find myself all the more appreciative of the community of writers, editors and readers who have come through my classrooms—increasingly I feel it has been a privilege to have engaged with them, the entryway being the artistic process of writing. Furthermore, I have a community of subjects, of the people I have written about in my books. Since I am a nonfiction writer, these are real people…. Occasionally I have the chance to revisit the people I have depicted previously, such as in 2003 when I went back to the scenes of Following the Bloom and wrote about Andy Card and his sons, eighteen years after the initial field work…. What a strange experience it was to see "the boys," toddlers then, now working as commercial beekeepers; it was like stepping into your own novel, two decades later, with the plot still working its way out. This connection, this engagement, this body of work, which is actually a body of community, has become all the more important to me as a writer."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Brian McCombie, review of A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time: Joel White's Last Boat, p. 1268; November 1, 2004, review of A Country Practice: Scenes from the Veterinary Life, p. 452.
Boston Globe, March 19, 1991, review of Following the Bloom: Across America with the Migratory Beekeepers, p. 56.
Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA), April 3, 1991, Ellie Cook, review of Following the Bloom, p. 32.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of A Country Practice, p. 857.
Library Journal, June 1, 1999, Harold Boyd, review of A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time, p. 126.
New York Times Book Review, February 24, 1991, Jonathan Penner, review of Following the Bloom, p. 10; July 13, 1995, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Giant Bluefin.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1999, review of A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time, p. 77; September 27, 2004, review of A Country Practice, p. 45.
Smithsonian, July, 1991, review of Following the Bloom, p. 128.
Union-News (Springfield, MA), April 1, 1991, Ronni Gordon, interview and review of Following the Bloom, p. 14.
Emerson College Web site,http://www.emerson.edu/ (January 30, 2007), author profile.
Maine Harbors,http://www.maineharbors.com/ (January 30, 2007), Carol Standish, review of A Unit of Water, a Unit of Time.