Susan Stinson

2016 Hearst Fellow
Northampton, MA

Research at AAS


The American Antiquarian Society is an incredible resource for historical research for novelists. Because I wanted to experience the books as physical objects, just as my seventeenth century characters might have experienced them, I got to sit with Elizabeth Pope, Curator of Books, while she held a light beneath a page and explained how the process of papermaking left a grid of marks from wires and chains. She pointed to the place on the Eliot Tracts volume where one buckle had warped the boards of the cover while another, broken early in the collection’s life, had not. As we looked at the Algonquian Bible – or the Eliot Bible -- and the Massachusetts Psalter, I was able to see and touch objects which I knew that both English and Algonquian people had a hand in making and using in the seventeenth century. The Nipmuc printer Wowaus/James Printer, worked on many of these rare and evocative texts. In a book of English grammar from the Mather Library, there was an elaborate signature which may have been young Increase Mather practicing his hand. In The Indian Grammar, there were handwritten marks next to the list of letters to indicate sounds, the work of an Algonquian student.

In a particularly thrilling moment of archival generosity and abundance, Ashley Cataldo brought me a whole yellow library cart filled with local histories about towns I was researching: Hartford, New Haven, Wallingford, and Stamford. I don’t know if I can convey the excitement and usefulness of having such a richness of material so important to my work available in one place, but it was truly amazing. A story about the strange gravestone of a man who had been lost in the woods in Wallingford became the source of my working title, Lamentation Hill. I later went and found the strange gravestone with its portrait of a beast myself.

Click here to read an excerpt of Susan Stinson's 2013 novel Spider in aTree.



About the Fellow

Susan Stinson's most recent novel, Spider In a Tree (2013), was published by Small Beer Press. Her other novels are Venus of Chalk, Fat Girl Dances with Rocks, and Martha Moody. Belly Songs, a collection of poetry and lyric essays, was published in 1993. Her work- which has appeared in The Public Humanist, The Kenyon Review, The Seneca Review, Curve, Lambda Book Report and The Women's Review of Books- has received the Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Benjamin Franklin Award in Fiction as well as a number of fellowships. She was born in Texas, raised in Colorado, and now lives in Northampton, MA. A new edition of Martha Moody will be published in Nov 2020.

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