The always fabulous Lewiston Public Library just hosted the best author talk I’ve ever attended, hands down (sorry). Elizabeth Hand is new to my world, though I don’t know why (too much time in my bubble) given that she teaches at USM’s low-residency Stonecoast MFA program.
She’s preparing her latest book for publication but Hand spoke little about Curious Toys—what she did say definitely piqued my interest—and filled her time instead talking about one of her primary inspirations for the novel, outsider artist Henry Darger.
Darger lived his life on the bare margins yet somehow managed to produce an astonishing trove of art, cobbled mostly from found paper and supplies, discovered in his rented room after he died. Orphaned and housed in a mental institution as a boy—he mercifully escaped, finally, when he was 16—virtually friendless, possibly suffering from Tourette’s syndrome and definitely from undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, Darger wrote and made art with astounding dedication.
There were about 15 of us in attendance, and we all gathered around a table to page through the gigantic art book containing the prints of his work while Ms. Hand spoke with enthusiasm about Darger and what he was able to accomplish in such harsh circumstances. Hand’s affection for the artist was catching, and I can’t remember another time I learned so much at an author event.
As a postscript, I’m anxious to read Hand’s 3 Cass Neary thrillers but they weren’t available for purchase at the talk. I bought Erranty: Strange Stories, instead, and look forward to trying her short work, described in this review as “beautiful and slightly disturbing”—that’s just how I like ’em!