For our November program, we had the pleasure of presenting the author, Gail Bellamy. Gail lives in Cleveland Heights.
Ben Gulyas had the privilege of interviewing Gail on a range of topics.
Ben: Tell us about your earliest library experience.
Gail:Going to the library was a regular part of my early childhood. My aunt worked at Coventry Library, and our next door neighbor in Lakewood was a children’s librarian at Fairview Park Library.
The first time I got special permission to check out a book from the adult section of the library. I was probably in fifth grade, but I don’t remember what book it was.
Tell us a little about your own reading interests.
My reading interests are eclectic. For most of my life, I’ve read about a book a day.
What books or authors have you maintained a kinship with in throughout your life?
My reading tastes are constantly evolving.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Denis Johnson’s collection of linked short stories, Jesus’ Son, and books by two authors who appeared at a recent Coventry Author Series event — Shelley Costa’s You Cannoli Die Once and Kylie Logan’s Panic Button.
What got you into doing the first memories book?
Cleveland Food Memories was my second book. David Gray of Gray & Co., Publishers approached me with the idea.
What made you return to do a second and now third memories book?
I like the idea of looking at the city through various lenses — food, Christmas, summer. Each of these topics has pointed out to me new aspects of Cleveland’s character and personality.
What is it about memory that draws you? Where is that dwelling place within you?
I love writing nostalgia books because it’s so wonderful to talk with people about their own fond memories.
While nostalgia books have an element of history, they also encompass popular culture and even a bit of memoir. Right now, nostalgia is big: We enjoy eating retro food that takes us back to the roots of American cuisine of different eras, drink classic cocktails and beer that comes in cans, we listen to retro vinyl albums and watch classic films. Also, as an author, writing nostalgia books is a wonderful experience because people are so warm and enthusiastic when they’re sharing their own memories.
Is there a period in Cleveland history with which you identify the most?
Probably like most of us, I identify with the period of history I lived through.
If you could travel in time, would you travel backward or forward and to which period?
Well, I wouldn’t want to get stuck back there for longer than about 2 minutes, but it might be fun to zip back to the late 1800s, to see our house the year it was built (1898). Oh wait — a Bellamy already did that. My husband’s great-grandfather, Edward Bellamy, wrote the Utopian book, Looking Backward: 2000-1887.
Where do you seek out your photos for your books?
For Cleveland Summertime Memories, I used more than 30 different image sources, including libraries, special collections, local historical societies, the archives of local institutions and businesses, family photo albums and personal photos on loan from contributors. My husband Stephen also photographed nostalgia items from the collections of several memorabilia collectors. In addition, a couple of artist/photographer friends provided summertime images from their own collections.
What does looking at photographs elicit in you?
I am a magazine journalist, so throughout my career I’ve thought in terms of words and pictures that can work together to tell a story. Photos are evocative, illustrative, clarifying and they document one moment in time.
Was there something surprising and unique that you found in doing the summer memories book?
I was struck by how different summer was for previous generations of free-range kids.
Do you have any local hotspots you like to go for indoor enjoyment? Outdoor? Eating?
I love bookstores, libraries, museums and the Metroparks.
How do you feel about the literary/art/music scene in greater Cleveland? Are there any writers/artists/musicians or venues you wish more people new about?
We have an inspiring arts scene in Cleveland, and it’s a wonderful place to be for writers.
Describe your favorite time of year.
Any season except winter.
Describe your favorite time of day.
You also write poetry. Do you have a poem which you feel connects with these books? Could we get you to share it?
Evocative vintage photos are not only part of the allure of nostalgia books, they also inspired this poem:
Snapshots of the Great Depression
On crumbly black pages of my grandmother’s photo album
I meet a flap-soled old man whose shoes must
thump like dying carp on a deck whenever he walks,
captured on a stool as he ties fishing lures to sell down by the dock
Kids walk to school in cut-down dresses
that envelop them like dried corn husks, and
matrons I’m somehow related to are preserved
in Easter suits with switched buttons, hats resembling
something that drifts along the sidewalk in October,
with replacement feathers and floppy silk mums
A flower girl in blowsy fragments of her mother’s wedding dress
goosesteps heel-toe down the aisle without bending her feet
so the white paint on her black patent leather shoes won’t crack,
carries a mock orange nosegay snipped from hedges by
the bride’s front porch, and her father is caught smiling at her
from the row of faces lined up in the third pew
like frosted vanilla cupcakes, sweating a little on a warm June day
Is there a question you wish an interviewer would ask you?
No, I think you’ve covered it, Ben!