A local author and Middlebury College instructor has published her third book of stories, “How Strange a Season,” continuing her exploration of women and their interactions with nature and the world.
“Megan Mayhew Bergman is one of the best authors out there for chronicling our tangled, intimate, complicated relationship to the natural world; her de ella elegant, lyrical prose de ella documents an evolving crisis and our incorrigibly human responses to it, ”said a review posted by Literary Hub.
On Tuesday, Bergman spoke before a bookstore appearance threatened by tornadoes in South Carolina. Married to a well-known veterinarian who practices in Bennington County, Bo Bergman, the author, who is from North Carolina, lives on a farm with their two daughters and teaches literature and environmental studies at Middlebury, after spending time teaching literature at Bennington College .
Bergman acknowledged the gap between “How Strange a Season,” published about a week ago, and “Almost Famous Women,” published in January 2015.
She said much of the time was dedicated to being a mother to her daughters but also noted her work at the Vermont colleges where she has taught and a detour into environmental journalism. For a time, that’s “what was bringing me to the page.”
Bergman pointed out that “How Strange a Season” includes “Indigo Run,” a novella which is one of her longer stories, but said the stories in the book developed into work with a common theme. “They all felt cohesive in some way because they really revolved around the idea of a problematic inheritance and it just felt like a lot of things I’d been thinking about in terms of family and the social moment we were in and culturally, the environmental moment we were in. It kind of all came together that way,” she said.
“Indigo Run” is a piece that Bergman said she’s worked on for five to six years but she said much of what she was writing during the pandemic, when she was also teaching remotely and hosting her daughters’ remote education needs, was environmental journalism.
One of Vermont’s best-known writers on the environment, and a fellow instructor at Middlebury College, Bill McKibben, offered praise for her work by email on Wednesday.
“Megan’s work is really remarkable — and so much of it is grounded in her confident handling of the natural world, something that doesn’t come easily to enough writers of fiction. We’re very lucky to have her de ella in Vermont, and at Middlebury — her new book de ella is making a real splash as it comes out, but I think it will also last for a long time in people’s hearts and minds, ” he said. Other stories in the new book came from what Bergman called a “short-story writing spree.”
“I could suddenly feel the way they were in conversation with the novella and I thought, ‘OK, well this is a different sort of book.’ Amy Hempel put one out a few years ago but it’s sort of a rare hybrid form, but I could just feel the way the ideas worked. I knew that at least for me, artistically, it was interesting and cohesive,” she said.
Hempel, a member of the faculty at Bennington College, called “How Strange a Season” a “gorgeous collection” and noted the stories were about “strong women or women on their way to becoming strong.”
While Bergman says she tries to feel compassion to the younger writer who preceded her, she noted that her first collection, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,” which she said she sees now as “really vulnerable and honest,” was written while she was still a student and young mother. She said she was grateful for the way the book, which was chosen by “Oprah Magazine” as a “Must-Read Book for March” in 2012, changed her life from her.
“Almost Famous Women” was written as Bergman was in her 30s and reawakening to feminism.
“With this book, (“How Strange a Season”) the thing that I love feeling and knowing now, that I’m a few books in, is that my thinking grows, and so my writing grows. My experience, I think, as a human being and my ability to get humanity on the page or landscapes on the page or complexity on the page, I know that I’m a better writer now. I love the feeling of growing, and I hope it continues,” she said.
Readers of the book will experience an exploration of the coastal South, which Bergman described as “the landscape where my imagination was forged and thrives.”
She said readers will also find stories that look at the tension between the natural world and social issues.”
“I think the book has also got a dark humor streak, a way of (saying,) ‘This is how it goes down. The world is ending, and we’re buying yoga pants online,’” she said.
The author is expecting her next book to be about the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially-integrated, all-female swing band whose members toured the South during the Jim Crow era while men were away at war. It will be Bergman’s first nonfiction book, and she said she has researched the topic for about 12 years.
“Finally, I was holding so much knowledge, and I had befriended the last living member, Ros Cron, who died in her 90s during the pandemic, that I finally decided I couldn’t let this story go, or it wouldn’t let I go, and I decided to write it,” she said.
Rosalind “Roz” Cron, an alto-saxophonist, died in February 2021. She was 95.
Bergman is online at mayhewbergman.com which includes information about her books and tour appearances.