Pioneer Valley Radio’s Bernadette Duncan recently interviewed me about all things Mr. Clark’s Big Band. We discussed how I was inspired to write the book, what the research process was like and about the reception it has received from the community:
“Her book is a touching real life story of pain, courage, friendship and growing up that chronicles the feelings and lives of the young members of a middle school music band who had to cope with the unexpected death due to illness of one of their classmates and bandmates. Bernadette Duncan interviews Westfield-born writer and journalist Meredith O’Brien who will be at Bay Path University’s Writers’ Day on October 15th discussing her latest book Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, May 2017).”
The first panel is slated to be led by author, visual artist, filmmaker, and therapist Patricia Reis: “Mining the Personal for your Nonfiction.” According to the itinerary: “Topics will include using personal elements and materials in nonfiction rather than fiction, how resources can be gathered, what it’s like to present a relative’s story–and your own–so candidly, and dealing with family reactions while a project is in progress and after it’s published.”
The second panel is scheduled to be anchored by award-winning poet and singer Charles Coe: “Standing Your Ground: Thoughts on Reading in Public.” Coe plans to “describe tools and techniques that can help in preparing and delivering a reading. He’ll also work with a few volunteers willing to read before the group and be coached on their presentations.”
The third and final panel–from 4:10 – 5:25 p.m.– will feature Ellen Meeropol, Joan Dempsey and me for, “Swimming with the Current.” Panelists will “discuss how current events in their hometowns and in the larger world have inspired their engrossing fiction and nonfiction. Incorporating topics including cults, racial diversity, the Boston marathon bombings, human trafficking, and a community in grief, the trio’s work will get you thinking about how to use current events as your own springboard.”
Bay State Parent recently ran a long feature story about the story behind Mr. Clark’s Big Band. Writer Melissa Shaw began the piece this way:
A Southborough mother and writer has transformed the unexpected death of a 12-year-old into a book detailing the true story of how the bond between a music teacher and his students helped them grieve and grow following the loss of their friend.
Shaw — who solicited comments from Suzy Green, the mother of the 12-year-old — also spent time speaking with Jamie Clark about the book:
Published in May, the book has been well-received by the community, former Big Band members, and the subject himself: ‘I have read the book and I love it!’ Clark says. ‘Reading it was an emotional experience, as I relived all the events covered in the book. I am incredibly proud of how the students [specifically] and the community [as a whole] rallied to support each other in that difficult time. … I hope that it helps others who are grieving and offers some guidance for the caretakers of children who have suffered a loss.'”
The rapidly growing MFA program, in which I enrolled in the fall of 2014, is staffed by a number of writers and editors with real-world experience who provided support and encouragement to the graduate students, something for which I remain grateful.
D’Aries, who will become the coordinator of Western Connecticut State University MFA program this fall, introduced me at the MFA event with generous and gracious remarks. (Photo right.) D’Aries offered valuable feedback as I worked on Mr. Clark’s Big Band — published in May 2017 — and workshopped large swaths of the narrative nonfiction work in his classes.
Meanwhile, Braver, my thesis adviser, was instrumental in helping me sculpt and develop my medical memoir into a richer and more reflective work. I am currently developing the memoir.
After completing the creative nonfiction program, I was more than happy to share my thoughts about it for the Bay Path MFA program’s website, where a number of my classmates also weighed in on their experiences.
I’ll be helping to celebrate the magic of music by signing copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band before and after performances by Brass Venture, the brass ensemble featuring Jamie Clark, the music teacher (Mr. Clark) featured in the book.
Brass Venture is slated to perform on Wednesday, July 5 at 8 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, 29 Mount Desert Street, Bar Harbor, Maine. The group will be playing music by Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Alan Hovhaness, and John Philip Sousa, as well as premiering a piece by Jeffrey Kaufman. Brass Venture will also be participating in the Young Audience portion of the festival, performing earlier in the day on July 5 at 1 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church.
I will be on hand at both events signing copies of Mr. Clark’s Big Band. And since Jamie Clark will be around, you could get him to sign your copy as well.