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Carolyn HowardJohnson

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Member Since: Mar, 2001


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Publisher:  PublishAmerica ISBN-10:  1591295505 Type: 


Copyright:  Nov 6 2002

This is the Place
NUW Book Club
This is the Place

The Midwest Review called this experimental cross between fiction and nonfiction "...captivating..."

Little White LiesAward-Winning AuthorExamines Fibs in NonfictionA new collection of family stories explores the subject of truth, secrets and understanding. These are subjects that plague all families. Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered is creative nonfiction, a new term for an old genre. This form is well suited for this kind of examination. The foreword explains how the author, Carolyn Howard-Johnson, tells true stories remembered as truly as if they were photographs, as creatively as if they were fiction. In Harkening the author of This is the Place tells vivid stories as if each were an individual snapshot put together in a family album. Each may be read separately but together they feel more like a novel, a story that travels lineally from the beginnings of one family’s collective memory in Michigan as they settle in Utah and move out of it, Diaspora -fashion. Harkening is Howard-Johnson’s second book. Her first, This is the Place, won the Reviewers’ Choice Award in the spring of 2001 and was named a Top Ten Novel in the Preditor and Editors Readers’ Poll. AmErica House honored it for exceptional sales and a chapter from the book was a finalist in the prestigious Masters’ Literary Award. Another was selected for inclusion in The Copperfield Review. It was also an NUW Book Club selection and received their award of excellence. A story from Harkening won the Red Sky Press Award. Rose A. O. Kleidon, Professor Emeritus of English at Akron University, headed the panel of Red Sky judges. Howard-Johnson’s work has also been featured in anthologies like Pass Fail, Calliope’s Mousepad, Mothers of Authors and The Joy of Cancer.    Excerpt
"My city is like a saltwater pearl, gently, gently cradled by the Wasatch mountains. The crescent of the foothills tenderly curve around the city like the palm of a mother’s hand. It is a city one can not lose one’s way in, for the range of shale and granite points North and South and the streets run parallel to their perfect inclination for true direction. Others intersect them in a grid that defies confusion."

Professional Reviews

From Midwest Review
Reviewed by David Leonhardt for The Midwest Review

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's latest wonder arrived in my mailbox just when I was already trying to squeeze 30-hour days into my paltry 24. But how could I let something from such a gifted writer just sit there? Carolyn Howard-Johnson writes like an onion … with each layer she peels craftily coaxing tears from her readers' eyes.

Harkening is one such tear-jerker -- a collection of Depression era tales from her mother's childhood and memories of her own. Some sad, some happy, all heartwarming.

This is clearly an biography, both of Howard-Johnson and of her mother. It says as much up front: "Stories can easily lose themselves without a teller-of-stories to keep them alive. A family needs a bard."

But sometimes I get the feeling that this book may be as much fiction as reality -- like the feeling some people get that they are outside themselves watching their comings and goings from afar. Two quotations she places up front lend credence to my theory.

And some of her tales are clearly not autobiographical … or are they? Well, the names seem to change and she writes some in the third person, but maybe they are autobiographical just the same. I so dearly wanted to ask the author. But I held back so as to take the stories at face value, just as you, dear reader, will when you get the chance.

Harkening -- or at least some of the tales in Harkening -- picks up where This Is The Place left off. (If you have not yet read This Is The Place, I highly recommend it.) There are moments of triumph. There are scenes of tension. Many of the stories are seen through the eyes of a child, through the innocence of youth, and through superb, descriptive writing that makes the reader feel like he is there in the story.

Howard-Johnson finally reveals the source of her magical writing skills when she calls her mother "The most avid of these story-tellers."

If I could describe Harkening in one word, it would be "captivating!" Enjoy every story.

The reviewer is David Leonhardt, author of Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness.

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Reader Reviews for "Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered"

Reviewed by Nina Osier 3/25/2003
When I was six years old, my family moved from Maine’s heavily Protestant coast to one of its just as heavily Roman Catholic mill towns. What strikes me most powerfully about Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s "collection of gentle sequels to THIS IS THE PLACE" (her novel of life in 1950s Utah) is how curiously familiar it feels to me — a woman whose entire experience with Utah consists of sitting on the runway for an hour in Salt Lake City, waiting for a transcontinental flight to continue, many years ago. For HARKENING’s tales have two common themes running through them, and binding them together: "the child as outsider," and "the family as it really exists vs. the family as it imagines itself to be."

In "Child’s Play," a little girl relaxes, chatters freely, forgets to be guarded with her playmate — and soon gives inadvertent offense. And so the author writes: "His face changed and I knew I had blundered." That feeling visits the child over and over, throughout the collection’s stories told from her viewpoint. Her religious beliefs differ from those of the highly cohesive majority surrounding her, and she must always remember that she is an outsider. Whenever she forgets, she blunders; and then she must pay her nonconformity’s price. Over and over.

"House of Neglect" made me smile in recognition, because although her name was not Nina — I nevertheless had an "Aunt Nina" of my very own. And an "Uncle Theodore," who loved her through half a century and more of unconventional matrimony; buried her with that love still evident; and passed away not long afterward, leaving a house filled with relics for the childless couple’s nieces and nephews to distribute among them. Relics, and the memories that go with them.

Memories which, in "Legacy," are "filtered through glasses of one color or another" until neither the author nor her mother (the story’s source) can be sure of their accuracy. Which does not rob those memories of their importance, or of their own kind of truth. Family stories take on their own lives, with time and repetition; and this particular truth Howard-Johnson understands very well.

I’ll be loaning this book to my own mother next, because she is sure to recognize the situation described in its prologue. An adult daughter at the wheel of a car that she’s driving through a city she knew well many years earlier. Her aging mother in the "navigator’s seat"; and in the back seat, her aging aunt. Giving conflicting directions!

Although firmly grounded in Howard-Johnson’s Utah, I’m sure HARKENING will strike familiar and resonant chords for other readers just as it did for me. Highly recommended!
- Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of "Love, Jimmy: A Maine Veteran's Longest Battle"
Reviewed by babataher 1/7/2003
I want to obtain acollection of short story
Reviewed by Tonya Ramagos 10/31/2002
Every family has stories to tell. We hear them most from those older and wiser than us. Stories of the past, of their lives and the lives of loved ones before them. Often we hear these stories so many times we fail to pay attention after a while. We roll our eyes thinking, not this again or how many times have I heard this story but we must stop and wonder have we ever really listened to the truth inside the story?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s second novel, “Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered,” will make you ask yourself that very question. “Harkening” is not your average book of short stories. Designed to be read at leisure, each story with the ability to stand on its own, it has been carefully arranged to take you through a time line of life. Mrs. Johnson shares with us from her own memory stories told to her by members of her family about her family spanning over many generations.

In a distinct writing style that only Carolyn Howard-Johnson possesses, the characters of “Harkening” are skillfully described in such a way that you can almost hear them telling the story in their own voice rather than reading it second hand. Each story is a beautifully crafted piece of “creative nonfiction,” as termed by Mrs. Johnson, leaving you with an overwhelming sense of truth and the realization that maybe you should pay closer attention to those stories you’ve heard so many times in the past by your own family.

Reviewed by Tonya Ramagos A.K.A. Calley Moore, author of THE DIVINE BABYSITTER coming in November, 2002 from
Visit Tonya’s website at for more information.

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