In 1987, Providence writer and URI alum Ann Hood hit the best seller lists with her first novel, Somewhere Off theCoast of Maine. She has since turned out a collection of short stories, a memoir of her large Italian family, a book on writing, and seven more novels, the newest of which, The Knitting Circle, will be launched this Sunday, January 28 at 3 pm at the Providence Athenaeum. (More readings in Rhode Island will take place in February and March — checkwww.annhood.com for details.)
Hood, 50, has endured many losses in her family: her brother Skip in ’82, her father in ’97 (the impetus for the 2000 memoir, Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles In a Cynical Time), and her five-year-old daughter Grace, in 2002, to a virulent form of strep. That last wave of grief swept away her ability to read or write for many, many months, until a request for submissions on the theme of lying by the literary journal Tin House prompted her to pen a short essay on lies about grief.
Shortly after that essay was published in 2004, she began work on The Knitting Circle, set in Rhode Island. Though many readers may think that the main character’s story is hers, because Mary also loses a five-year-old daughter, Hood makes it clear that if she were writing her own story, it would be non-fiction. In fact, she’s currently working on a book that connects the eight essays she’s published on grief to form a memoir. And she’s putting the final touches on a young adult novel (set in Providence) that will be published next year.
Hood teaches in the graduate fiction writing program at the New School in New York City and at the Stone Coast Low-Residency MFA Program in Maine. She lives in Providence with her family, including son Sam and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Annabelle, adopted from China. We recently spoke by phone about her knitting and her novel.
What did the knitting do for you?
In the past, for things that interrupted my life or caused heartbreak, I always had words, whether it was reading or writing. When those weren’t working, a friend suggested that I do something with my hands. I’m not very craft-oriented and it never occurred to me that would equal knitting.
Eventually I was put in touch with someone who worked at Sakonnet Purls. She said, “Come on in; I can teach you.” So she taught me, and even though I was doing it incorrectly when I left there, I kept doing it. Several days went by and I went back to the store and I just had this big knot of yarn. Watching her take out all those mistakes was so liberating because it was something you could fix, and I knew that this would be something good for me at that time.
You also discovered that knitting is good for stress because it’s rhythmic?
Yes, I think it was that very thing, that there was a rhythm. I had to both concentrate and have my mind be blank at the same time. You’re counting stitches and you’re aware of what you’re doing but your mind can’t really wander to think about other things. So it’s great.
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