The Day Alice Hoffman Came to Town
I took zero pictures and no video. There isn't even a picture of the auditorium (I think potentially it was a temple, but I don't know enough to use that word confidently) where Alice Hoffman spoke, which was on Monday, May 7th 2018. I feel like I need to put that date down because it already feels like the distant past. There's not really a great link to show you either, other than this local story from the newspaper. She was here as a guest of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, which hosts the annual People of the Book lecture series.
I fell in love with Hoffman's writing when I read The Ice Queen, but it was undoubtedly The Story Sisters which made me a lifelong devotee. Yes, the Owenses from Practical Magic had a large impact on me, but the movie sort of budged the book out of mind, and I haven't revisited the book recently. I will soon though, because I picked up The Rules of Magic to read, and get signed.
To begin, Alice Hoffman read from Anita Shreve's latest book, The Stars Are Fire, because it was originally Ms. Shreve who was scheduled to visit. She passed away in March of this year though, and Ms. Hoffman said to honor her, to make us feel the presence of such a wonderful person, she would speak about her and read from her newest novel.
I was hypnotized.
If Hoffman's writing had connected with me in the past, then I was experiencing something new as she read and spoke. She talked about researching her historical novels, about what it was like to become the writer she is, and she read from The Rules of Magic. She talked about Ray Bradbury and how much he meant to her, and for a little while there was a massive, intricate but invisible bridge through the cosmos - on one end there I was in my brand new Josh Ritter baseball tee (more about that here), in the middle was Alice Hoffman, and at the far end, where the stars we'll never reach are floating, was Ray Bradbury.
I visited so many places that night, right there from my little fabric-covered stadium seat. I was in New York, on a sidewalk with an adolescent Alice Hoffman and her grandmother; I was in Israel with her grown son, on an archaeological dig; I was under the tree where I read the majority of The Story Sisters. It was thrilling and exhausting.
When it was time for questions, I asked Ms. Hoffman about the importance of sisters in her novels, and mentioned the Owenses, of course, but the relationship that really left its mark on me was between Elv, Clare, and Meg from The Story Sisters. Ms. Hoffman talked about how she doesn't have a sister, so writing about that relationship is more about her own lack, about exploring this thing she has never possessed. I don't recall the whole answer because I was, as mentioned already, basically unmoored in time due to admiration and happiness. I do know she said thank you for asking about that novel, because it is very dear to her.
Toward the end of the lecture, before taking questions, she read something her grandmother wrote. It was funny, insightful, sad, and beautiful. I remember some funny lines about potatoes, and also her grandmother telling me to not worry about sleep because I could get so much more done. Right before she left the podium to sign books, someone from the crowd commented on how authentic she was.
"Well yeah, I've been in therapy for thirty years," Hoffman said.
I got to speak to her briefly later, as she signed my books, and she said a few things to me that were kind, infinitely reassuring, and I felt like she managed to know exactly who I was based on two moments of interaction.
I succeeded in walking all the way to the car before I cried. They were happy tears. And that night will stay with me for a long time, just like her writing will.