PENINSULA PROFILE: Port Townsend woman gives others voice through novel, short fiction

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

April is National Poetry Month

THE NORTHWIND ARTS Center, which hosted Adrianne Harun's March reading of her novel A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, also presents free literary events throughout the year. April, National Poetry Month, is especially rich with readings. Here's the schedule for the center at 2409 Jefferson St.; all readings start at 7 p.m. with no admission charge.

■   Wednesday — An Evening with Lawrence Matsuda, author of A Cold Wind from Idaho.

■   April 17 — Seattle poet Susan Rich, author of Cures Include Travel, The Alchemist's Kitchen and other works, and Kelli Agodon, whose books include The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice and Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.

■   April 24 — Tim McNulty, author of Ascendance, a new poetry collection, and Holly J. Hughes, whose new book of poems is Sailing By Ravens.

■ May 8 — Haiku poet and essayist Doris Thurston and Tacoma poet Kay Mullen, author of Even the Stones, A Long Remembering: Return to Vietnam and Let Morning Begin.

—Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — Looking out to the rows of upturned faces, Adrianne Harun said first: “This feels a little bit like my wake.”

But Harun, a writer, teacher and Port Townsender for some 32 years, in fact stood at the beginning of a new trip. At the Northwind Arts Center in March, she gave a festive reading from her debut novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, published by Penguin Books.

The novel has her winging across the country, giving more readings, discussing her story and, with some struggle, trying to explain the book.

“It's about the devil in a British Columbia town,” she told her audience at Northwind, “but it's not a fantasy book,” and though it's about teenagers deep in the woods, this is no vampire romance.

The events that drove Harun to write Mountain are all too real: the disappearances of girls, mostly from First Nations families, from a stretch of B.C. Highway 16 between the towns of Prince George and Prince Rupert. It's known as the Highway of Tears.

Harun heard of these disappearances years ago in a public radio report. Yet for the girls — known as the stolen sisters — who have vanished, “very little has been done,” she said.

And so A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain is a book she had to write.

But it's not an investigation of the Highway of Tears. No, the novel is about five friends, and how good and evil — the devil, personified in various ways — come into their lives.

Leo is our first story­teller, introducing us to his world.

“The five of us — Jackie; Bryan; Bryan's sister, Ursie; Tessa; and me — had been oddball friends since swaddling days,” he says, “and as soon as we started school, that friendship had been cemented.

“Part Kitselas, part Haisla, part Polish and German, Ursie, Bryan and me fit with neither the white nor the Indian kids, who spurned us in different ways.

“But Jackie, who held her whole generous nation in her blood, adopted us … We'd ridden all the way to our seventeenth year together, holding one another in sight as best we could.”

What unfolds next is gripping. For this reader, it's as if a hand came out of the pages, to reach around her and hold tight.

It was that way for Harun, too. She wanted to give those girls, the ones taken from the Highway of Tears, a voice.

Harun is no stranger to her novel's setting. Her husband, Alistair Scovil, is Canadian, and the couple has taken trips to rural British Columbia.

This wild place is beautiful, Harun said — though she didn't always feel that way.

Harun first came to the Pacific Northwest as a young bride. She was a New Jersey teenager when she met Scovil, who had moved to the Garden State when his father became a physicist for Bell Labs.

When Harun married him, Scovil — better known as Ali, owner of the Motorsport garage in Port Townsend — wanted to live in the United States but be as close to Canada as possible.

“My only desire,” Harun recalls, “was to be with him.”

They found Port Townsend, settled down there in 1982 and raised two sons, Duncan and Peter.

When she got here, the place was “full of young hippies,” Harun said. It was nowhere near as costly as it is today.

Harun, who started out as a musician — a singer, guitarist and dulcimer player — had attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., among other schools, where she had “cobbled together a degree.”

Newly married in Port Townsend, she embarked on a different life: It took her about five years before she felt at home here. Meantime, she worked at Graywolf Press, cared for her young sons — and wrote.

She had one story, “The Unseen Ear of God,” that she submitted with her application to Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. There, with famous novelists as her teachers and drinking companions, Harun earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing in 1996.

Warren Wilson was “phenomenal,” she said, in large part because the school had no hierarchy among students and faculty.

Harun went on to publish her short fiction — tales of waitresses, a fisherman's wife, a Nigerian exchange student and others in the Port Townsend-like city of Salish Bay — in magazines such as Story, The Sonora Review and The Sun. In 2001, her story collection, The King of Limbo, was released to glowing reviews.

“Adrianne Harun possesses the rare ability to see the world at an odd tilt,” wrote her friend, the novelist Richard Russo. Her stories make “everything appear new, at times even to shimmer.”

Now, as critics and fellow writers hail A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, and as Penguin sends Harun on tour, she isn't one to develop an inflated view of herself.

Her writing studio is a little garage apartment, a place she goes to after everyone else's needs are taken care of. Harun is in a new phase, however. Her sons are grown. But she has two teaching jobs: at the Rainier Writing Workshops, the low-residency MFA program at Tacoma's Pacific Lutheran University, and in the summer program at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

The skills she hopes to teach each writer: Using your own honest voice; telling the story you must.

With Mountain, “I didn't want to write a tome, a 'great novel.' I just wanted to do what I needed to do,” she said.

“There was no expectation that it was going to get published. There's just a hope,” realized when a young editor at Penguin saw the manuscript.

Mountain sold quickly, and soon the Penguin publicity crew thrust Harun into the promotional machine. One of her first stops was the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute, held in Seattle this year. Harun met a flock of bookstore owners and other authors, spoke about her novel — and to her pleasure, discovered that 2014 is a banner year for lovers of fiction. There's Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, a novel Harun calls “just a rich, beautiful book”; Jenny Offill's Department of Speculation, the story of a marriage; and Open City author Teju Cole's new novel, Every Day Is for the Thief.

She also hails Port Townsend writer and teacher Judith Kitchen for her experimental nonfiction. Kitchen, author of Half in Shade: Family, Photography and Fate and other works, recently established Ovenbird Books, an independent press.

Kitchen, along with Sequim poet Tim McNulty, actors Scott and Heather Dudley Nollette and other Port Townsend artists, were present at the Northwind Arts Center on the night of Harun's launch of A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain.

Before she began to read, Harun smiled at her audience.

“I see so many talents, so many hearts,” she said, adding that the people gathered at Northwind have taught her that it's possible to pursue your passion, create your own world — and share it with other lovers of art.

“I am so proud to be part of this community,” Harun said.

Last modified: April 05. 2014 5:45PM
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