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By Caitie Van Dore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
A lively atmosphere greeted attendees last Tuesday night at the Westwood Public Library for a Q&A session with author J. Courtney Sullivan. A Milton native, Sullivan is a bestselling author of such books as “Maine” and “Commencement.” In this event, Sullivan sat down to answer questions about her most recent book, “Saints For All Occasions,” as well as her thoughts on the writing process, family secrets, and her love of nuns.
The room buzzed with slightly chaotic, excited energy, as library staff added extra chairs to seat the full house in attendance. While the Q&A began with much of the audience unable to properly see Sullivan, the crowd erupted into cheers when taller chairs were brought in from outside the room. Now properly underway, Sullivan proceeded to speak at length about a variety of subjects in answering the questions presented to her by a library staff member.
In “Saints For All Occasions,” Sullivan explores how a death in an immigrant Irish Catholic family brings two estranged sisters together, and the long-kept secrets that become unearthed. In doing research for the book, in which one sister is a nun, Sullivan spent a week on retreat at a farm run by cloistered nuns. She spoke at length about her interest in nuns and the life they lead, quipping that “growing up Catholic, you think nuns were born fully-formed wearing tiny habits,” eliciting laughs from the crowd. It wasn’t the first or last laugh of the evening.
Sullivan spent a great deal of time talking about how “different ways of mothering” was a big part of her book, especially being a mother herself now, with one son and another visibly on the way. She spoke of trying to “give yourself over to the strangeness,” and lamented that the most recent book she’d read was “‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ 20 times a day.”
In the latter part of the event, Sullivan fielded questions from the audience, elaborating on her path to becoming a successful author, along with her ideal writers’ dinner. Her choices spoke to her writing as a whole, steeped in tradition, but with a bit of a humorous twist. She first named the venerable Dickens and Austen, then included “Babysitter’s Club” author Anna Martin. “Just so I had one more normal person,” she joked.
The spirited event concluded with a book signing.