This week it gives me great pleasure to present Robin Winter, a writer I’ve known and admired for years. She writes stylishly and is a wizard storyteller. As I routinely do with my guest posters, I asked Robin to tell us a bit about what “the joy of story” means to her.
She responded generously and sent me a wise love story to share with you. Here it is:
STORY MAKES EVERYTHING MATTER
Story makes everything matter; nothing matters without it. I never realized how far that idea reached until the first time I heard my possible husband-to-be give a lecture to his class.
Introductory Evolutionary Biology— Bruce waited at the front of the dark classroom with the hundred-year-old rows of oak seats curving up to the back of the lecture hall in Osborne on the Yale campus. He was six feet tall, but he looked shorter standing below in the stained wood pit. The only light fell on him, incandescent, warm. The students rustled, mumbled, restless.
I’d come to watch and gather more data about the man I thought I loved. A gentleman, looking suddenly comedic, like a gingery version of Abraham Lincoln. He gazed up at the class, spectacles glinting. The way he held himself spoke of laughter waiting inside, and the kids hushed.
He began with a recap of last lecture, made a small joke about the evolution of the horniest, then paused, as though he wanted to pull together everything, from the students’ attention to his own thoughts. Then, he told us a story.
He began with the story of the widow Maria Sybilla Merian. He barely glanced at his notes—he spoke to us as though he felt we were his companions around a fireplace in a living room, and he invited us into memory and meaning. Here was the extraordinary courage of a single woman, traveling in late 1600s to paint the insect and plant wonders of Dutch Surinam. Then he recounted the Job-like endurance of Rumphius, a difficult, surly man, struck by Fate again and again to the point of absurdity. Wrecked, blinded, his illustrations burned, wife and child drowned in a tsunami, his shipload of notes and specimens sunk, then publication of his rebuilt body of work denied when the East India Company determined his work held sensitive information. Bruce evoked past giants of evolutionary biology, gave us personal histories and habits, trials and tribulations, quarrels and accidents.
I sensed a motion repeated in the rows that I didn’t understand, but it struck me, so I looked around, and saw three or four young men wiping their sleeves across their eyes. Tears, for men and women long gone to ash and dust.
Evolutionary Biology. I’d anticipated drowsing in the back. I didn’t cry but Bruce made me blink, hard, and I’m a cold-minded audience if there ever was one. He made my heart hurt for scientists who fought for the world of knowledge on which we all depend, and he managed this because he saw character, conflict, action and resolution in every life and experiment. Beginnings, middles and ends. Each end a new beginning.
We’ve been married more than thirty years. He keeps teaching; I keep writing. But that September lesson shapes every piece of writing I set down. Without the invitation, the intimate act of sharing a story arc of power, there is no science, there is no art, because all we do must be communicated so that it matters. We must pull each other into a deep, darkly sweet place, where story makes fact memorable.
Robin Winter was born in Nebraska over half a century ago. She's lived in many places, including Nigeria, is a professional painter of landscape under the name Robin Gowen. Robin married her evolutionary biologist and they have a daughter who writes under the name Isobelle Winter. Robin blogs at www.robinwinter.net, and her books Night Must Wait (Imajin Books) and Future Past (Eternal Press) can be found on Amazon.
I’d like to say a few words about Robin Winter’s Night Must Wait. This polished, fast-paced first novel has the speed of an animal in flight. Her technique is seamless and brilliant: she propels the plot, using short chapters, each with a driving plot turn and a consequence; she alternates points of view among her four very different but closely bound female protagonists; she develops these four characters by showing the dramatic changes in their fierce passions. Winter's description of Africa's beauty is lyrical, and her picture of war and starvation is horrifying. I learned from this novel more than I ever knew or expected to know about the tragic Biafra war of the 1960s; but this is not a history lesson. It's a lesson in madness, obsession, power, and betrayal. Most of all, Night Must Wait is a thrilling entertainment: hard to put down, it will haunt the reader long after the novel is finished.