Books Beat

PT author’s memoir earns national renown

Readings of ‘Wild Ride Home’ sell out Rose Theatre

Posted 2/12/20

Port Townsend author Christine Hemp’s already bright star has been rising even further lately.

Hemp had no shortage of accolades attached to her work even before her memoir, “Wild Ride …

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Books Beat

PT author’s memoir earns national renown

Readings of ‘Wild Ride Home’ sell out Rose Theatre

Posted

Port Townsend author Christine Hemp’s already bright star has been rising even further lately.

Hemp had no shortage of accolades attached to her work even before her memoir, “Wild Ride Home: Love, Loss, and a Little White Horse,” started receiving praise from other critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors. The New York Times even ran an excerpt of the memoir in its Jan. 23 edition.

Hemp’s talents are recognized just as much at home, since the Rose Theatre sold out Hemp’s Feb. 4 reading of “Wild Ride Home” so quickly that they scheduled a second reading event on Feb. 8, which also sold out.

At both those events, Hemp was conversationally interviewed by her fellow Port Townsend author, Anna Quinn, a best-selling novelist who founded the Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books in Port Townsend, and has 28 years of experience teaching writing workshops across the country.

Hemp emphasized how honored she was to be interviewed by Quinn — whose 2018 novel, “The Night Child,” was listed as a No. 1 Amazon best-seller in psychological literary fiction, and was selected as Ingram’s 2018 Best Book Club Book — referring to her as a “literary light of Port Townsend.”

But Hemp is no slouch herself, having aired essays and poems of hers on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, and even sent a poem of hers on a NASA mission, whose purpose is to monitor the birth of stars.

Hemp is a member of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, has received a Harvard University Conway Award for teaching writing and a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship for Literature, and teaches poetry and nonfiction at Hugo House, Seattle and the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

Hemp began writing “Wild Ride Home” more than a decade ago, and it ties together a series of events in her life, from her father’s cancer and her mother’s dementia to her own failed relationships and health issues, through the training of an Arabian horse named Buddy.

The memoir’s fans include New York Times-bestseller Erica Bauermeister, New York State Poet Laureate Marie Howe and “The Milagro Beanfield War” author John Nichols, the latter of whom referenced her star-spanning poem and wished her memoir “could travel around the Earth, helping us all to understand that, in the final analysis, no matter what, life is magical.”

While Hemp was publishing poems and essays and writing a local radio show, she was also working on this book, so it was hardly a spur-of-the-moment project.

“Various life events happened that set me back, then demanded that they, too, be included in the narrative,” Hemp said. “Memoir is a challenge, in that you often have to move the time frame forward to accommodate these events, and new epiphanies keep happening, too. At one point, though, you have to say, ‘I’m stopping here.’”

Rather than having a clear idea from the outset what themes her memoir might have or what messages it might ultimately convey, Hemp embarked upon it as an open-ended journey.

“What interests me about memoir is the unknowing from which the writer begins,” Hemp said. “Often, it starts with a question. The process of writing the book is her attempt to answer that question. Whether the question is answered is not really the point. It’s the transformation of that narrator — the author – as a result of telling that particular story at that particular time.”

Hemp insists she has no lessons to impart, and is instead more interested in the readers “taking ownership of the story, perhaps finding a correspondence to their own life stories, and seeing the possibilities there. Even though their life situations are different from mine, perhaps the essence of the memoir might offer them hope, or humor, or handsprings.”

The readings and signing sessions at the Rose, which included “hoof-o-graphs” from Buddy the horse, suited Hemp’s affinity for performing, which Port Townsend has allowed her to indulge.

“For many years, I played at the Upstage and other venues, with Celtic bands and jazz groups, and I did a few of my own shows,” said Hemp, who also lectures for the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau. “I love the connection to an audience, whether I’m teaching a classroom of writers or playing my flute. It’s a two-way energy, electric.”

In a memoir that Hemp described as “telling one story to tell another,” she considers Buddy’s narrative to be “the armature” holding the book together.

“It works as a kind of counterpoint to the rest of the story, which includes grief and disappointment,” Hemp said. “It was liberating to include Buddy’s story, because it gave me a new perspective on other events.”

Hemp extolled the virtues of horses as a whole, which she characterized as “powerful creatures,” to the point that any kind of relationship with a horse is “an adventure into humility and awe, as well as pure, unadulterated delight. It’s primal, maybe because horses have existed on the earth millions of years before humans walked here, but if you are engaged in a long-term partnership with a horse, you find a new way of communicating that has nothing to do with words. It’s visceral.”

And for all the plaudits she’s received from far afield, Hemp considers it a significant achievement to be able to launch her book at the Rose.

“Rocky’s theater has played a role in some significant life events since I came to Port Townsend 21 years ago,” Hemp said. “I got married there, for one, and my husband, Ole Kanestrom, was just featured in the new movie, ‘The Bowmakers,’ about the handful of top bowmakers who craft bows for stringed instruments. And now, the theater is hosting my book launch. Seems fitting, doesn’t it? I love this town.”

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