Topic of the Week: March 8-12, 2010

Joining us a guest host of LitChat on Friday, March 12 is Elyssa East, author of Dogtown. When East traveled to the area of coastal Massachusetts known as Dogtown to research work by the painter Marsden Hartley, she found more than just the story of an artist’s renewal among glacier stones and wilderness. An area rife with legends of witches, pirates, ghosts and other miscreants, East discovered the tale of a grisly 1984 murder that still lives in the imagination of local residents. East’s skillful interweaving of true crime narrative with chapters about local lore, history and the artist Marsden Hartley make Dogtown a book that defies category.

Elyssa East received her B.A. in art history from Reed College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of three prestigious fellowships: the Susan G. Hertog Research Assistantship, a Departmental Research Assistantship, and a Writing Division Merit Fellowship. Her Master’s thesis—a draft of the Dogtown manuscript—won an M.F.A. Faculty Selects award. Elyssa has received additional awards and fellowships from the Ragdale, Jerome, and Ludwig Vogelstein Foundations; the University of Connecticut; and the Phillips Library.

Elyssa’s writing has been published in The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Brooklyn Rail, Guernica, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, and various New England regional magazines. A scene from Elyssa’s opera libretto, Mr. Hawthorne’s Engagement, was performed with American Opera Project’s Composers and the Voice series. Elyssa created Columbia University’s Artists’ Resource Center and ran KGB Bar’s Columbia University Faculty Selects Reading Series for three years. Additionally she has worked as a nonfiction reviews editor at Publisher’s Weekly; the Managing Director of the Maine Summer Dramatic Institute and Executive Producer of Shakespeare in Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine; a baker; an archaeologist’s assistant; and a dump-truck driver.

Follow East on Twitter at @elyssaeast.