M. Allen Cunningham

November 18, 2018

by Virginia Bellis Brandabur


What a pleasure to have Mark Allen Cunningham join us tonight. He is the founder of the award-winning local literary publishing house, Atelier26, and an all-around champion of writers and reading. Mark has been known to say that “a good library is a monument to curiosity, to being awake in the world.” As an author, Mark has worked hard to contribute to our “monuments of curiosity,” writing 4 novels, 1 short story collection, a book of essays on the creative life, and a book of cultural criticism. His latest contribution, hot off the press just this past September, is the novel, Perpetua’s Kin.

A story that spans five generations and over one hundred years of American history, Perpetua’s Kin has been described as “kaleidoscopic,” “intricately woven,” “having the complexity of a rare smoky scotch;” its style is one of “verbal pointillism,” resembling dits and dots of the telegraph system.”

The image that comes to my mind when I think of Perpetua’s Kin is that of an early American quilt: colorful, complex and redolent of history.

Perhaps this image arises because Perpetua’s Kin is not one story, but scraps of many: heartbreaking love affair, unsettling murder mystery, grisly war chronicle, missing person account, family narrative, and also a record of our human obsession with frontiers, both technological and continental. These are not new stories, of course. Yet Mark has re-appropriated them, pairing and re-pairing these various narratives of patriotism and love, shame and war, quilting disparate moments in time together with voices of characters who are discarnate from those moments, revealing how all these fragments compliment and contrast and work together to demand that we consider afresh a history we thought we already knew.  

As Mark’s character tells us, “It falls to us to interpret the whole – all the broken signals as one, yes? We tune ourselves, you might say, to the music entire and not the separate notes. The whole and not the parts.”

Please welcome Mark Allen Cunningham.


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