“Like any skillful writer, she can make you laugh, and she can make you cry, and she sometimes does both, all within the limitations of a column format.”
In this collection of her essays and columns, Pulitzer Prize-winning Baltimore Sun journalist Steinbach seeks to “rescue from insignificance some of the small events that make up a life.” These pieces thus explore, with quiet grace, the unexpected pleasures that are gleaned from an appreciation of the “ordinary” a sleeping cat, a blooming garden, a well-cooked meal. Such familiar-even ostensibly mundane-details of our lives, Steinbach maintains, play a far more important part in shaping our identities and our sense of our relationship to the world than do the “exotic encounters” or momentous events to which we attach much significance. Alternately poignant and humorous, sedately contemplative and bristling with emotional energy, Steinbach’s various musings on the daily rhythms of her own moods and experiences transform “everyday life” into a rich and meaningful journey.
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Alice Steinbach, Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, has gathered her essays and columns into an illuminating collection. Readers will identify with much of The Miss Dennis School of Writing. Steinbach presents herself not as a Pulitzer Prize winner or even as a successful career woman, but as a talented observer and enjoyer of the mundane. She chronicles her conversations with her women friends, the moments when her kids annoy or delight her, what it’s like to be single on Valentine’s Day…The lovely title essay is a tribute to Miss Dennis, the author’s ninth-grade creative writing teacher, who yelled things like “You want to be a writer- Then pay attention to what’s going on around you. Connect! You are not Switzerland — neutral, aloof, uninvolved. Think Italy.” I think Miss Dennis would be pleased with the results of her teaching… It’s a nice book to reach for when you want to read for a few minutes before bed, when you really can’t remember what was happening last or who’s who in the novel you’ve been trying to plow through, when you want to take in a smart, funny observation like “What I like about being middle-aged (there, I said it!) is that I m younger now than when I was young.”
— AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
“I read Alice Steinbach’s The Miss Dennis School of Writing on a cross country train trip from Charlottesville, VA, to Seattle, WA. The combination could not have been better. The rhythm of the train, sometimes surprising, carried me through a countryside that was both familiar and strange–familiar because I had visited that countryside by car and bus at other times in my life, strange because the train carried me through it from new angles. Alice Steinbach’s book does likewise for readers, carrying them through the familiar in ways which can let them see the familiar anew.
The book is not a book about writing in any traditional sense. It is a book about seeing and listening, about collecting the data of life, about composing our lives. Steinbach’s Miss Dennis knew the two most important lessons any writer, and any traveler through life, can learn. ‘Write about it. It will help you.’ And ‘Pay attention.’ Observe, see, listen. Steinbach’s book makes clear she did, indeed, pay attention to Miss Dennis’s wisdoms. In lyrical moments and prose snapshots, Steinbach dips into her life and shares with her readers a wonderful balance of serious insight, reflection, and humor brought to bear on the delicate, often invisible, lessons of life.
The Miss Dennis School of Writing and Other Lessons From a Woman’s Life is not an autobiography in any familiar sense, nor is it a book only for women. Steinbach reviews her experiences, then catagorizes and interprets those experiences in fresh ways. Her book invites us all to review and probe for such coherence in our own lives. Her craft illustrates how we can probe gently, candidly, articulately. Like some of the best writers of nonfiction, Steinbach takes ordinary moments of life and recasts them so we can see how ordinary can be extraordinary–if we let it, if we ‘Pay attention.'”
— ELIZABETH HODGES, Virginia Commonwealth University
“Reading Alice Steinbach’s essays is like having a long, satisfying visit with your best friend. She can read your mind, make you laugh out loud, startle you with sudden wisdom, and provoke memories you didn’t know you shared. Her teacher Miss Dennis must have been as grateful as her young protege: In the usual run of composition papers, I imagine it was a thrill to find Steinbac”s wit, intelligence, and passion for life.”
— MARY KAY BLAKELY, author, American Mom
“Alice Steinbach’s keen observation of life touches all our emotions in a very poignant way. I didn’t want it to end. Delicious!”
— SUSAN JEFFERS, Ph.D., author, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway and End The Struggle and Dance With Life
“In these fine essays, Alice Steinbach erases the distance between reader and writer: abruptly there you are–right down with her, in the stimulating company of a woman who is warm, funny, and honest. Thank you, Alice Steinbach. And thank you Miss Dennis, Ms. Steinbach’s ninth grade creative writing teacher, who helped her to see the world with such grace and feeling.”
–ROBERT KANIGEL, author, The Man Who Knew Infinity and The One Best Way
“For a writer, Alice Steinbach’s work is a glowing example of how it should be done, of how we wish we had done it. For a reader, it’s an experience to be savored, as it was written, essay by essay, thought by thought. And for a woman, it’s an evocation of the hundreds of tiny details that, when taken together, ‘compose’ our lives. And like those lives, it is a joy.”
–CAROL SORGEN, award-winning feature writer and editor
“These are stories from the heart, small acts of self-disclosure that reveal one woman’s vulnerabilities, her yearnings, and her joy in simple pleasures. This book is that rare find –a true companion.”
–LINDA WELTNER, The Boston Globe
“An incredible writer has produced a lovely series of stories full of profound observations and magic moments. No wonder The Miss Dennis School of Writing is just a joy to read!”
— MARK STEINER, Host, the Mark Steiner Show, WYPR-FM, Baltimore (an NPR station)
Steinbach, a columnist and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun and 1985 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, presents in her first book an open, honest, charming, and witty collection of personal essays. Focusing on the familiar, Steinbach relates private thoughts and remembrances of people who influenced her, the loss of loved ones, childhood follies and fantasies, the ever-present continuing lessons from her deceased mother and grandmother, her single motherhood and relationship with two grown sons, romance, fashion, growing up, and parenthood. These essays reveal the influence of time and experience on memory, imagination, and reflection. Steinbach offers an inspirational book that will appeal primarily to women over 30 who will identify with the type of experiences and memories she describes. Recommended for public libraries and comprehensive women’s studies collections.
— LIBRARY JOURNAL