In the Spotlight: Mary L. Tabor


Mary missouriI first met Amy Souza when I was teaching a fiction writing class at The Smithsonian’s Campus-on-the-Mall after my first book The Woman Who Never Cooked was completed and had won Mid-List Press’s First Series Award.

Many years after Amy took my class, she contacted me about her project Spark and asked me if I’d like to participate. I’d just returned from a visiting-writer-professor job at the University of Missouri.

Sounds as if I had life and work in hand, doesn’t it? But I had set aside the novel-in-progress entitled Who by Fire in the belief that I was done—and that I deserved that sentence. I was in the dark place where a woman sets aside her art for fear of the damage it may have caused or could cause. That’s a grandiose thought that damages the bearer. I was lost and did not believe I had the right to write.

And then came Amy with Spark—a hand held out to me, a woman drowning in the sea of her own illusions. I took her hand and the hands of the artists, photographers, musicians Marsha Staiger, Andy Duback, Maria Panas, Nick Winkworth, Mark Martin. I wrote in partnership with these good folk—Andy, Maria and Mark twice each—and I began to breathe again.

All of the pieces I wrote are part and parcel of the novel Who by Fire that has come to be: The novel is featured by editor and publisher Margaret Brown in Shelf Unbound: What to read next in independent publishing and has been chosen as “Notable Literary Fiction” for the January 2014 issue.

I began writing with my life’s breath in 1987 when my first piece, an elegiac tribute to my mother, was published in The New York Jewish Week—between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the time of self-reflection for Jews. It was not the best thing I’ve written, but it was a beginning, way too late.

My mother died in 1990, my sister in 1993, my father in 1999—all from long, tortuous and serious illnesses while I remained well and strong. In 1996, I left my corporate job when I was 50 and went off to grad school to do the work of my life: To write.

I now believe that work had lain in wait for reasons I had yet to discover. And it stopped again right before Amy began Spark.

I was scared to death.

Spark and a good deal of therapy have been key to my ongoing journey. As a not-so-sidebar comment: Don’t discount self-knowledge. If you don’t know who you are, you can’t take the risks that invention demands.

The day that Amy wrote us all about this latest Spark round I had just watched the documentary Who Does She Think She Is? Though it has a strong feminist slant, I believe its central premise is the all-too human search for self.

The search for identity is our life’s work and to bury that search is to bury oneself, to align with death, the ultimate definer of our limits.

To breathe means to inspire. Amy Souza’s Spark gave me the courage once again to risk, risk it all, go for it—and breathe.


Mary L. Tabor is the author of the novel Who by Fire, the connected short story collection The Woman Who Never Cooked, which won Mid-List Press’s First Series Award and was published when she was 60. Her short stories have won numerous literary awards. Her memoir (Re)Making Love is a modern real-life love story that has been profiled in Real Simple magazine. She interviews other artists via Rare Bird BlogTalk Radio in her Goodreads Book Club. A born and bred liberal, she writes an occasional column on the arts, love and creativity for The Communities at The Washington Times and for Her experience spans the worlds of journalism, business, education, fiction and memoir writing, landing her in both Marquis Who’s Who in America and Marquis Who’s Who of American Women and she is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow. She taught creative writing for more than a decade at George Washington University, was a visiting writer and professor at University of Missouri-Columbia in their graduate creative writing program. The Smithsonian’s Campus-on-the-Mall, where she taught for many years, has called her “One of our most prized lecturers on the subjects of Getting Started as a Writer and Starting Late.” She has appeared on the XM Satellite radio book-talk show “This Is Audible” to discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

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