The Making of a Literary Meal

Cover art by Sue Johnson

Cover art by Sue Johnson

Last night I went to a celebration of a new “foodie lit”anthology, Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal. One of the co-editors is my colleague Jennifer-Cognard Black, who has contributed posts to this blog in the past (here and here). A number of the authors included in the book were there to read from their work. What with all the sumptuous descriptions of meals, you would not have wanted to go to the reading hungry.

Books that Cook is organized like a cookbook and most of the poems, essays, and short stories have accompanying recipes. As a blurb about the book explains,

All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, The Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cook. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature—forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own.

The collection opens with an excerpt from Lucille Clifton’s “Sunday Dinner.” Lucille used to be a colleague and, because I have heard her read many times in the auditorium where the reading was held, I felt her absence. “Sunday Dinner” very much captures the flavor of the collection:

Sunday Dinner

By Lucille Clifton

One wants
in a fantastic time
the certainty of
chicken popping in grease
the truth of potatoes
steaming the panes and
gold and predictable as
heroes in history
melting over all.

We had a chance after the reading to sample a number of the recipes in the book, including an amazing carrot soup. The students were most appreciative.

Incidentally, another colleague, Sue Johnson in the Art Department, contributed the books cover design.

Jennifer teaches a “Books that Cook” class every other year that has two-year wait lists. If you’d like to see some of the writing her students have done, several years agothis blog ran several of their essays. You can click on the links below to read them.

Family, Secrets, and Food

Blueberry Muffins and Rites of Passage

Beans and Rice, the Taste of Home

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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