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Disappearing into North Adams

Manning, Joe

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ISBN 10: 0965868478 / ISBN 13: 9780965868471
Published by Flatiron Press June 2001, Florence, MA, 2001
Condition: Very Good Soft cover
From Monroe Street Books (Middlebury, VT, U.S.A.)

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368 pages, b&w and color photographs. A very clean, tight copy. Record # 454843. Bookseller Inventory # 454843

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Disappearing into North Adams

Publisher: Flatiron Press June 2001, Florence, MA

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Soft cover

Book Condition:Very Good

Dust Jacket Condition: None

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


Disappearing Into North Adams takes readers on a journey from the destructive urban renewal program in downtown North Adams, Massachusetts, in the 1960s and 1970s, to the closing of the huge Sprague Electric factory in 1987, to the opening of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in the Sprague complex in 1999. Through the lively, heartwarming, and often funny interviews with residents, old and young; the nostalgic archival photographs; the author’s insightful essays and poetry; and his own impressionistic snapshots, the sad but ultimately uplifting story of the rebirth of North Adams comes to life.

From the Publisher:

It was just a summer day trip to the Berkshires that Joe Manning and his wife were planning to take from their home in Torrington, Connecticut. A longtime caseworker, and an aspiring songwriter and poet, Joe had seen an article in his hometown newspaper about plans to install a contemporary art museum in a large complex of abandoned factory buildings in North Adams, Massachusetts, a city he had never visited. The developing project, called the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), was holding a fundraising event highlighted by an exhibition of photographs by rock musician David Byrne, formerly of The Talking Heads.

That two-hour drive up rural Route 8 on July 21, 1996, led Manning to what he would later call, "my spiritual home," a fading mill town with an uncertain future that ultimately inspired a new career for him as a writer, poet, oral historian, photographer, artist and community activist.

Haunted by the strange beauty of this city tucked in the soft mountains near the southern Vermont border, Manning decided to return alone to gather information for poems he wanted to write. The brick factories, the Romanesque facades on Main Street, and the Victorian houses in the hills circling the city reminded him of his favorite American painter, Edward Hopper.

On August 14, he left for North Adams before dawn and arrived just in time to observe groups of old-timers chatting nostalgically about the good old days, as they sipped coffee at the Appalachian Bean Café. Called the "Bean" by the locals, the popular hangout had opened two months earlier in a space once occupied by one of the city’s most popular department stores.

With a camera and notepad in hand, Manning roamed the city all day on foot, and took home a few pages of musings and several rolls of film ready for processing. A couple of visits later, he met a 97-year-old woman at an elderly housing complex, and wound up interviewing her for two hours. Thrilled with the results, Manning impulsively walked into the local newspaper office and announced that he was going to write a book about the city and donate some of the proceeds to the public library.

A year later at that same library, over 300 people showed up to buy a signed copy of the self-published Steeples: Sketches of North Adams, a collection of oral histories, photographs, essays and poetry. Manning has since donated over $5,000 to the library from sales of his books.

Shortly after, he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the North Adams Historical Society’s annual meeting. In his speech, Manning suggested that the public schools encourage students to conduct oral histories of their elderly relatives as a way of teaching local history, and improving verbal and social skills. When no one answered the call, Manning created a program and took it to a seventh-grade social studies teacher, who agreed to implement it. Then he obtained a sizeable grant to fund it. In 2003, Manning began the sixth year of this project with the same teacher. In addition, he has given dozens of walking tours of North Adams for area schoolchildren.

By the spring of 1998, Manning was already working on a new and more ambitious book about the city, which would begin with a failed urban renewal program in the 1970s, and end with the opening of MASS MoCA in the spring of 1999. In addition, he published a second edition of Steeples, which was already being used as a textbook at Williams College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Meanwhile, he was making many friends and hanging out at least one morning a week with the old-timers at the Bean. His frequent visits (over 150 by this time) were depleting his vacation time at work, and he was thinking about an early retirement. Three of the persons he had interviewed for Steeples became among his most treasured friends: Audrey Witter, the young owner of the Bean, 99-year-old Julia White, and 85-year-old Tony Talarico.

Tony was a recent widower who found comfort and companionship at the Bean. A great storyteller, he had been the subject of one of Manning’s most popular interviews in Steeples. Tony even had his own website, which included dozens of his essays about growing up in the city. Manning and Talarico corresponded by email almost every day. Later, for his second book, Manning would include dozens of Tony’s poignant and often humorous comments, scattering them throughout the book. Talarico passed away from cancer a month after the book was published.

Manning’s involvement in the community grew by leaps and bounds. He volunteered for events sponsored by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, a social action group. In November 1998, he helped plan and run their annual Neighborhood EXPO, an interactive celebration of community. He’s done it every year since. In January 1999, he was asked to write a monthly column about the city for a new community website. Since September 2001, the column has also appeared in The Advocate, a local weekly newspaper.

In April 1999, Manning and his wife sold their house and bought a condominium in Florence (Northampton), Massachusetts, where one of their daughters had attended Smith College. Several months later, Manning retired to devote all of his time to his writing career. Only an hour from North Adams, his visits increased to two or three times a week. In May 2001, he published Disappearing Into North Adams, a book that has received much acclaim.

Manning was the subject of a full-length article in the October 2001 issue of Yankee Magazine, and he has been featured twice on New England Cable News. In the summer of 2001, North Adams Mayor John Barrett III awarded him the key to the city. And in June 2002, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition honored him as Northern Berkshire Hero.

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